My Great Great Uncle Wade Lovelace, and his wife Iza Trail, were among the many who only knew their child for brief moments. My Great Great Uncle Leonard Worsham and his wife Sarah’s infant met the same fate. Sadly, many other parents endured the same pain. Both of these deaths occurred in the late 1800’s as did countless others. In the 1800’s the health conditions of our ancestors were such that 43% of the world’s newborns died before their 5th birthday (Child Mortality). When compared to modern statistics regarding world infant mortality, these seem exorbitant. Infant mortality rates fell more rapidly during the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth centuries than any other period in American History (Culter).
These rates decreased in America as well as the rest of the world due to advancements in technology, medicinal developments, and better public health.
There have been major advancements in medical technology. In his book “Trends in Mortality,” Lars Rydell, considers earlier treatment,s such as the use of leeches to purge discreased blood in hospital birth clinics, absurd (147). Now look at all of the technological advancements that have been made due to our understanding of diseases and ability to develop cures. For one, to say there was a medical revolution at some point during the 1900’s, would be an understatement. The discovery and use of antibiotics to treat diseases within this time period lessened the infant mortality rate drastically. One medicine in particular that was discovered in the 1940’s that influenced the medicinal world completely was penicillin. In fact, global child mortality was slightly above 36% in 1900, but after a continuous and steady decrease, by 1965 this rate was cut in half (Child Mortality). For the United States, research estimates that in 1900 there were 180 infant deaths per 1000 live births (Bryant, Peck). Fifty years later the rate had decreased to about 40 deaths per 1000 births (Bryant, Peck). From this evidence, it can be concluded throughout the 19th century medicines were developing at a great rate which was a partial contributory factor to the steady decrease in infant deaths. Evidence also points to this change being associated with improvements in public health.
Clean water technology such as filtration and chlorination lead to better public health. This was especially true in larger and more densely populated areas. Research confirms this and Culter states, “We found that clean water was responsible for nearly half the total mortality reduction in major cities, three-quarters of the infant mortality reduction, and nearly two-thirds of the child mortality reduction.” (Culter 1-22) Obvious achievements in the United State’s public health were being made. Sewage was no longer disposed of in the middle of the streets. Safe drinking water became a priority. Milk was being pasteurized (Advancements in Public Health). All of the examples above contributed to improve the living conditions and quality of public health.
Infant mortality, both globally and in the United States, was not a rate that immediately decreased, but rather one that consistently declined throughout the entire 19th century. This rate continues to lower as new medical discoveries are being made and public health is improving.