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Babies for the Nation

The Medicalization of Motherhood in Quebec, 1910-1970

By Denyse Baillargeon
Translated by W. Donald Wilson
Subjects Language Arts & Disciplines, Translation, Medical, History, Canadian History, Social Science, Women’s Studies, Child Studies
Series Studies in Childhood and Family in Canada Hide Details
Paperback : 9781554580583, 342 pages, July 2009
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554581092, 342 pages, November 2010
Ebook (PDF) : 9781554582723, 342 pages, July 2009

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Babies for the Nation: The Medicalization of Motherhood in Quebec, 1910–1970 by Denyse Baillargeon
List of Tables
List of Acronyms
Chapter 1: A “Bad Mother” Called Quebec
An Early Death
Dying While Giving Life
Chapter 2: A Very National Infant Mortality Rate
The Nation in Peril, 1910–1940
A National Dearth of Children, 1940–1970
Chapter 3: Let Us Have the Mother and the Child Is Ours
The Ignorance of Mothers
Teach Over and Over
Chapter 4: A School for Mothers
Clinics for Newborns
Home Care
The Victorian Order of Nurses
The Nurses from the “Met”
The Assistance maternelle
Services for Mothers Outside the Major Cities
Prenatal Clinics
Public Lectures and the Distribution of Documents
Chapter 5: Bitter Struggles
All for One
General Practitioners and Public Health Officials
General Practitioners and the Assistance maternelle de Montréal
Doctors and Nurses
Physicians and “Maternalist” Feminists
Church and State
Chapter 6: The Quebec Mother and Child
Care for Expectant Women
Care for Babies
To Read While Caring for Baby
Relations with Doctors and Nurses
Epilogue: To Have or Not To Have
Appendix 1: Sources
Appendix 2: Infant Mortality Rates, Canada and the Provinces, 1926–1965


Described by some as a “necropolis for babies,” the province of Quebec in the early twentieth century recorded infant mortality rates, particularly among French-speaking Catholics, that were among the highest in the Western world. This “bleeding of the nation” gave birth to a vast movement for child welfare that paved the way for a medicalization of childbearing.
In Babies for the Nation, basing her analysis on extensive documentary research and more than fifty interviews with mothers, Denyse Baillargeon sets out to understand how doctors were able to convince women to consult them, and why mothers chose to follow their advice. Her analysis considers the medical discourse of the time, the development of free services made available to mothers between 1910 and 1970, and how mothers used these services.
Showing the variety of social actors involved in this process (doctors, nurses, women’s groups, members of the clergy, private enterprise, the state, and the mothers themselves), this study delineates the alliances and the conflicts that arose between them in a complex phenomenon that profoundly changed the nature of childbearing in Quebec.
Un Québec en mal d’enfants: La médicalisation de la maternité 1910—1970 was awarded the Clio-Québec Prize, the Lionel Groulx-Yves-Saint-Germain Prize, and the Jean-Charles-Falardeau Prize. This translation by W. Donald Wilson brings this important book to a new readership.


  • Winner, Prix Jean-Charles-Falardeau, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences 2006
  • Winner, Clio-Québec Prize, Canadian Historical Association 2004
  • Winner, Lionel-Groulx – Fondation Yves-Saint-Germain Prize, L'Institut d'histoire de l'Amérique francaise 2004


[A] passionate work of social history.... It also has particular relevance at a time when many women are turning to midwives and choosing to have their babies at home—a modern-day challenge to the now hegemonic status of medicalized childbirth.

- Kate Forrest, Montreal Review of Books, 2009 October