|'Health colonies' for children and the fear of tuberculosis in the Netherlands 1883-1955|
|Despite overwhelming evidence of a high morbidity and an enormous impact of illness on school-aged children’s lives, this age group hardly figures in studies into the history of health and welfare. The existing histories of preventive medicine for children focus largely on infant and maternal welfare and the accomplishments of campaigns to reduce infant deaths. Studies into child protection, education and child employment tend to ignore hygiene and to be concerned primarily with the rise of social policy and the development of the welfare state. If children’s health is considered by historians it is mostly from the perspective of the origins of institutions that added to the development of a network responsible for the progressive medicalization of childhood during the twentieth century, like the school medical service and child guidance clinics.
This paper approaches hygiene for school children in the Netherlands from a different angle, namely the disease that continued to be the most serious child and adolescent killer throughout the first half of the ‘century of the child’: tuberculosis. As in other European countries, about 1900 the fear of contamination at school with open lung tuberculosis was a major reason to introduce school medical inspection. Open air schools were established for children with lung diseases or recovering from ill health. Since the 1920s separate sanatoria for young patients opened up. For children who were not ill but, because of a weak condition, at risk of becoming a victim of tuberculosis philanthropists set up summer camps. In France and Belgium schools organized these camps in cooperation with the receiving local communities, the so-called colonies scolaires, whereas in Britain school and welfare authorities preferred family nursing in the countryside and Denmark chose a mix of these two approaches.
In this paper I consider the Dutch hygienic approach to ‘weak’ children, which stood out for its large scale, four-season approach and loss of contact with schooling. At first in the Netherlands teachers set up vacation camps near the sea and in the woods. However, these informal summer events quickly changed into massive institutions, run by professionals and operating on a year-round basis. Although these ‘health colonies’ continued to be organized by private societies, soon the medical profession gained the power to decide upon admission and supervise treatment, the goals and terms of which were redefined in purely medical terms. I trace the history of the diagnosis and treatment of ‘weak’ or ‘pretuberculous’ children and analyse the impact of the ubiquitous fear of tuberculosis, which continued to weigh heavily upon childhood until after World War Two, when the standard of living rapidly improved and tuberculosis became almost a ‘museum illness’. It was only after this fear was seriously reduced that the Dutch ‘health colonies’ became part of a network of mental health provisions for children.