Excerpt from an article in the 1919 edition of a magazine for ‘the kindergartener,’ as at the time the kindergarten was a progressive social and political movement as much as it was an educational one. The article is titled The Retardation of the Foreign Woman, and it is written By Dr Caroline Hedger of Chicago. She speaks of the necessity of educating the Foreign Women into democracy, and putting into her mind the picture of freedom.
“The matter of building up the trait of persona decision, personal freedom, the degree of responsibility, in other words, facing the music, must be done because it is right, and because it is right, it must be done. This is the problem that is ahead of us and of the foreign woman. It is not the easiest portion, but it is the portion of spiritual evolution and growth, and if we mean to go ahead to carry out this democracy that our men have fought for for two years in the Great War, we must face responsibility. We did not do it before the war. Are we going to now?”
‘Before the war [WWI] we sought escape from personal responsibility, and there were two or three avenues of escape that were interesting. The dance craze for seven years before the war, for instance. Why did people dance morning, noon, and night? To escape thoughts and responsibilities, introspection. They were successful, I know. I myself can dance the blues away at any time. I know an escape from this consciousness if we are big enough to take it, the next step in spiritual evolution. Why do people go running over the country in high powered automobiles? At twenty five miles you cannot speak and at thirty you cannot breathe! They do this so they won’t have time to do the necessary things of life, and thereby escape the thought of their responsibilities. The rapidly passing scenery takes their thoughts for the time from all else but the movement of the car, and the delight in being carried along without seeming to think about it makes them forget obligations.
Then again the movies! Why do intelligent people go to the movies? They surely do not go to see what they see there, although they claim it is the screen star and the plot of the play. They are
deceiving themselves. I have a friend who is a frequenter of the movies and often after such an evening, she will stop in to chat with me. This is the usual conversation: “What did you see?” ” Oh, a movie.” ”Was it good?” ” Oh about the same thing as they all are.” Why does she go to the movies? To escape serious thought of her responsibilities. The constantly moving film with the story that for the time being is interesting, takes her mind from all else and is an escape from what is binding and obligatory.
Why have we had within the last two or three decades a growth of new religions made up of repetitions of all other religions? Because the old religions became slow, and we were not willing to face our responsibilities and take our religion consciously, but are constantly looking for something more absorbing. Before the war we were trying to escape from our consciousness. There probably never was a time when so many people were on the verge of being responsible for their acts as preceding the war. Then when the sufiering was so intense it was necessary for us to think and to act as well. I, myself, am a reformed pacifist but when this country called the men to arms and the women to assume the responsibility of keeping heads up at home, then it was necessary to obey. There was nothing else to be done but obey.
Can we gather up again the loose threads of ourselves, of individual decision, of individual will to do right? Can we gather them up? If we gather them up, are we willing to pass them on to the foreign woman who needs such things in order to live as we would have her live among us? Can we bring her to this sense of responsibility? If we cannot, we shall be a failure, and I, who am a good suffragist say this. We must get into the game and take this foreign woman by the hand and lead her into a degree of freedom and responsibility. It is the duty for every one of us to face the music and take that next step in spiritual evolution, that is, to do what is right because it is right, and take the consequences.”
So much of interest there, isn’t there? The idea that that moving at 25 miles an hour made it impossible to speak (which it might, in a car with inadequate wind barriers, I suppose), her views on the movies which might still apply today, the terms this very progressive woman who was active in the woman’s movement and in social justice issues of her day used to talk about the need to educate the foreign born into democracy. It’s interesting to see the evolution of ideas, and to ponder how horrified she would be to see the fruit of some of the best efforts of the era. And who is Caroline Hedger, exactly?
Carloline Hedger’s name appears in the “Program for the joint annual meeting with the American Eugenics Society“, held June 2, 1928 at the American Museum of Natural History. She served on the Committee on Popular Education, along with Josephine Arnquist, S.J. Crumbine, William M. Goldsmith, William Dayton Merrell, O.M. Plummer, Florence Brown Sherbin, Edwin E. Slosson, Paul Voelker, and A.E. Wiggam
There is at least one large apartment building in Chicago named after her.
Hedger is the topic of a research paper titled The physician of Packingtown: the life and impact of Dr Caroline Hedger.
Here’s part of the abstract:
“Findings – This research concludes that Hedger was an instrumental force and tireless advocate for the improvement of public health and social change. She was a constant driver for the creation of better living and working conditions of poor laborers, especially immigrants and women, desired the enhancement of child welfare, and was also helpful in supporting the labor movement and educating those involved in the process.
Originality/value – This is the first manuscript to explore the role played by Caroline Hedger in relation to her impact on the importance of the health of workers and their families. Her story is a testament to the powerful effect of a single person in a dynamic world, and demonstrates how understanding a worker’s health contributes to greater insights about management history.”
She was the author of a book called The Well Baby Primer, here’s a blurb about it at the time of publishing:
“This unique book is prepared by one who has exceptional understanding of the needs of the foreign mother. Dr. Hedger is a graduate of the Illinois Training School for Nurses, as well as a physician, and is specially interested in the welfare work in Chicago.
The author states that the object of the Primer is twofold: ‘to get the message across in time to save the baby’s life, and to bring the women into American (sic) standards by teaching English.’ The book is arranged in lesson form, like a primer, and actual demonstration of methods is urged. Each lesson is illustrated with an attractive photograph of the baby; or the method of caring for the baby. Particularly at this time, when the propaganda of church and state is for Americanization by adequate education, this Primer is both timely and useful. Price 15 cents…”"
The book had only 128 English words in it and was ‘profusely illustrated.’
This influential but now mostly forgotten woman at least once delivered a paper to a nursing organization, Her paper was titled VENEREAL DISEASES AND MORAL PROPHYLAXIS. She delivered the paper in person to a professional organization in NY. She wrote:
“I think we can arraign society to day on three counts.
One is the increasing amount of divorce. That is an ominous matter.
Second is the decreasing birth rate. You cannot have a state without citizens. If we are to have an America that is to be worth while we have to have Americans. If you want Americans made second hand from Bulgaria and Turkey that is a different matter.”
She also stressed the importance of children being reared by one father and one mother, and of proper sex education, which she said ideally would come from mothers, but since the mothers hardly knew anything about it, must come from nurses instead. She spoke briefly on the scourge of abortion and how bad it was for women themselves, and at length on the evils of prostitution and how it was causing a plague of syphilis and gonorrhea, but that if women were only given the vote, she knew they would eliminate prostitution through their power at the ballot.
She also wrote this for the Bulletin of the American Academy of Medicine, Volume 11
“The profit that shall accrue to a man who loses his own soul is but a suggestion of the profit that shall accrue to a state that slaughters its children. You may heap warehouses with goods, but if those goods are made by women whose babies die untimely deaths your chance for future life of the state is gone. Women work for pay, six million of them. Where do they work? Either at home or away from home. What do they work at? 295 different occupations: everything but firemen, soldiers, sailors, US marines, roofers helpers, copper smelters helpers, street car drivers.
Did they always work for wages? Not to quite this extent. In fact the increase in trade and transportation from 1870 to 1900 was 2369 per cent.
She was a doctor and a suffragette who nevertheless believed that soceity needed to reconsider working women, particularly in connection with “Those occupations that affect women in such ways that their child bearing capacity and instincts are injured,” and “Those occupations taken up by women after marriage that threaten the life of the child directly.” She wrote that “We must consider every trade condition that depletes the woman’s vitality so that puny children are born, every work that so fatigues the mother that her milk is bad whether at home or abroad, any and every trade or occupation that takes a mother away from her baby longer than a normal nursing interval, whatever conditions or work which attack moral standards, and we have a right to consider these, and when found, to regulate such trades.”
She was one of Upton Sinclair’s sources for background information for his book The Jungle, particularly on the terrible health conditions for those who lived in ‘Packingtown,’ as she was a doctor and longtime worker in the settlement houses there.
And in spite of being a member of a eugenics society, she also wrote: “no one can do good Americanization work who has not a real love for human beings…. You cannot make Americans by going at the foreign born either in a hsotile spirit or with an idea that you are a superior being, about to confer wisdom.”