Children of science: The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, Arnold Gesell and the making of the normal child

by Carola Ossmer

Jan 1, 2016
Belief in the power of science to solve social as well as individual problems was the driving force of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial's (LSRM) program. After Beardsley Ruml's appointment as Director of the LRSM in 1922, the work of the Memorial concentrated on the support and development of programs in social sciences and social technology, in child study and parent education, and for studies in the field of race relations. Affiliated with ideas of the progressive movement, its direction was designed to engage science in the management of social and individual welfare and to base political and economic decisions on rational and objective scientific results and methods. The further development of child welfare along these lines was a central part of the Memorial's mission. The LSRM program officer Lawrence K. Frank was assigned this task and was particularly interested in child development. Children were at that time already understood to be key to a prosperous future and a democratic society. A general interest in the child, its development and welfare had already led to certain changes and improvements of living circumstances, such as the prohibition of child labor, implementation of compulsory schooling, juvenile courts, and professional social and hygiene workers. Organizations like the Federation for Child Study, later renamed in Child Study Association on behalf of L. K. Frank, pursued scientifically informed child rearing and education practices. When the LSRM began to support their activities in 1923 the women of the association were "already engaged in putting together a great deal of scattered information and translating technical research reports into popular language."
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