‘The Cry of the Children’ : The Edwardian Medical Campaign Against Maternal Drinking


In the years 1899–1907 new critique of alcohol evolved which pointed to increasing female insobriety as factor in infant mortality. Exploiting the opportunity of governmental committee appointed to investigate physical deterioration, 14 leading medical doctors, well known for their antipathy to drink, submitted evidence which subsequently formed the basis for the Report's conclusion associating alcoholic abuse with racial deterioration. Between 1905 and 1907 six of these doctors, together with Sir Thomas Brunton and Professor Sims Woodhead, orchestrated concern over drink's deleterious impact on pregnant women and babies. By condemning alcohol as one important source of infant deaths and national inefficiency, these anti‐drink doctors, all except one members of the Society for the Study of Inebriety, encouraged the medical profession to adopt more critical public posture towards drink and compelled the Government to permit hygiene and temperance instruction in elementary schools. They further provided the rationale early in 1907 for George Sims’ newspaper articles, which emphasized the imperial consequences of Britain's high infant mortality. He alone publicized the prevalence of babies and small children taken into public houses, where they were given alcohol or contracted fatal respiratory diseases. Breast milk contaminated with alcohol also endangered their lives. Following these revelations, sympathizers formed the Tribune Committee, and, with the support of the eight anti‐drink doctors and others, helped translate Sims’ proposal to prohibit children under 14 from licensed premises into legislation.

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British Journal of Addiction