Maternal and Child Health
Providing information to new mothers on how to care for their children was an early concern of the Health Department, which started a Child Welfare Division in 1914. At first the focus was on low-income families. In its 1915 report the Division stated:
No health department is complete without a Child Welfare Division, and although the necessity is not as great here in Seattle as in many of our larger cities with slum conditions, and a large percentage of foreigners to contend with, yet I believe we can accomplish much in this field of endeavor.
Early Department initiatives included the inspection of boarding homes, the establishment of a milk fund for indigent children, and the creation of a "baby's clinic" to provide practical advice to mothers and preliminary examinations of their babies. This "well-baby conference" service quickly expanded and by 1924 there were six clinics operating in Seattle. Prenatal advice also was offered for the first time in 1924 in the form of a lecture series, including such topics as "Anatomy and Physiology of the Female Pelvis," "The Necessity of Ante-Natal Care," and "Mental Hygiene of Expectant Mothers."
The work done at the clinics was reinforced through follow-up home visits by a nurse, "for the purpose of making sure that hygienic principles explained during clinic hours are successfully carried out under practical everyday working conditions of the home." Elements of this program continue to the present day.
The Depression put a severe strain on the always-understaffed Division, but staffing levels were increased during the 1940s when it was renamed the Division of Maternal and Child Health. Following the merger of the two Health Departments in 1947, services were greatly expanded throughout Seattle and King County.