In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Pediatrics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classic Texts
  • Primary Materials
  • Journals
  • Biographies and Autobiographies
  • European and Global Pediatrics
  • American Pediatrics
  • Organizational Histories
  • Subspecialties
  • Children’s Hospitals
  • Infant Feeding
  • Pediatrics and Scientific Motherhood
  • Women in Pediatrics
  • Innovations in Pediatric Practice
  • Pediatrics and Childhood Diseases
  • Pediatrics and Child Advocacy
  • Ethics and the History of Pediatrics

Childhood Studies History of Pediatrics
Dorothy Pawluch, Samuel Schotland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0144


Although interest in the health, illnesses, and well-being of the young dates back to Antiquity, the term pediatrics is relatively modern, originating in the latter half of the 19th century with the emergence of a distinct and organized specialty within medicine. The literature covering that development, and the history of medical interest in children more generally, is vast, characterized by contributions from clinician-historians and, especially after the 1960s, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and other social scientists. The tendency in the earlier literature was to produce largely descriptive works celebrating the great men (less so women) of pediatrics and their triumphs. Since the 1960s, however, appreciation has grown of the need to look beyond a simple chronicling and honoring of individuals and their scientific and technological achievements. The trend has been toward more analytical histories that pay attention to the social, cultural, political, and economic contexts within which pediatrics developed, and to the role of such factors as class, race, and gender. Both types of contributions—those generated by clinician-historians and those by critical analysts writing from vantage points outside of medicine—are reflected here. Drawing clear boundaries around the subject of pediatric history is difficult. The literature cited inevitably overlaps to a greater or lesser extent with other Oxford Bibliographies articles, such as “Children and Social Policy and “Ethics in Research with Children.” An effort has been made to include sources where pediatrics as a specialty features centrally or that cover developments that have been pivotal to the evolution of the specialty.

General Overviews

Good overviews are available in a variety of forms, including books, papers, and anthologies. Colón and Colón 1999 offers the best and most comprehensive overview, covering not only organized pediatrics, but also interest in child health more generally across time (from Antiquity to the present) and across continents (East and West). More cursory overviews, which nevertheless serve as useful introductions, are Duffin 2010 and Mahnke 2000. Golden 2018 links the rise of medical interest in children in the United States to broader cultural forces. Stern and Markel 2002 offers an excellent collection of historical analyses on a range of child-health related topics, organized around the themes of pediatrics as a specialty, standardizing the child, and “discovering” new diseases in children. The six essays in Golden, et al. 2004 focus on the connections between child health and pediatrics and are presented alongside a range of key primary documents and bibliographies. Warsh and Strong-Boag 2005 showcases some of the best research in the area, while at the same time serving as an accessible introduction to the history of medicine and childhood. Also worth mentioning is Spaulding and Welch 1991, which provides a selective but illuminating overview of the medical interest in children’s illnesses through a discussion of various items in the impressive 3,000-item collection of Canadian pediatrician T. G. H. Drake, now housed at the Royal Ontario Museum. For those curious about the etymology of the term pediatrics, Pearn 2011 is a good source.

  • Colón, A. R., and P. A. Colón. Nurturing Children: A History of Pediatrics. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.

    A comprehensive and highly readable overview of interest in child care from the beginning of recorded civilization to the present, capturing both medical and social antecedents of current practices. Extensive reference section, illustrations, and glossary.

  • Duffin, Jacalyn. History of Medicine: A Scandalously Short Introduction. 2d ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

    An informative and delightfully accessible history of medicine, with chapter 13, “No Baby, No Nation: History of Pediatrics” (pp. 341–374), dedicated to pediatrics, and several others, including a chapter on public health, of direct relevance. An excellent teaching resource.

  • Golden, Janet. Babies Made Us Modern: How Babies Brought America into the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108227308

    Based on a vast array of original and richly detailed sources, Golden connects the emergence of an interest in scientific medicine (including pediatrics), consumerist culture, and the welfare state during the 1890 to the post–World War II period to a growing fascination in the United States with babies. Concludes with the sobering observation that current infant mortality rates and welfare programs are now falling behind.

  • Golden, Janet, Richard A. Meckel, and Heather Munro Prescott. eds. Children and Youth in Sickness and in Health: A Historical Handbook and Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

    Broad in scope, this volume includes a collection of six essays, selected documents, illustrations, and bibliographies. In each part of the book, attention is paid to child health-care providers, including pediatricians.

  • Mahnke, C. Becket. “The Growth and Development of a Specialty: The History of Pediatrics.” Clinical Pediatrics 39.12 (2000): 705–714.

    DOI: 10.1177/000992280003901204

    A concise overview of medical interest in children starting with the Ancients (Hippocrates, Celsus, Soranus, and Galen) and continuing through the Renaissance, the 17th century, and colonial America up to the present. Brief, but captures the broad strokes well and serves as a good introduction.

  • Pearn, John. “Pediatrics: The Etymology of a Name.” Archives of Disease in Childhood 96 (2011): 759–763.

    DOI: 10.1136/adc.2011.215236

    Traces the origin of the term pediatrics to describe medical interest in diseases of children from its first usages in the United States and Germany in 1850.

  • Spaulding, Mary, and Penny Welch. Nurturing Yesterday’s Child: A Portrayal of the Drake Collection of Paediatric History. Philadelphia: B. C. Decker, 1991.

    Describes the Drake Collection, made up of rare artifacts, books, prints, art, coins, and stamps that focus on the medical care of children over time. Good introduction and interesting discussions on the historical background and significance of the items.

  • Stern, Alexandra, and Howard Markel, eds. Formative Years: Children’s Health in the United States, 1880–2000. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

    An outstanding collection of papers written by prominent historians of medicine, childhood, and pediatrics, with a useful overview of the historiography of child health in the United States and an insightful introduction by Leon Eisenberg.

  • Warsh, Cheryl Krasnick, and Veronica Strong-Boag. eds. Children’s Health Issues in Historical Perspective. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005.

    Covers from 1800 onward, looking at areas ranging from French colonial Vietnam to northern British Columbia and New Zealand. Considers class, race, and sexuality of children in health-care efforts. Excellent introduction.

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