Motherhood on display: The child welfare exhibition in colonial Calcutta, 1920

Ranjana Saha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article focuses on the Health and Child Welfare Exhibition held in colonial Calcutta in 1920. Despite a few scholarly references, however, there has been no detailed study till date. The vicereines of India launched child welfare exhibitions motivated by the transnational exhibitory baby health week propaganda initiative to curb infant mortality. These exhibitions were also locally organised and collaborative in nature with an urgent nationalist appeal. The study critically engages with select Exhibition lectures about so-called ‘clean’ midwifery and ‘scientific’ motherhood given by famous Bengali medical practitioners and other prominent professionals, predominantly men and a few women. These drew intimate sociobiological connections between the problems of ‘dirty’ midwifery, ritual pollution, improper confinement, insanitary childbirth, insufficient lactation and the excessive maternal and infant deaths in Calcutta. The central argument is that these public lectures primarily focused on the very making of the ‘ideal’ Indian nursing mother, often imagined as the traditional yet modern bhadramahila mother figure, for rejuvenating community and national health and vigour. Correspondingly, it highlights the transnational resonance of famous Frederic Truby King’s ‘mothercraft’ popularised as childcare by the clock. The paper is, therefore, guided by the twin purposes of filling the gap in our knowledge about child welfare exhibitions in colonial India and illuminating extant scholarship on the global infant welfare movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-277
Number of pages29
JournalIndian Economic and Social History Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 04-2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Social Sciences(all)


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