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How an American changed medicine and saved the lives of 90 New York babies



At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, few believed that diseases can be triggered by bacteria, as well as in preventive medicine. But one woman, namely Sarah Josephine Baker, managed to change her mind on these issues and saved the lives of thousands of children, writes

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Death row - as the health inspectors called the Lower East Side (Manhattan, New York) a hundred years ago.

Overcrowded apartment buildings, unsanitary conditions and lack of social security made this place a hotbed of typhoid fever, measles, dysentery and other infectious diseases.

The New York Department of Health at that time made no effort to improve the situation in the area.

However, in 1908, the department opened the first US Children's Hygiene Bureau, led by Sarah Josephine Baker.

The woman immediately drew attention to living conditions in Manhattan. Baker initiated the opening of clean dairy kitchens, sent educated nurses to the area, and began teaching mothers basic hygiene and baby care.

Carier start

Sarah Josephine Baker was born November 15, 1873, in Pockypsy, New York. She chose medicine to financially support her mother and sister, as her father and brother died of typhoid.

In 1898, she received a diploma from the Women's College of Medicine at the New York Hospital and enrolled in an internship at the Boston Hospital for women and children. The girl had to quickly grow up: taking birth in the premises of poor Americans, she saw how the working class lives - crowded, abandoned multi-family houses and general unsanitary conditions.

After an internship, Baker returned to New York, where in 1902 she began working as an inspector of the city’s health department.

Although the public health system was just in its infancy, the New York City department had bacteriological knowledge to deal with infectious diseases.

In the XIX century, the French chemist Louis Pasteur developed the theory of microbes, which demonstrated that microorganisms and their reproduction can provoke diseases.

Subsequently, the German doctor Robert Koch also proved that certain microorganisms can be the cause of the disease. He identified the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, responsible for anthrax.

Later, scientists discovered other microorganisms that cause tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid fever and plague. Now you can do tests to identify bacteria, diagnose diseases and vaccinate people.

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But when Baker started working in the New York department, she discovered that many of her colleagues do not use new tools.

Inspection of schools, which was conducted by the department, the woman called "sheer farce." It was necessary to go to schools, examine sick children and send them home. In an hour, the inspectors had to visit three schools, which made it impossible to make a correct diagnosis. Some inspectors, according to Baker, simply called the schools and found out how the children felt.

New York City Rescue

In 1907, the woman was transferred to the position of Assistant Commissioner for Health. She addressed the issue of the health of infants and children.

A year later, she headed the Bureau of Child Hygiene at the New York City Department of Health. The Bureau was created to address the issue of child mortality.

Baker was the first woman in the United States to take on such a position.

The powers of Sarah Baker extended to all of New York, but she first paid attention to the immigrant quarters of Manhattan.

Many social workers did not believe that these people could be helped in any way. But Sarah Baker thought otherwise. She was sure that if mothers were taught the rules of modern infant care, most child deaths could be prevented.

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Preventive medicine was new then. Baker began sending nurses to families with newborns. They taught mothers the rules of hygiene, explained how to breastfeed in order to avoid infection, taught them to swaddle babies with light diapers in the summer, and insisted on frequent bathing and ventilation.

Baker opened the rooms of mother and child, where they gave out properly pasteurized milk, as well as weighed and examined babies.

In addition, she developed a baby formula for women in labor who could not breast-feed.

In addition, Baker obtained licensing for midwives who assisted women in childbirth who were uncomfortable with male doctors.

These changes had a significant impact on infant mortality rates: by the end of the first year of work, Baker in his new post in New York had died 1200 children less than usual.

And by 1911, the infant mortality rate in the city decreased by 40%.

Another Baker achievement is the creation of the League of Little Mothers, where girls from 12 to 16 years old were taught to care for younger brothers and sisters while their parents worked. In 1915, the League numbered 25 thousand girls.

In addition to preventing children's health and hygiene, Baker also made a significant contribution to understanding that babies need emotional care. In 1915, she accidentally conducted an experiment.

Under the direction of the Bureau of Children's Hygiene, a hospital for abandoned children has been opened on the Randals Island in New York. Despite excellent medical care at the time, almost half of the babies in the hospital died.

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Then Baker decided to send babies to the Lower East Side families. Maternal love and preventive care contributed to the fact that the mortality of children was halved.

In this way, Baker scientifically proved that children need love to survive. Contrary to the generally accepted belief that mothers should raise independence in children from an early age, Baker found that the lack of emotional connection cannot be compensated for by anything.

The success of Sarah Josephine Baker's programs was phenomenal. By 1923, infant mortality rates in New York were lower than in any other major US or European city.

Subsequently, 35 US states introduced Baker-developed maternal and child health programs.

Further reforms

Sarah Josephine went further. Together with like-minded health care reformers and several members of Congress, she supported the Sheppard-Towner Act on the creation of federal funding for mothers and children.

One of the program’s ardent opponents was the American Medical Association (AMA). During a debate in Congress, the doctor who represented the AMA said: “We are against this bill. After all, if you are going to save the lives of all these women and children for public funds, then what is the point of young men to study medicine? ”

Screenshot: Inter-Pathé II / YouTube

Baker supported the creation of a nationwide program to help mothers and babies. As medical historian Regina Morantz-Sanchez explains in her book Women Women in American Medicine, the preventative approach had so many opponents because male doctors were afraid they would be out of work.

Baker criticism did not stop. “This is the best compliment,” she replied. All of these accusations meant only that her programs were working.

Although Baker did not take criticism and outright sexism to heart, one day she still had to endure humiliation.

In 1915, the Dean of the New York University School of Medicine asked Baker to take a course in child hygiene to obtain a PhD in sanitation and public hygiene.

Sarah Josephine Baker refused, because as a woman she did not have the right to attend this course.

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When the dean did not find any lecturer, he yielded to the rules and allowed Baker to give lectures and complete the entire course to receive a diploma. The university was forced to open its doors to other students.

During the first lecture, male students interrupted Baker with thunderous applause. The same thing happened after the lecture.

“It was not applause of gratitude, it was the shameful, hostile rumble with which the unpopular baseball team was escorted,” Sarah later described this situation.

Over the next 15 years, every lecture she gave at the university began and ended the same way.

Typhoid Mary

The history of the so-called typhoid Mary is associated with the activities of Baker.

In 1907, she was sent to take blood and urine tests from a cook named Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant. It was she who became the first known asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever (Mary, without symptoms, could carry and spread the pathogen).

Photo: Shutterstock

During her work as a cook, at least 53 people were infected from her, three of the patients died.

When Baker came to Mallon, the woman categorically refused to take tests. Only two days later, Baker with the police found the woman and forcibly took her to the local hospital.

Mullon was quarantined for three years under the supervision of the Department of Health, and then released under the promise of never working with food and becoming a laundress.

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But Mary did not have many opportunities to find a job, and they paid much less for washing than for cooking. And Mallon in 1915 began to cook again.

After another outbreak of typhoid fever, Baker tracked the infected woman a second time. After that, she was quarantined for the rest of her life on the North Brother Island in the East River Strait (refers to the city of New York).

Sarah Baker resigned as head of the Children's Hygiene Bureau in 1923. In the future, she wrote a lot, published hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles on healthcare, published five books on child care.

During her career, Baker founded the American Association for Child Hygiene, which became president in 1917. And in 1935, she headed the Medical Association of Women.

The last documented years of her life, Sarah Josephine Baker spent on a farm in New Jersey with her partner, writer Ida Wiley and their girlfriend, a doctor, Louise Pearce.

Sarah Baker died of cancer in 1945.

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