'The Value of the Victorian infant': whiteness and the emergence of paediatrics in late colonial Australia

Lisa Featherstone

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


Of all the groups treated by the medical profession, infants were amongst the most vulnerable: the late-nineteenth century baby had a rather tenuous hold on life. Prior to the 1880s and 1890s, the health and wellbeing of the child had largely been subsumed into that of the mother, and medically the child was subordinated into the disciplines of obstetrics and gynecology. From the late-nineteenth century, however, there was an increasing emphasis on the child as an individual body. The predominant signifier of such an interest was the rise of a new specialised discipline to cater for the child: paediatrics. Traditional explanations for the emergence and growth of paediatrics have centred upon Romantic ideas of the child, suggesting that the body of the child was medicalised because it was increasingly viewed as separate and special. This paper suggests that in the colonies, the separate speciality of paediatrics developed in response to issues of population and whiteness. The new interest in child health was a response to the social, political, and economic needs of the emerging nation, with doctors suggesting that the loss of an Australian baby was far more serious than the corresponding loss of an English infant. Child life and child health were increasingly perceived as assets for the white nation, and the need for a young and vigorous white population provided the immediate urgency for the focus and growth of paediatrics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHistoricising whiteness
Subtitle of host publicationtransnational perspectives on the construction of an identity
EditorsLeigh Boucher, Jane Carey, Katherine Ellinghaus
Place of PublicationMelbourne
PublisherRMIT Publishing in association with the School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9781921166808
Publication statusPublished - 2007
EventHistoricising Whiteness Conference (2006) - Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 22 Nov 200624 Nov 2006


ConferenceHistoricising Whiteness Conference (2006)


  • paediatrics
  • childhood
  • infants
  • whiteness
  • medicine
  • Australian history


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