History events at the IHR

International perspectives on children's experiences of play and education in hospital, 1850-1950: acculturation, opportunity or imposition?

02 May 2013, 17:30 - 19:30

Event Type: Seminar


Dr Mary Clare Martin (University of Greenwich)



Although pioneering work has been done on children's hospitals via the HHARP project, for the United Kingdom, and for Canada by Mona Gleason, relatively little is known about how these were experienced. This paper will draw together research on children's hospitals in Norwich, London, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Montreal, Toronto and Lyon.  It will show how facilities for play and education were often developed on an ad hoc basis by volunteers, as a means to occupy the children, and only later became formalised. Indeed, as Sloane (2008) has shown, by the early 1900s, some American hospital buildings were designed to accommodate these needs, introducing kindergartens and playrooms. Activities in convalescent homes, which were developed in connection with almost every children’s hospital, will also be examined.  Here, the young could engage with a wider range of activities including swimming and boating.  Issues of class, gender and ethnicity will be integral to the analysis.

Throughout, the paper will explore contrasting arguments about the place of education, play and recreation in these institutions. Did they serve as a form of 'acculturation', and means of inducting or influencing working class children into 'middle class' values?  Sloane (2008, p. 55), for example, argued that by the 1920s, 'the moral playground was becoming a medical therapeutic space'. Drawing on oral histories and a recent Mass-Observation directive, the paper will also explore whether hospital facilities for play and education provided welcome new opportunities, regardless of children's social background. Alternatively, was it an imposition to expect sick children to engage in structured activities which they might not have chosen?

Holden Rooom (103)

Venue: Room 103 (Senate House, first floor)

Senate House
Malet Street 
London WC1E 7HU 

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