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After Bread, Education: Nutrition and Urban School Children, 1890-1920

by William J. Reese - 1980

This analysis of the turn of the century public policy debates on state provision of school meals brings to light the political forces that continue to determine the health and well-being of urban school children. (Source: ERIC)


The French statesman Danton once noted that "after Bread, Education is the first need of a people." Like many writers before him, he believed that sufficient food and education should be the cornerstones of a strong national state. It was not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, that a wide range of individuals searched for the exact interrelationship between nutrition and learning. During these years there emerged a transatlantic reform movement, including numerous educators, physicians, political activists, and lay citizens, that publicly debated the connection between nutritional development and educational attainment and its possible impact on social policy. The school meal debate polarized social classes and revealed the political forces that vied for the control of mass education and public welfare in the twentieth century. What was at stake in many Western nations was the control and political power of the dependent classes and the urban poor.

Many of the assumptions and difficulties of modern nutritional policies are present in the ideas, arguments, and recommendations on nutrition and education advanced in European and American cities at the turn of the century. The familiarity of many of the arguments on the expansion of state support for school breakfasts, lunches, and nutritional services is hardly coincidental; it only highlights the still visible threads of social belief uniting the past and the present. The suggestion of feeding starving or poorly nourished children at public expense raised a host of competing ideas, which still face modern policymakers: parental versus school responsibilities, socialist versus capitalist views of the social order, and the rights of the child and the state. When studied in a comparative framework, past debates on school meals bring to light significant aspects of modern nutritional development.

A complete history of school meal programs at the turn of the century would include a study of policy formation in several nations, especially France and Germany. This article, however, more narrowly examines Great Britain (especially England) and the United States. Not only are the source materials for these nations easily accessible and illustrative of social dynamics in other Western nations, but the historical growth of mass education in England and America, while hardly identical, shared common characteristics. Carl Kaestle, for example, has enumerated various points of ideological agreement between common-school reformers in both countries in the nineteenth century, when numerous innovations like infant schools and Lancasterian teaching methods were transplanted here from England.1 A similar Anglo-American bond later existed in regard to nutritional programs for the urban school child. American school programs lagged behind those in England in certain respects, yet the problems encountered by supporters and opponents of state involvement were often quite analagous.

The earliest school nutrition programs in England and America were intimately shaped by class perceptions of dependent social groups. This article demonstrates how class determinants affected three integral facets of the history of school meals: the origins of meals for the poor through the work of voluntary associations; the evolution of theories that related nutrition and school achievement; and, finally, the nature of school meal programs established in various urban centers. In all of these areas, diverse reform groups, from socialist trade unions to members of Parliament, from Jewish women's clubs to presidents of school boards, operated out of a class-conscious framework and quarreled over how to shape the health and schooling of the poor. Out of a welter of conflicting opinions emerged the first systematic social policies in the area of education and nutrition.


"If justice were done, charity would be unnecessary," claimed a member of the Social Democratic Federation in England in 1899.2 From his perspective, the working classes throughout the nineteenth century had received little of the former and an abundance of the latter. When it came to that most fundamental duty and pleasure—to feed their children, and to feed them well—-the laborers who presumably created the world's wealth depended on the benevolence of others, particularly the middle and upper classes that predominated in Victorian charity organizations. Unless workers (who despised the Poor Law and the workhouse) admitted to the Poor Law officials that they were unable to provide for their children, the future generation of English citizens was often destined to a state of semistarvation or dependence on the missions and soup kitchens controlled by competing voluntary groups.3

Opponents of state intervention for school meals in England and America constantly feared for the loss of some imagined "independence" of working people and the poor. It was obvious, however, that the social welfare of the lower classes increasingly depended on those above them: the landlord in search of profit, the employer in search of cheap labor, the government official in opposition to working-class politics. The inability of workers to feed their children adequately was merely part of the dependency characteristic of other aspects of their lives. With the rise in the 1860s of voluntary associations that persistently opposed state provision of meals, the socialists and trade unions who included such meals in their large-scale program of "state maintenance" encountered formidable adversaries.4

Privately funded school-related meals were uncommon in America until after the turn of the century; by then, English voluntary groups had already labored for nearly four decades to aid the children of the poor. The Destitute Children's Dinner Society, formed in London in 1864, was only one of the earliest of the numerous organizations founded in British cities to ameliorate the condition of underfed street waifs and public elementary school children. With the passage of the Education Act of 1870, which drove thousands of previously unschooled children into the classroom, a number of Ragged School Unions formed nationally to clothe and feed this lower-class group. Organizations with an array of titles assembled: the Bristol Children's Help Society, the Glasgow Poor Children's Dinner Table Society, the London School Dinners Association, and the Birmingham Cheap Dinners Association.5 By the late nineteenth century, hundreds of similar benevolent groups had carved a place in community life in British towns and cities.

Prominent members of these charity groups vigorously opposed and denounced the passage of the Provision of Meals Act in 1906, which for the first time permitted the use of tax monies for meals for the poor. In popularizing the belief that state intervention would destroy the independence of the poor and the autonomy of working-class family life, they had a powerful effect on nineteenth-century politics. For these groups, especially the nationally organized, London-based Charity Organization Society (COS), realized that contemporary socialists like the members of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) condemned the system of alms and lectures doled out to the poor along with the food dispensed to undernourished children. And they rightly understood, as Brian Simon has demonstrated, that the trade unions were increasingly assimilating socialist educational beliefs.6 When SDF was founded in 1884, it immediately included in its platform one free meal per day for every child, not as a charity but as a human right. The Fabian Society, formed in the same year, followed this example; and Socialist parties in Europe and in America commonly wrote meal provisions into their respective party platforms.7

By the time the socialist trade unions and reformers pushed the liberals toward such welfare reforms as pensions for the old and meals for the young in the early 1900s, voluntary groups whose history now stretched back several decades still insisted that they adequately provided for the nutritional needs of the poor. Yet even nonsocialists now asserted that perhaps hundreds of thousands of children suffered from malnutrition, underfeeding, or actual starvation. In his massive study of life among the London poor in the late 1880s, Charles Booth described children who were nothing less than Dickensian:

Puny, pale-faced, scantily clad and badly shod, these small and feeble folk may be found sitting limp and chill on the school benches in all the poorer parts of London.8

The novelist Jack London was so appalled by conditions there over a decade later that he simply labeled the children and their parents The People of the Abyss.9 And, over and over again, school inspectors, headmasters, and teachers told national government officials lurid tales of children who continually "have come to school without having tasted food that day"; who were "half-starved and ill-clad"; who fainted in class from underfeeding; and who supplemented their scanty meals "with rotten fruit, which they collect beneath barrows."10 To many it was an unpleasant recognition of an unsolved national problem, despite the belief of charity workers that the problems lay rooted in parental ignorance, intemperance, and sinfulness that was best rectified by their organizations.

The widespread fear that state intervention would "break up" the working-class family also became a major theme in the early 1900s among conservatives in America, where the debate over school meals was waged less in the national arena than in dozens of local communities. Working in a form of educational governance highly decentralized compared with England's, American school reformers beginning in the 1890s labored in their own cities to forge a consistent nutritional policy for the poor. Here, too, private voluntary groups answered the call to aid starving scholars and street arabs; and, simultaneously, municipal Socialists (as well as national party members) hammered out a state maintenance policy.11 Yet one should not be misled into viewing similar social patterns in both nations as identical. In America, traditional and emerging voluntary associations in particular became deeply divided on the question of state intervention. Newly formed progressive groups actively promoted such intervention in their writings and through their actions on the local level. And though American trade unions often agitated for new school programs, they generally played a less conspicuous part in the entire reform process than did their English counterparts.

American advocates of different types of feeding programs before and after the turn of the century realized that their efforts lagged behind those of Europe because of England's earlier urban and industrial transformation. By the depression of the 1890s, however, the existence of poverty was finally recognized by some in America as a goad to change social policy. With the rise of settlement houses, women's clubs, and municipal Socialist movements, attention focused sharply on the problem of the hungry school child.12 By the early 1900s, muckraking exposes of tenement life became commonplace and numerous voluntary organizations arose just as they had earlier in England. Through popular magazines and novels, Americans were exposed to the underside of social life. In his classic volume Poverty, the moderate Socialist Robert Hunter sympathetically described the millions of Americans who were "underfed, under-clothed, and badly housed," all the while emphasizing that "the great majority are children who have neither violated social laws nor committed any sin."13 John Spargo, author of The Bitter Cry of the Children, similarly inspired social action when he discovered thousands of children trapped in a "heritage of poverty."14

Many Americans, of course, continued to deny that widespread poverty existed alongside industrial growth and national prosperity. Robert Hunter was dismissed as a rabble-rouser and crank when he estimated that at least sixty to seventy thousand children were underfed in New York City alone.15 Repeated investigations in different cities nevertheless exposed the precarious existence of little children. Excerpts from the reports of Chicago truant officers poignantly document an uncertain, substandard way of life:

Armour School District: Father out of work, mother sick and not a scrap of food in the house. Five children; three half naked and one garbed only in an undershirt, crying out for bread.

Burr School District: One Polish mother takes care of a family of nine, including her 85-year-old father. Goes without sufficient food herself, so that others may have enough.

Pulaski School District: Father dying of consumption and mother sick with cancer in same room; six children; one-half loaf of rye bread and half a sausage was all that was left to eat.16

The evolution of public meal programs for America's urban school children corresponds closely with the history of the women's club movement of the Progressive Era. While local Socialist parties in cities like Milwaukee included a free meal section in their municipal platforms, women's groups largely funded and operated the earliest school breakfast and penny lunch programs.17 Prominent members of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the Council of Jewish Women, and the National Congress of Mothers eventually sustained numerous meals in town and city. Like the voluntary associations in England, these organizations were dominated by the middle and upper classes, though the American organizations, for reasons explained elsewhere, generally supported state intervention, funding, and control.18 In many cities these women quarreled with local Charity Organization Societies, the Salvation Army, and older benevolent groups that had been transplanted here from England after the 1870s. The split between this old and relatively new wave of philanthropists crucially shaped the earliest meal programs in this country.

Domestic science advocates like Ellen Richards agitated for at-cost lunch programs in the Boston high schools as early as 1894. Similar programs also began in the secondary schools of Milwaukee, Rochester, and other cities later in that decade.19 More commonly, however, contemporary women's clubs desired innovations in the elementary schools, which the majority of the children attended. As one prominent writer noted, not a single state had passed legislation for school meals by 1913, but women's clubs, aided by trade unions, Socialist parties, and other civic groups had already established some form of meal service in nearly three dozen cities and in many towns and rural communities.20 The Council of Jewish Women, formed in Chicago in 1893, frequently championed social welfare reforms like playgrounds, vacation schools, breakfasts, and lunches. By 1908 the local branch in Baltimore distributed free cold milk and ice during the hot summer months to reduce infant mortality rates. Later the Cincinnati section successfully persuaded their school board to adopt dozens of penny lunch facilities they had initiated and operated with the help of other groups. After the turn of the century, local federations of women's clubs, while often denounced publicly as socialists and busybodies, ran lunch programs in Toledo, Buffalo, Rochester, and various other places.21

From the beginning these associations favored municipal funding for their innovations. Women in Pittsburgh characteristically "hoped that eventually the School Board . . . will inaugurate the system in all public schools as part of their work and not as a charity and towards this end we are now working."22 As Roy Lubove has pointed out, this new generation of women often attacked the older charity workers as priggish, condescending, and ineffective.23 Lillian Wald, a leading settlement worker, repeatedly castigated the Salvation Army for emphasizing the saving of souls instead of pursuing a more enlightened social policy. As a supporter of William Maxwell, the New York City school superintendent who endorsed free eyeglasses and meals for children, she condemned these charity workers because they emphasized individual over social salvation and ignored cultural differences among various ethnic groups.24

The debates over state involvement in school meals in England, America, and other Western nations were strenuous during these years precisely because education, so often depicted as somehow transcending the world of politics, has always been intimately tied to larger power relationships. The medical officer of England's state board of education, George Newman, said it best in 1910:

The subject of the provision of meals for elementary children, at the expense wholly or part of public funds, is one which involves thorny questions of political and social economy.25

For even though various voluntary associations in England and America clearly disagreed about the propriety of state intervention, the fear of pauperizing the poor and of destroying the independence of workers suggested an alteration in power relationships that threatened individuals who preferred the existing state of affairs. The inadequacies of the meal programs that were finally established, the subject of the last section of this article, are incomprehensible without first appreciating the power of the class-derived arguments that were used against aiding poor children.

The ideological dispute over charity versus state funding emerged in clearest form in England, with its more rigid class structure and more articulate critics of social change in education. At a time when SDF called for free meals for all children and condemned the growing dependency of the working classes, the Charity Organization Society explicitly argued that poverty, the prime cause of starvation, was a personal rather than a social dilemma. In 1877 a special committee of COS explained that society must never lighten the load or "remove the spur to exertion and self-restraint" needed by all respectable workers:

It is true, no doubt, that there are parents who are past redemption . . . but the majority of the committee are of the opinion that it is better in the interests of the community to allow, in such cases, the sins of the parents to be visited on the children than to impair the principle of the solidarity of the family and run the risk of permanently demoralising large numbers of the population by the offer of free meals to their children.26

This declaration, which summed up the widespread nineteenth-century belief that poverty resulted from drink, immorality, and sinfulness, remained the official dogma of COS after the passage of the Meals Act in 1906. C. S. Loch, the perennial secretary of the organization, continued to attack the lower levels of the working class as criminals and mental defectives; and the Liverpool COS typically warned the government that state intervention would lessen the need for "intemperate and improvident" parents to reform and "to fulfill their elementary duty of providing for their family."27

The need to preserve the cohesiveness of the family resounded in dozens of public addresses and documents. "[P]eople ought to be taught that they must provide for wives and families, and not expect the State to do it," wrote a flustered correspondent to the London Times.28 The Royal Commission on Physical Training, formed by the government to study the feeding issue, concluded that voluntarism was an irregular and uncertain way to feed starving scholars but was still preferable to state involvement, which would further encroach "upon the independence" of ordinary citizens.29

The animosity displayed by formal and informal policymakers toward the poor certainly highlights the close interconnections among education, nutrition, and the political process. Writers in popular journals in England, more than in America, were not afraid to assert that workers were often loafers, ne'er-do-wells, and lower than most of the simple-minded beasts in the animal kingdom, who at least never asked anyone else to feed their young.30 The secretary of the educational committee of Sheffield in 1905, in opposing any form of state intervention, warned the government of welfare cheaters and a weak labor force. Some working-class members, he argued, "have been known to excuse themselves by saying that if there is anything to be given away they might as well have a share of it, while others who are well able to work and could actually get employment refuse to do so."31 Working people, wrote a contributor to The Empire Review, regularly "cringe and cant" whenever there is a free handout; and it was apparent to others that legislation that promotes "the degradation and discouragement of the great civic virtues of self-reliance and the due fulfillment of personal responsibility" only hinders social progress and "must ultimately destroy the body corporate of the body which adopts it."32

Charity workers as well as political conservatives in America also feared pauperizing the working classes and opposed state welfare programs. One New York City school principal told John Spargo that if you remove the "hardship and suffering out of their lives by smoothing the pathway of life for their children, you weaken their character" and sin against them and society.33 In 1908, when the Chicago school board ordered an investigation of underfed children like those previously described by truant officers, nearly every charity group in the city opposed any intimation of municipal intervention, since that would only "increase dependency and cause parents to shirk their responsibilities."34 "Who hesitates to take advantage of the State?" asked a worried member of the Ohio Board of State Charities, who feared a loss of "individual duty and responsibility" through such capricious actions.35 Or, as the New York Times editorialized in 1909, sounding like the local Charity Organization Society:

Anything that enables the family provider to shift his burdens upon the State tends directly to State Socialism. . . . The home has been regarded as the cradle of religion, intelligence, industry, and patriotism. Can the State, which sprung from the family, supercede it, or even exist without


There were naturally many people in England and America who recognized that a hierarchical, class-dominated social order helped to perpetuate mass poverty and that not all poor people were inept guardians or habitual drunkards. Yet in hundreds of pages of detailed

testimony on education and nutrition before the English government, it is rare to find a local educational authority, voluntary agency spokesperson, or friendly visitor who asserts that the poor are as moral as the rich, that they actually love their children, and that they usually do their best within limited means. More common was the claim: "Cases of poverty are isolated; improvidence is endemic."37 When asked in 1906 if a positive correlation prevailed between poverty and underfeeding, the director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children retorted:

I should say drink, gambling, selfishness and general indifference. We rarely find in our experience that actual poverty is the cause of failure to feed.38

There was a wide range of American socialists, and club women attracted to municipal socialism, who advanced more structural interpretations of poverty and personal failure, but we should not underestimate the strength of an older ethic of personal responsibility and duty that resounded in the contemporary literature on education and nutrition.

A plea for personal moral regeneration, therefore, formed the base of the ideological opposition to state-financed school meals, especially in England but also in America, and English and American socialists repeatedly noted that the effort to convince workers to prefer their "independence" over state "encroachment" was ingeniously designed to give them more freedom to rear starving children. As for their so-called independence, replied an SDF partisan, "There is none to sap."39 Furthermore, she asked was it not curious that free school meals would allegedly end the autonomy of the poor family, while the same effect seemed absent when the wealthy annually shipped their children off to exclusive boarding schools? Moreover, as John Spargo and others pointed out, the myth of the independence of the poor overlooked the existence of competing charity organizations, which fought for the exclusive control of dependent populations.40 And the social stigmas attached to the beneficiaries of "friendly" visiting and private charity were obvious to everyone. Charity workers dismissed these objections, since in their minds pauperism and socialist ideas were already too rampant. These class-derived arguments did not disappear in other areas of school meal development; that much is clear from the contemporary debate that arose in both nations over the precise relationship between education and nutrition and the character of newly implemented programs in the early 1900s.


Throughout the literature on education and nutrition during these years there ran the common assumption that starving children made poor scholars. "Is it possible with empty stomachs to pay attention to the multiplication tables?" asked Jonathan Taylor, a prominent English socialist, in 1884. Can children who worry about "whether there will be a piece of bread for them when they get home ... be enthusiastic about geography?"41 In both England and America, concerned individuals pressed for answers to these elementary questions to help rally support for state-funded school meals. Beneath the surface, however, a set of more significant values lurked in the thinking of their opponents. The debate over school meals aroused many negative opinions about the morality, eating habits, and life-styles of working populations. To say that poverty was of their own making was not enough. In England in particular, with its more rigid class system and sense of political deference between groups, the moral and human gap widened in the eyes of many contemporaries who discussed whether poor children should be fed from public funds.

Taylor's questions, however, became standard items in English and American social thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After visiting poverty-stricken sections in England in the 1890s, William T. Stead, the Christian Socialist author of the best seller // Christ Came to Chicago, concluded: "To drive children into school in order to fill their heads when they have nothing in their stomachs is like pouring water into a sieve."42 While critical of the theory of state intervention, an English governmental committee in 1903 nevertheless admitted that "unless children receive proper nourishment, they cannot be expected to profit by the mental or physical training provided to them."43 Medical officers affirmed the close ties between "physical perfection and mental acumen," with one Liverpool physician typically writing that "almost all the abnormal intelligences in the poorest school are due to one factor—starvation." He did not stop there, for not only were working-class children less intelligent than others because of the poverty that produced starvation, but "it is from this class that the ranks of pilferers and sneak thieves come."44

Whether sympathetic or critical of working-class life-styles, a wide range of Americans also advanced variations on the "sound mind in a sound body" theme. It was not a physician but a socialist—Robert Hunter—who wrote that "learning is difficult [for the poor] because hungry stomachs and languid bodies and thin blood are not able to feed the brain."45 Studies on the importance of early childhood nutrition in scholastic achievement and later physical and mental growth proliferated here as in England; and they (perhaps incorrectly) inferred a causal effect from the high correlation they discovered between malnutrition and school failure among working-class groups. "A poorly fed child, it is quite plain, is unable to prosecute his studies with zest; he cannot prepare for the coming battle of life," asserted the Philadelphia North American in 1906 in a special report on underfed children in major American cities.46

Despite the general agreement of English and American commentators from divergent backgrounds that school success and proper nutrition were closely related, the urban poor were nevertheless frequently criticized by the middle and upper classes. Poor English parents were repeatedly told by opponents of state intervention to stretch their meager budgets, to serve more intelligently chosen meals, and to change their personal habits. Again, failure had personal rather than social origins. "It is a ghastly sight to see a lot of poor London children eating food when they are hungry," one minister declared. "When it is given to them they devour it in a most unpretty fashion."47 "To many of the poorest children, a well-ordered meal, with its accompaniment of clean tablecloths, clean crockery, and seemliness of behavior, is almost unknown," noted another critic.48 It never occurred to such observers that middle-class niceties might have been unsuitable and extravagant in London's East End.

Personal ignorance rather than genuine poverty accounted for considerable suffering, according to many people who claimed to understand the life-styles of the working-class family. An Edinburgh social worker admitted that some working people "are very good natured," are "very fond of their children," and often give them "a fair quantity of food," but she added that it was "a very funny kind of food sometimes."49 An educator from Manchester in 1905 dispensed with the compliments: Working-class meals were simply "a most unholy mess."50 Compared with the children of the elite classes, working-class children had rude table manners and continually "bolted" their food. As the medical officer to the Board of Education regretfully told readers of his annual report, "In many of the poorest homes meals as such do not exist, and . . . food lies on the table all through the day, to be snatched up and eaten whenever whim or hunger prompts."51 A Dr. Hall of Leeds further proclaimed that "underfed children have . . . slum stomaches . . . and perverted appetites; they refuse plain, nutritious food and crave for condiments, pickles, and highly seasoned articles, such as liver and onions and black puddings."52 Such personal family disorders made malnutrition and suffering inevitable.

Criticisms of working-class behavior at mealtime were not unknown in the United States. A New York City physician bluntly told the American Medical Association that "in the majority of families among the poorer classes the food is poorly chosen, poorly cooked, and poorly served."53 Other members of that staid organization throughout the Progressive Era often agreed that the poor bought unsuitable food "not because these people have not enough money, but that they have no idea of what constitutes nutritious food."54 The main difference between English and American writers who tried to shape social policy on the issue of nutrition was that Americans more generally acknowledged that even the wealthy were often ignorant about food values. John Spargo, for example, believed that misfeeding was a problem affecting all social classes.55 A Boston lunch advocate also agreed that although contemporary studies demonstrated the problems of misfeeding among the poor, this condition frequently characterized "well-to-do families" as well, a position assumed more commonly among American writers than among English writers on the subject of nutrition and parental ignorance.56

Armed with the widely held assumption, especially in England, that the problem of the hungry school child resulted from personal deficiencies—parental ignorance in choosing proper foods, poor table manners, and a disdain for "family meals" as others enjoyed them—critics continually disclosed the shortcomings of the working-class family. The testimony given by dozens of teachers, school officials, and voluntary association members to the English government in the early 1900s centered on the importance of misfeeding rather than underfeeding in the working-class diet; in effect this placed the problem of nutrition squarely on the shoulders of the parents themselves."57 These social observers often refrained from linking starvation to poverty, since they argued that the quality of working-class health stemmed from numerous factors—poor housing, foul air, criminally prone neighbors, substandard working conditions, and the general apathy, indifference, and ignorance of the parents in question. Only socialists and the trade unions, of course, suggested that even these factors perhaps emanated from an inequitable social order.58

This emphasis on personal responsibility, a theme that permeated the school meal debate, caused many nutritional reformers to endorse parent education over structural social reforms. It was to be hoped that the exposure of children to proper middle-class behavior and to ideal notions of a proper family meal in the neighborhood school would help them correct their own personal deficiencies as well as those of their parents. Even nationally prominent socialists like Margaret McMillan, who worked vigorously with local trade unions to establish a model lunch program in Bradford, stressed the importance of flowers, paintings, tablecloths, and perfect decorum at mealtime.59 While advocating a redistribution of wealth and the construction of a socialist state, she nevertheless believed that tenement children profited from certain middle-class pleasantries in a life that was often deprived and uncertain.

Throughout the Parliamentary debates that culminated in the Provision of Meals Act, various members of the House of Commons widely discussed the "educational side" of school lunches and breakfasts. That is, more was at work than the simple notion that children who ate well learned more easily; rather, school meals permitted teachers to reeducate the poor in the more gentil and desirable traits of the higher social classes. "It was desired that this work should be not a work of relief, but a work of education. They wanted wholesome food given to the children and they wanted children taught how to eat it"; it was not merely a question of distributing food but "also one of teaching better habits and manners."60

This was hardly an older version of the now popular idea of a "hidden" curriculum. In the first place, the overriding power of class in the shaping of perceptions meant that people were not unwilling to describe the poor as "perfectly savage" parents or, as a historian of the English meals program wrote, to assert that properly designed programs taught tenement youth "good manners, cleanliness, and orderliness."61 The agenda was never hidden. In fact, the value of meals in teaching parents and children better nutritional ideals, a key concern of the home economics movement, was widely acknowledged in both nations. Parents' meetings, in particular, would not only educate parents to be more intelligent guardians in a general sense but would also rear a generation of more adept consumers.62

Arguing in this vein, a domestic science professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, characteristically wrote that children must avoid the nonnutritious but alluring items sold on the street pushcart and become "educated to desire what they need."63 This concern reflected social thought in England and America, where advocates of meal programs invariably attacked the local candy store owner and street vendor who profited from the child's inability to select wholesome foods over sugary treats. "Every time a child buys food he gets with it an idea about food," claimed the Home and School Association, which ran the lunch programs in Philadelphia. "On the street he gets an inferior product and a harmful idea, and a low standard of food quality . . . in the school he gets a wholesome product, and, if properly planned, a helpful idea about food and its care."64

The chief difference between arguments over the "educational" value of meals in both nations was, again, a greater recognition here that, at least in theory, both the rich and the poor alike could benefit from parent education. One of the nation's leading advocates of school meals, Caroline Hunt, made this point explicit in 1909:

We are likely to think of public-school meals as a means of instructing the children of the poor in table manners; they might, however, be quite as valuable in accustoming the children of the rich to rational simplicity.65

Another difference in America was the belief that meals could help Americanize the immigrant family. The actual treatment of children with ethnic differences in school nutrition programs fell radically short of assimilationist expectations, as demonstrated later, but advocates of school meals occasionally praised them as potential boosters of Americanism. Writing during the patriotic days of World War 1, Alice Bough ton of the massive Cleveland School Survey project hoped that new immigrant children and their families might become Americanized by adopting new eating habits.66 A member of the New York People's Institute similarly agreed that immigrants contributed to the cultural diversity of the nation, but still needed to modify their eating styles in their new environment. "Good American living means an exchange and preservation of good food habits of all nations which are feasible in the American environment. The school lunch thus becomes, an important feature in naturalization."67

Meal programs, then, did not originate simply because people suddenly accepted the wisdom of the phrase a healthy mind in a healthy body. Social commentators often had more definite objectives in mind when school programs were finally begun, objectives that were rooted in class perceptions of how to reform the individual personalities of working-class members; little was said about possible inequalities in the larger social structure. The entire debate over state intervention touched deep-seated feelings about the morality and behavior of the poor—their inability to choose proper foods, their penchant for misfeeding, their ignorance about how to fold a napkin and wash their fingers. The vital connection between politics, education, and nutrition was apparent as programs were finally implemented in England and America.


The earliest state involvement in meals for urban children in the early 1900s did not indicate a national acceptance of any full-blown welfare state in either England or America. Rather, this was a transitional period in which the ethic of personal responsibility and individualism clashed with newer theories of public intervention for private welfare. Many influential individuals of the era retained traditional notions on poverty and the value of philanthropy in ministering to the needs of the poor. Indeed, entrenched ideological and class perceptions on education, nutrition, and state involvement discouraged the creation of comprehensive, equitable school meal programs for all urban school children—despite considerable evidence that meals helped improve the health and well-being of the urban school child.

The circumstances surrounding the passage of the Provision of Meals Act in England (1906) and its eventual implementation highlight these basic considerations. The act disheartened many people: conservatives who preferred Social Darwinist ideals for the marketplace, and socialist trade unions that wanted a more expansive nutritional program.68 The national Trade Union Congress, which adopted the socialist position on free meals in the late nineteenth century, increasingly clamored for the theory of state maintenance; by the early 1900s, the trade unionists lobbied for their cause in the halls of Parliament through Liberal leadership. The Liberals rejected the ideological precepts on which maintenance rested—the establishment of a socialist state. They responded to political pressures from below with legislation mandating pensions for the old and meals for the young within an essentially capitalist framework.69

This process of cooptation between labor radicals and Liberal politicians clearly reflected the class conflicts underlying the meal debate. The Meals Act itself survived only through the persistence of Liberal Imperialists like Dr. Thomas J. Macnamara and the Tory leader Sir John Gorst, both of whom rejected socialist alternatives to the existing social order and worked to undermine any further radicalization of the working classes.70 While supporting various levels of state intervention for nutritional programs, these prominent leaders who guided the legislation through Parliament were not motivated by an unadulterated sympathy for the poor; instead, they feared the effects of racial deterioration and its possible impact on preserving a national empire.

In many ways both men perfectly reflected the theories of racial superiority current in contemporary intellectual thought, beliefs that attracted otherwise conservative empire builders to meal programs. The first royal commission incidentally concerned with the health and eating habits of the working classes convened in 1903; it assembled primarily because it was recognized that many recruits failed their military physical examinations during the Boer War. Hence the socialist trade unions and various settlement workers who proposed increased state entry into nutritional projects would never have secured legislative attention to their cause unless the ruling classes above them simultaneously perceived that an inferior racial stock meant the destruction of the empire and their current political and social dominance.71

Macnamara's plan was to give free meals to all school children, not only to the poor, and then fine and imprison working parents who failed to reimburse the state for the cost of the meals (unless they were previously declared paupers). Labor radicals denounced the plan as idiotic and insulting; voluntary associations, on the other hand, viewed it as socialist and Utopian. It was commonly believed by the latter group that workers would never pay for meals if they could get them for nothing and that the cost would therefore be exorbitant, a position that did not disturb their opponents in the least. Macnamara nevertheless convinced his Parliamentary associates to overcome their fear of state involvement and view the meals as a form of self-interest and national investment. As early as 1899, he described his plan in the London Times, reminding his readers that "it is quite impossible to expect successfully to equip the intellect of the child whose stomach is empty." That, however, was insufficient cause to merit state intervention but, as Macnamara increasingly argued to fellow Imperialists in the next several years, the nation must learn to fear "not Krupp guns and Continental jealousy" but the "wastrel, the ne'er-do-well, the social wreck, and the criminal" element that undermined the empire and the national health.72

"All this sounds terribly like rank Socialism," Macnamara wrote in 1905 in defense of his ideas. "I'm afraid it is; but I am not in the least dismayed. Because I know Empire cannot be built on rickety and flat-chested citizens."73 As another London physician told a government panel in the same period, the empire could never be preserved if the lower classes continued to suffer from physical ailments and disabilities. Across the civilized world the strongest nations would capture the most highly prized colonies, and it was clear that the people who used their food supplies most efficiently would emerge victorious. "[Y]ou can get much more food out of certain races than others," he argued, and the "struggle for existence" involved the production of the "cheapest" human machines. "The Italians, perhaps, in Europe, and the Chinaman in Asia, are probably about the cheapest machines going."74 What was at stake, again, was not underachieving scholars per se but the props of the future Imperial state.

Although the government initially blocked legislative action on nutritional programs by attaching all meals to the poor law in 1905, the Provision of Meals Act was finally approved the following year. For the first time in English history, tax rates up to a half-penny were allowed for necessitous children during the regular school term. Yet the heavy hand of the past was still evidenced everywhere. In the first place, the meals were never viewed as free, for local educational authorities were ordered to collect payment from parents who could afford the cost. Similarly, the most widely used method of determining children's eligibility for meals was the "poverty test," whereby teachers and school officials inquired into the economic position of the particular family; in that way, the historic equation of free meals and poor children remained fixed.75

In addition, the act was only permissive, not mandatory, legislation, which meant that penny-pinching school boards were not required to establish any program. By 1909, only 113 out of 328 local educational authorities in England had adopted any form of public meal provisions; and the percentage really never increased during this period for any long period of time. Nearly two-thirds of the country's school districts, therefore, remained under the control of school officials with nineteenth-century notions of individual responsibility, and voluntary organizations that still regarded meals as a form of charity rather than a basic right continued to prosper. The legislation angered many dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, who opposed the principle of intervention out of hand despite the alleged deterioration of the masses, as well as socialist trade unions, which struggled for decades for a more comprehensive and less class-biased plan.76

The history of school feeding experiments in London illustrates the inherent difficulties in securing equitable treatment regarding school meals. In the late nineteenth century, pressured by Socialists who petitioned for free meals and clothes for children, the London School Board formed several committees to study better methods of caring for the poor. These committees were primarily designed to centralize the work of dozens of competing groups, to reduce the number of meals served whenever possible, and to stifle efforts to secure local meals through tax rates. The resistance to the rate idea was so strong that the London County Council, the successor to the school board, failed to levy any taxes for meals even after the Meals Act was passed.77 This was only the most prominent example of how local school officials undermined nutritional reformers of all stripes. In the winter of 1908, the London SDF demonstrated at Queen's Hall; thousands of partisans attacked the "permissive, pettifogging ha'penny" act and the intransigence of the County Council.78 Finally, after a few months of agitation, the council agreed to fund a few programs for the lower classes.

National legislation, therefore, never ensured that English children benefited from meal provisions. In many respects, battles between advocates and opponents of the act flourished in each individual city, similar to the situation in the United States, where no federal legislation occurred related to the matter due to state control over schooling. Here, women's clubs, together with other civic organizations and interested trade unions, worked for many years to force local municipalities to make public commitments to school meals; until then, the burden of fund raising, meal preparation, and food serving was theirs. For most of the Progressive Era, urban lunch and breakfast programs were therefore operated by voluntary groups, which, unlike the older charity groups in both nations, favored public taxation for this innovation; by World War I years, local cities that previously had provided -only for the cost of heat, light, and facilities for this benevolent activity slowly became more centrally involved in the operations of these programs.

Perhaps a hundred cities here had voluntary group-controlled meal programs of some sort by World War 1, but conditions in New York illustrate common problems faced across the nation and also provide a useful comparison with London. The investigations of Robert Hunter and John Spargo, of course, fueled the initial drive for some type of meals program. By 1907, enough neighborhood people had been aroused by slum conditions that over two thousand mothers turned out for a parents' meeting to discuss the problem.79 By 1910, Superintendent William Maxwell was so moved by the spectacle of poverty that he championed free meals and eyeglasses for needy children through city funds; settlement workers, women's clubs, and trade unions differed over the precise distribution of such funds but overall endorsed the idea of intervention, as did the municipal branch of the Progressive party in 1912.80 In spite of such public attention to the problem, however, the school board and older charity groups, fearful of a loss of working-class independence and rising tax bills, formed powerful barriers against the onrush of this progressive tide.

Like their London counterparts, New York board members repeatedly hindered attempts to raise local levies for school meals. They, too, viewed muckraking investigations as pure sensationalism and formed in-house committees that reached predictable conclusions. When the board of education was accused of ignoring the plight of the underfed in the early 1900s, John Spargo discovered that principals generally obeyed the order from their superiors to keep the estimates of starving children low. To gather their "facts," principals often bolted into the classroom without warning and ignored the pride and feelings of poor children by calling for a show of hands to the question: Who has not eaten today, or had enough breakfast?81

The official reaction to Maxwell's pleas for municipal intervention was hostile. He was usually ignored or lambasted when he raised the issue in board meetings. His assertion that at least 17,000 children in the city were victims of malnutrition was denounced for fanning the flames of discontent among the masses. "I believe in charity but not the charity which puffs itself up," grumbled an angry commissioner in 1908 in response to repeated attacks on his do-nothing board. "I tell you what this thing is; it is hysterical sentimentality, and nothing else."82 The local Charity Organization Society, Salvation Army, and other charity groups, like their associates abroad, consistently fought Maxwell's ideas, which were defended by settlement people who disliked the inefficiencies of the private sector and the stigmas attached to existing meals. Out of hundreds of local neighborhood schools, only a few dozen were equipped by women's clubs with lunch or breakfast programs by 1920.83 Although many of the poorest city children were fed through this plan, the idea that good nutrition was a birthright of all children had not penetrated deeply into the thoughts and actions of school officials.

Robert Hunter, an able student of urban affairs and social change in education, aptly wrote in 1900 that the drive for municipal involvement in nutritional programs "has been pressed upon the authorities. It has not developed from a spirit within. The settlements, women's clubs, and other organizations have been continuously holding up to the school its obligation to the child of the tenement."84 His generalizations are easily documented, but careful, in-depth examinations of individual cities will reveal the precise nature of the struggles, the successes and failures, in local communities. There is still no doubt that it was primarily local progressive women's clubs, from branches of the Council of Jewish Women to purely local organizations, that forced municipalities to give more attention to the nutritional needs of the poor, though the process of intervention was always slow and arduous.85

In both England and America it is clear that the implementation of meal programs fell far short of the expectations of state welfare advocates and exceeded the wishes of those who entertained nineteenth-century views on economic liberalism and laissez-faire. Still, one may nevertheless inquire into the effect of meals on children who ate them on a more or less regular basis. From the available evidence, especially in England, the meals never made children (or their parents) less intractable, more docile, or noticeably gentle. In fact, the children's behavior at mealtime was often uproariously indignant and perhaps only confirmed what many believed about the brutish ways of the people of the abyss.

Since the English meal programs legally emanated from national legislation, government officials in the state Board of Education prepared regular reports on the progress and failures of programs throughout the commonwealth. The problem of measuring whether children benefited physically, mentally, and morally from the programs was never solved. Sampling procedures varied notoriously from place to place, impressions frequently replaced empirical analysis; it is likely we will never know how a single meal per day, placed against numerous other variables in their lives, shaped the habits and life-styles of fairly anonymous people.86

On the positive side, numerous studies indicated that children who were regularly fed at school increased in weight, mental agility, and overall fitness. Admitting the hazards in assessing whether the Meals Act "produced an improvement in the mental condition of the children," the author of the first official follow-up study claimed that it had beneficial results. The Head Teachers of Brighton believed that the children were now "brighter, more regular, and better fitted for their work," and a majority of teachers polled on the issue at Bradford and Leeds generally agreed.87 "Beyond question a distinct improvement has taken place in the ability of the children to take full advantage of the education given," boasted Birmingham's Local Educational Authority in 1909.88 One London headmistress simply wrote in the following year:

Physical progress is most marked. The disappearance of chronic headaches, sores on faces, gatherings on fingers, pains in chest . . . point to a more "fit" condition, which the children can only express for me by saying they "feel better now," or "are not hungry all the afternoons now."89

Observers thought it noteworthy that compared with the past fewer local children fainted in the classroom.

The attempt to change the behavior and eating habits of the working classes was less successful. The school inspector of Portsmouth, in describing the local meal program, asserted in 1912 that "the service is good, the children behave well, and all begin and finish together with grace before and after the meal."90 Various medical officers responsible for annual evaluations, however, frequently complained that the children's eating habits seemed unchangeable. Charles Henry Wyatt, the director of elementary education in Manchester, recognized this problem locally even before the Meals Act was passed:

Pea soup seems to be the thing that they do not get tired of. They have their own views on a great many things. They will not take many nutritious things that we supply. . . . We had a considerable amount of rice flour on one occasion, and we made it into moulds and they would not look at it.91

Since meals were voluntarily attended and children therefore had the option of taking their pennies to the street vendor, grand notions about the reform of children's culinary preferences dissipated quickly, nor did all the fancy tablecloths, flowers, pictures, and other middle-class accoutrements adorning many lunch and breakfast facilities persuade children to mend their ways. Every year public officials hoped things might improve, but report after report highlighted the disrespect, undoubtedly rooted somewhat in class perceptions, shown by children to authority figures. One author complained in 1910:

No attempt to teach orderly eating was made; there was a certain amount of actually disorderly conduct, throwing bits of food at each other and so forth. Grace was sung in a repulsively loud shout by many children.92

Or, as others similarly protested:

The discipline is bad. The children rush to their seats, bolt their food as quickly as possible and then rush out.93

There is a complete absence of amenities such as grace, punctuality, simultaneous assembly, attention to manners.94

[T]he meal was served in a perfect babel of noise; the children shouted and screamed and banged their spoons on the table. A bell was rung at intervals throughout the meal to obtain silence, but no attention was paid to it.95

Attempts to civilize the children of the depths often failed miserably.

Regardless of the writers who envisioned meals as a way to Americanize the immigrant family, new programs could not overturn time-tested ethnic preferences in the New World. National studies on the overall effects of meals are unfortunately absent to the degree that they are available in England. Generally, however, an institutional adaptation to ethnic eating habits was observable in many parts of urban America. Women's clubs, in particular, became fairly tolerant of ethnic differences during this time period. Boston beans, it was learned, were enjoyed by the Irish but less so by Southern Europeans. A Philadelphian involved in school meals served hominy to blacks, who disliked stewed fruit, while local Jewish children ate the fruit and shredded wheat that the blacks refused to touch.96

"You Americans take all the nerve out of our macaroni," protested a little Italian girl in New York after attending a school meal.97 Similar complaints guaranteed that Italian cooks—"who know how to cook macaroni with oil and garlic, as the children like it"—worked in Italian neighborhoods and that only Kosher food approved by the local rabbi was served to Jewish children.98 "Children are conservative shoppers and not easily tempted by new dishes," claimed a writer for the Cleveland School Survey in 1916, and a child with a lone penny hidden in his pocket "is not to be beguiled by macaroni and tomato sauce which he knows only by reputation. He loiters down the counter til he finds something which looks familiar and buys that."99 After school authorities more actively intervened in meal programs in later decades, the Progressive Era emphasis on culturally based nutritional differences ended and was replaced with a more standardized menu throughout the city.

Like England, America also produced studies that sought to prove that meals promoted the mental and physical condition of the poor. It is difficult, of course, to know whether the statistics on improvements in height and weight before and after lunch experiments reflected historical reality or the preformed opinion of the author on the worth of a program. Still, there is a notable absence of negative comments on these innovations. "The hundreds of children who have had six weeks' feeding in these schools show the results in increased weight, better color, and more receptive minds," wrote Ellen Richards in the Journal of Home Economics.100 Studies from New York argued that Irish and Italian tenement children who received school lunches enjoyed considerably better health and scholastic achievement than children without access to these meals. In a Canton, Illinois, school where parents operated a lunch program, "all the teachers agree that better school work was done because of the lunches. Soon after the beginning many children showed gain both in health and in ability to do work."101

The results of the school meal programs that were implemented in English and American cities at the turn of the century were therefore mixed, and assessments depended on the perspective and political persuasion of contemporary educational analysts. English Socialists and trade union leaders received the state intervention they championed but in a form they ultimately despised. Liberal Imperialists eliminated some "rickety" working-class frames but otherwise failed to produce deferential, courteous, and obedient school children at mealtime. American club women, on the other hand, found an outlet for their talents outside of their own homes even if they did not secure enough municipal cooperation. And Americanizers, in turn, learned that ethnic preferences and mighty wills thwarted the best-laid plans.

Yet the failure to establish comprehensive nutritional programs for all children, not just the poor, clearly reflected the class-based interests underlying social life and mass education in both England and America. Regardless of the significant differences between countries, the threats of greater equality in education and nutrition were very similar: the fear of pauperizing or breaking up autonomous working-class homes, the attachment of many people to traditional values concerning poverty and charity, the separation of public and private responsibilities, and the belief that personal regeneration was preferable to state intervention.

The stigma associated with school meals for all students in the local cafeteria slowly disappeared over time, but the power of class continues to shape the health and welfare of American and English parents and children. The poor still experience inadequate medical care and more disease and school failure not simply because of the inadequacies of modern nutritional programs but primarily because of the larger inequalities that these people face in all aspects of their lives.102As the gap between the income of the rich and poor widens, the problems of nutrition and education only intensify.

This analysis of the turn of the century public policy debates on state provision of school meals brings to light the political forces that continue to determine the health and well-being of all urban school children. Power relationships have always shaped the content and nature of mass instruction, and the most humane nutritional policy recommendations count for little unless political machinery exists to implement them. Comprehensive nutritional programs in the schools failed in the past because they threatened vested interests and the status quo, and every modern reformer faces a similar situation. Perceptive observers at the turn of the century, however, recognized that school innovations in nutrition are not panaceas but short-term efforts "to mitigate some of the evil effects of industrial organization. The principal end at which Society should aim is the removal of the causes, low wages, casual employment, recurrent periods of unemployment, and bad housing, which make them necessary."103 These words were written in 1914 but still have relevance in a world with a malnourished population estimated at over five hundred million people.

1 Carl F. Kaestle," 'Between the Scylla of Brutal Ignorance and the Charybdis of a Literary Education,': Elite Attitudes toward Schooling in Early Industrial England and America," in Schooling and Society, ed. Lawrence Stone (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), pp. 177-91; and idem, ed., Joseph Lancaster and the Monitorial School Movement (New York: Teachers College Press, 1973). Also see W. H. G. Armytage, The American Influence on English Education (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1967).

2 J. Kent, "Shall the State Maintain Its Children," Justice 26 (1899): 4.

3 Nicholas Edsall, The Anti-Poor Law Movement, 1834-1844 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1971); and David Owen, English Philanthropy 1660-1960 (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1964), who notes that "certainly throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth the main responsibility for social welfare lay with voluntary agencies. The function of the State was largely supplementary ... to carry out its traditional obligation of relieving the genuinely destitute" (p. 211). An important interpretive framework, utilizing the increasingly popular theory of hegemony, is found in Trygve R. Tholfsen, Working-Class Radicalism in Mid-Victorian England (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977). D. J. Oddy perceptively notes variations in the health of various working-class subcultures yet affirms the "low standards of nutrition and health" among working populations generally in "Working-Class Diets in Late Nineteenth-Century Britain," The Economic History Review 23 (August 1970): 322.

4 Brian Simon, Education and the Labour Movement 1870-1920 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1965), pp. 133-37, 278-85. Conflicts over the Poor Law and state welfare reforms are described in Charles Loch Mowat, "The Approach to the Welfare State in Great Britain," American Historical Review 58 (1952): 55-63.

5 M. E. Bulkley, The Feeding of School Children (London: G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., 1914), chap. 1; and G. A. N. Lowndes, The Silent Social Revolution: An Account of the Expansion of Public Education in England and Wales, 1895-1935 (London: Oxford University Press, 1937), p. 233.

6 Simon, Education and the Labour Movement, chaps. 1-3.

7 "Free Maintenance," Justice 8 (1891): 1; 'After Bread, Education': A Plan for the State Feeding of School Children (London: The Fabian Society, 1905); and Simon, Education and the Labour Movement. The Fabians, of course, were nonproletarians who shared the efficiency and imperialist aims of the Liberals discussed later in this essay. For a revisionist view, consult E. J. Hobsbawm, Laboring Men (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1964), chap. 14.

8 Charles Booth, Life and Labor of the People in London (New York: A.M.S. Press, 1970 reprint), vol. 3, p. 207.

9 Jack London, The People of the Abyss (London: Macmillan & Co., 1903).

10 Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training (Scotland) (Edinburgh: Printed for His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1903), vol. 2, pp. 71, 91; and Thomas J. Macnamara, "In Corpore Sano," Contemporary Review 87 (1905): 242.

11 William J. Reese, "Between Home and School: Organized Parents, Clubwomen, and Urban Education in the Progressive Era," School Review 87 (1978): 3-28. Self-help manuals proliferated in America, of course, and Horatio Alger tales had their counterparts in England. See J. F. C. Harrison, "The Victorian Gospel of Success," Victorian Studies 1 (1957): 155-64. The Socialist Party of America was the only major national political party in the United States that endorsed free school meals for all children.

12 Douglas W. Steeples, "The Panic of 1893: Contemporary Reflections and Reactions," Mid-America 47 (1965): 155-75; Allen F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973); and David P. Thelen, The New Citizenship: Origins of Progressivism in Wisconsin, 1885-1900 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1973).

13 Robert Hunter, Poverty (New York: Harper 8c Row, 1965 reprint), p. 191. His position was reiterated in "The Social Significance of Underfed Children," International Quarterly 12 (1906): 342. The English discovery that the working classes generally suffered from poor health was documented in many studies in the United States. The best examination was Robert Coit Chapin's The Standard of Living among Workingmen's Families in New York City (New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1909).

14 John Spargo, The Bitter Cry of the Children (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1968 reprint), p. 58.

15 Ibid., p. 61.

16 Proceedings of the Chicago Board of Education, October 21, 1908, pp. 277-78; see also "Hungry School Children in Chicago," Charities and the Commons 21 (1908): 93-96.

17 Louise Stevens Bryant, School Feeding: Its History and Practice at Home and Abroad (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1913), p. 180.

18 Reese, "Between Home and School," pp. 3-28.

19 Caroline Hunt, "The Daily Meals of School Children," U.S. Bureau of Education Bulletin no. 3 (Washington, D.C., 1909), pp. 13, 20-23; Lucy A. Osbourne, "The School Luncheon," Pedagogical Seminary 19 (1912): 204-17; and Bryant, School Feeding, p. 164.

20 Bryant, School Feeding, pp. 180-82.

21 Proceedings of the Fifth Triennial of the Council of Jewish Women (Chicago: Toby Rubovits, 1908), pp. 80-83, 87. The documentation on the relationship between women's clubs and various school social services like meals is extensive. See, for example, Mary E. L. Small, "Elementary School Lunches under School Department Direction, Buffalo, New York," Journal of Home Economics 4 (1912): 490-92; idem, "Educational and Social Possibilities of School Lunches," Journal of Home Economics 6 (1914): 432-39; "School Lunches in New York City," School and Society 11 (1920): 20; and John C. Gebhart, Malnutrition and School Feeding (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of Education, Department of the Interior, 1922), pp. 12-13.

22 Proceedings of the Sixth Triennial Convention of the Council of Jewish Women (Chicago: Toby Rubovits, 1911), p. 564.

23 Roy Lubove, The Professional Altruist: The Emergence of Social Work as A Career 1880-1930 (New York: Atheneum, 1973), pp. 10-11.

24 Lillian D. Wald, "Under-Nourished School Children," Chanties 13 (1905): 600-01.

25 Annual Report for 1910 of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education (London: Published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1911), pp. 245-46.

26 Bulkley, The Feeding of School Children, pp. 203-04.

27 C. S. Loch, "The Feeding of School Children," Yale Review 15 (1906): 239; and "Letter from the Charity Organization Society of Liverpool to Mr. H. J. Leslie as to the Feeding of Children," in Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Medical Inspection and Feeding of Children Attending Public Elementary Schools (London: Printed for His Majesty's Stationery Office by Wyman and Sons, 1905), vol. 2, p. 297. A sympathetic evaluation of this association is Charles Loch Mowat, The Charity Organization Society 1869-1913 (London: Metheun & Co., Ltd, 1961).

28 Times (London), 7 November 1899, p. 4.

29 Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training, vol. 1, p. 30.

30 Mary A. Davies, "The Feeding of School Children and the Cookery Classes," Contemporary Review 87 (1905): 564. The poor (particularly those who were not "self-reliant") were called "social pests," liars, and potential criminals. For a small sample of a vast literature, consult Sir Arthur Clay, "School Feeding Question in England," Charities and the Commons 17 (1907): 699-707; W. M. Lightbody, "The State and the Children," The Economic Review 17 (1907): 435-39; and A. M. Carr-Saunders, "The Feeding and Medical Treatment of School Children," Economic Journal 23 (1913): 355-66. In a similar vein, Brian Harrison has written that philanthropy in the earlier Victorian era was seen as a way to "validate existing social institutions" while simultaneously "highlighting the generosity of the rich and the inadequacies of the poor," in "Philanthropy and the Victorians," Victorian Studies 9 (1966): 368.

31 Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, vol. 2, p. 218.

32 Clement F. Rogers, "The Free Feeding of School Children," The Empire Review 9 (1905): 530; and Clay, "School Feeding Question in England," p. 707.

33 Spargo, The Bitter Cry of the Children, p. 69.

34 Proceedings of the Chicago Board of Education (October 21, 1908), p. 276.

35 Rutherford H. Platt, "A Consideration of State Intervention in the Field of Charity," Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, 1908, p. 21.

36 New York Times, 11 June 1909, p. 8. The editor applauded the work of Joseph Lee, the playground enthusiast who opposed meal programs. On Lee's concern with preserving the autonomy and independence of the family, see "The Integrity of the Family," Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction 1909, pp. 122-23.

37 Times (London), 23 November 1899, p. 13.

38 Special Report and Report from the Select Committee on the Education (Provision of Meals) Bill, 1906; and the Education (Provision of Meals) (Scotland) Bill, 1906; Together with the Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of Evidence, and Appendix (London: Printed for His Majesty's Stationery Office by Wyman and Sons, 1906), p. 73. (Hereafter referred to as Provision of Meals Act).

39 "Over-Pressure and Under Feeding in Board Schools," Justice 1 (1884): 5. The writer was a headmistress of one of London's poorest schools.

40 John Spargo, Underfed School Children (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1906).

41 Jonathon Taylor, "Free Schools," Justice 1 (1884): 2.

42 William T. Stead, " 'Food-Aided Education': Experiments in Paris, London, and Birmingham," Review of Reviews 3 (1891): 618.

43 Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training, vol. 1., p. 30.

44 Bulkley, The Feeding of School Children, pp. 181-82; and Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training, vol. 2, p. 593.

45 Hunter, Poverty, p. 216.

46 "The Hunger Problem in the Public Schools—What a Canvas of Six Big Cities Reveals," Philadelphia North American, 21 May 1905.

47 Provision of Meals Act, p. 56.

48 Report of the Working of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, Up to the 31st March 1909 (London: Printed for His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1909), pp. 17-18.

49 Provision of Meals Act, p. 129.

50 Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, vol. 2, p. 209.

51 Annual Report for 1912 of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education (London: Printed under the Authority of His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1913), p. 281.

52 Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, vol. 1, p. 78.

53 E. Mather Sill, "Dietary Studies of Undernourished School Children in New York City," Journal of the American Medical Association, November 16, 1910, p. 1890. Cf. "A Study of Malnutrition in the School Child," Journal of the American Medical Association, August 1909, p. 713.

54 C. G. Kerley, quoted in Sill, "Dietary Studies of Undernourished School Children in New York City," p. 1891. Also see Louise Stevens Bryant, "The School Feeding Movement," Psychological Clinic 6 (1912): 37.

55 John Spargo, "Underfed Children in Our Public Schools," Independent 58 (1905): 1063.

56 Osbourne, "The School Luncheon," p. 216. Also see Dr. W. Hollopeter, "The School Child's Breakfast," Journal of the American Medical Association, November 1909, pp. 1727-30.

57 Report of the Royal Commission, vol. 2, pp. 591-93; Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, vol. 2, pp. 230-31; Provision of Meals Act, pp. iv, 55, 60, 121, 150; and Lightbody, "The State and the Children," p. 436.

58 In the popular literature, see, for example, Sir William R. Anson, "Provision of Food for School Children in Public Elementary Schools," Economic Journal 16 (1906): 181, who claimed that "a pair of sodden boots on a cold, wet day are as likely to benumb the child's facilities and undermine its health as a temporary lack of food"; F. H. Barrow, "Free Meals for Underfed Children," The Monthly Review 19 (1905): pp. 1-16; and Clay, "School Feeding Question in England," p. 706.

59 See the paper presented before the first international conference on education and nutrition in 1914, Margaret McMillan, "National Conservation and Nutrition During Childhood," in Fourth International Congress on School Hygiene (Buffalo: The Courier Co. of Buffalo, 1914), pp. 298-302; and J. H. Palin, "The Feeding of School Children: Bradford's Experience," The Socialist Review 1 (1908): 207-19.

60 Bulkley, The Feeding of School Children, p. 46.

61 Phyllis D. Winder, The Public Feeding of Elementary School Children: A Review of the General Situation, and An Inquiry into the Birmingham Experience (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1913), p. 39.

62 The history of parent education in America is the subject of two essays by Steven L. Schlossman, "Before Home Start: Notes toward a History of Parent Education in America: 1897-1929," Harvard Educational Review 46 (1976): 436-67; and idem, "The Parent Education Game: The Politics of Child Psychology in the 1970s," Teachers College Record 79 (1978): 788-808. Also examine Elizabeth Farrell's "School Luncheons in the Special Classes of the Public School," Charities 13 (1905): 569-71; Ira S. Wile, "School Lunches," Journal of Home Economics 2 (1910): 168; and Edna Klaer, "Buying Lunch Room Supplies," Journal of Home Economics 6 (1914): 328-33.

63 Helen Kinne, "School Lunches," Teachers College Record 6 (1905): 48-49.

64 Fourth Annual Report of the School Lunch Committee (Philadelphia: Printed by the students at the Philadelphia Trades School, 1915), p. 18.

65 Hunt, "The Daily Meals of School Children," p. 13.

66 Alice C. Boughton, Household Arts and School Lunches (Cleveland: The Survey Committee of the Cleveland Foundation, 1916), p. 116.

67 Sally Lucas Jean, "The Educational Opportunities Presented by the School Lunch," Proceedings of the National Conference of Social Work 1918, p. 71.

68 "The Feeding of the Children," Justice 23 (1906): 4; Clay, "School Feeding Question in English," pp. 699-707; "School Fed Childhood," The Spectator 99 (1907): 560-61; and Henry Iselin, "The Feeding of Elementary School Children," Economic Review 21 (1911): 202-06.

69 Simon, Education and the Labour Movement, chap. 8.

70 Ibid. Gorst nevertheless had a reputation as "the children's representative in Parliament," as demonstrated by Samuel A. Barnett, "Free Meals for Underfed Children," Independent Review 6 (1905): 158. The climate of opinion is well described by H. C. G. Mathew's The Liberal Imperialists (London: Oxford University Press, 1973); and well reflected in the essays in the boldly titled Rearing an Imperial Race, ed. Charles F. Hecht (London: Published for the National Food Reform Association, 1913).

71 Lowndes, The Silent Social Revolution, pp. 227-23; B. C. Roberts, Trades Union Congress, 1868-1921 (London: George Allen & Urwin Ltd., 1958); and J. R. Hay, The Origins of the Liberal Welfare Reforms, 1906-1914 (London: The Macmillan Press, 1975), pp. 43-44. Although his interpretation on working-class opposition to the welfare state rests on slim evidence, also see Henry Felling's Popular Politics and Society in Late Victorian Britain (London: Macmillan, 1968), chap. 1.

72 Times (London), 15 November 1899, p. 12.

73 Macnamara, "In Corpore Sano," p. 248; and "Physical Condition of Working-Class Children," Nineteenth Century 56 (1904): 307-11.

74 Report of the Royal Commission, vol. 2, pp. 21-22. "Gradually the State is gaining control over the lives of these little ones who are to be one day the rulers of the Empire," claimed Percy Alden in "English Child Life," Outlook 89 (1908): 763.

75 Cf. G. D. H. Cole, A Short History of the British Working Class Movement, 1789-1947 (London: George Allen & Urwin Ltd., 1948), p. 306; and M. Penelope Hall, The Social Services of Modern England (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952), p. 168. The Children's Care Committees, which were usually comprised of charity workers and school officials, were responsible for selecting the necessitous children. Henry Iselin's description of their method of interrogation in "The Story of a Children's Care Committee" (The Economic Review 22 [1912]: 43) demonstrates the power of class considerations. "The parents of these children were interrogated as to their means and prospects in an office outside the school premises; home visits were paid; and definite attempts were made to discover the cause of the destitution of the family; plans towards economic independence were formulated and carried out." Through the Meals Act, Iselin noted, the "self-reliant poor" were insulted and encouraged "to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage." The conservative Nation still concluded that the legislation marked "The Surrender to Socialism" (82 [1906]: 257-58).

76 Annual Report for 1910 of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education, p. 253; Winder, The Public Feeding of Elementary School Children, pp. 18, 24; and the critical assessment of this practice in Bulkley, The Feeding of School Children, pp. 59-76, 219-29. The significance of pensions and meals as an inroad for other forms of state intervention is highlighted in Carr-Saunders, "The Feeding and Medical Treatment of School Children in Great Britain," pp. 355-56.

77 This history can be traced in the Report of the Royal Commission, vol. I, p. 31; Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, vol. 1, pp. 42-53; Clay, "School Feeding Question in England," pp. 699-707; and Bulkley, The Feeding of School Children, chap. 3.

78 "Let them be Fed!" Justice 15 (1908): 7.

79 New York Times, 10 June 1908, p. 5.

80 Lillian D. Wald, "Feeding of the School Children," Charities and the Commons 20 (1908): 371-74; and James H. Hamilton, "School Children's Lunch Room," Charities 20 (1908): 400-02.

81 Spargo, The Bitter Cry of the Children, chap. 2.

82 New York Times, 11 June 1908, p. 4; and "School Board Finds Few Hungry Children," Charities and the Commons 21 (1908): 116-17.

83 Edward F. Brown, "Feeding School Children in New York City," Journal of Home Economics 1 (1915): 119; and Gebhart, Malnutrition and School Feeding, pp. 12-19.

84 Hunter, Poverty, p. 208.

85 Reese, "Between Home and School," pp. 3-28.

86 Annual Report for 1913 of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education (London: Printed under the Authority of His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1914), pp. 242, 260.

87 Report on the Working of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, Up to the 31st March 1909, pp. 15-16; and Annual Report for 1912 of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education, p. 282.

88 Report on the Working of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, Up to the 31st March 1909, p. 15.

89 Bulkley, The Feeding of School Children, p. 194.

90 Annual Report for 1911 of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education (London: Published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1912), p. 279.

91 Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, vol. 2, p. 99.

92 Report of the Working of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, Up to the 31st March 1909, pp. 8-9.

93 Report on the Working of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, For the Year Ending 31st March 1910 (London: Published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1911), p. 9.

94 Annual Report for 1912 of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education, p. 280.

95 Bulkley, The Feeding of School Children, p. 167.

96 Anna Barrows, "The Lunch-Room in the High Schools," School Review 13 (1905): 217; and Alice C. Boughton, "Penny Luncheons," The Psychological Clinic 3 (1910): 230-31; Paul Violas, in The Training of the Urban Working Class (Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing Company, 1978), dismisses most social service reformers as "seemingly altruistic" but actually concerned with social control, and he equates intent with outcome in the area of ethnic culinary preferences (pp. 120-23).

97 Mabel Kittredge, "Relation of Menus to Standard Dietaries," in Fourth International Congress on School Hygiene, p. 313.

98 Ibid. Other indications of voluntary group response to ethnic differences are revealed in Ira S. Wile, "School Lunches," Journal of Home Economics 2 (1910): 164; and Olivia Howard Dunbar, "Three-Cent Lunches for School-Children," Outlook 97 (1911): 35.

99 Boughton, Household Arts and School Lunches, p. 133.

100 Ellen Richards, "Report of the Penny Lunch Experiment in Boston, January 1 to June 30, 1910," Journal of Home Economics 2 (1910): 652.

101 G. W. Gaylor, "An Experiment With School Lunches," School and Society 2 (1915): 170.

102 Herbert G. Birch and Joan Dye Gussow, Disadvantaged Children: Health, Nutrition, and School Failure (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1970). On the continuing importance of nutrition for cognitive growth, see Malnutrition and Intellectual Development, ed. John D. Lloyd-Still (Littleton, Mass.: Publishing Sciences Group, Inc., 1976).

103 Bulkley, The Feeding of School Children, p. 219.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 81 Number 4, 1980, p. 496-525
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1021, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 8:41:18 AM

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About the Author
  • William Reese
    University of Wisconsin, Madison
    E-mail Author
    William J. Reese is a doctoral candidate in the department of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has essays and reviews in print in The History of Education Quarterly, School Review, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, and other journals, and is currently writing a report on the evolution of school social services for the National Institute of Education. He is recipient of the Henry Barnard Prize of the History of Education Society, 1979.
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