The name of Muriel Viscountess Helmsley has become a house-hold word amongst those who toil and labour in the sacred cause of charity. Nothing can weary her efforts on behalf of the poor mothers and children of our great cities. As president and founder of the Women's Branch of the Municipal Reform League, of the Women's Association for Garden Cities, Letchworth, and Chairman of the Council of the National Society of Day Nurseries, Lady Helmsley is one who speaks with authority. For this reason the article, specially contributed by her to Every Woman's Encyclopaedia, will be of value and lend encouragement to all who read it
Let me insist at once that I am animated by no insular prejudice when I say this. It is the result of observation, for if I were asked what was the nationality of the most beautiful baby I have ever seen, so far as features alone are concerned, I should reply unhesitatingly the Italian. Never have I seen so lovely a baby, and the extraordinary thing about it is that it was born under circumstances which were almost tragic. Whether it grew up equally beautiful I can't say, for I don't know, but I should think not.
The reason for the superior beauty of English children is, I think, not difficult to discover. They are better cared for than those of other nations. They are brought up in a healthier and more wholesome atmosphere, and they enjoy the benefits of fresh air and light to a greater extent than do the children of other nations. All this is, no doubt, due to the more open air life we have always lived than the people on the Continent.
If any proof were needed of the fact I have just set down it is, surely, to be found in the action of the mothers of the Continent. In almost every country to which one turns it is the invariable rule, for people who can afford to have nurses for their children, to select Englishwomen to fill that important position. The idea which animates them is of course, that, having been trained in English ways, the nurse will bring up her charges in a similar manner, and the little ones will have the best opportunity of growing healthy in mind and body. And health is an undoubted beauty in a child.
Photo, Lallie Charles
In a general way, I suppose, all the readers of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia acknowledge the truth of the beauty of health. It would, however, come home to them with much greater force could they see, as constantly as I do, the change wrought in the appearance of children who come to our day nurseries, in which I have taken a constant practical interest since they were started. Lack of beauty is often due to lack of food. When you give food you give beauty. By the word food, I mean, of course, proper food, food which is specially adapted to the age and digestive power of the child, for some women have the strangest ideas of the food suitable either for babies or for very young children. It is a commonplace thing to hear of mothers who give their babies of a few months old the same food as they have themselves, quite unconscious of the fact that nothing more unsuitable could be found. Even when milk alone is used, it may not be of a suitable strength, and the child becomes ill in consequence. One case of this kind I recall very vividly, that of a baby boy who was brought to one of our nurseries when he was three weeks old. His expression was half idiotic from want of proper feeding. He was at once put on a carefully selected diet, suitable to his needs. Gradually the terrible expression was wiped off, as it were, from his face, and as time went on he acquired not only a normal, but actually a pleasant expression.
Of course, this transformation took some time to produce, for Nature works slowly. He was about eighteen months old when he became more or less normal, and by the time he was three he was quite normal. So well developed did his brain become that in the kindergarten to which he was sent he did very well, and he went on developing on normal lines until he was about seven, when I lost sight of him.
While this is an extreme case it is perfectly amazing how, when babies are properly fed, their faces and bodies become plumped out, and how their pale, pasty, or sallow complexions are lost and a bright, healthy colour suffuses their little cheeks. Colour is one of childhood's greatest beauties, and when good food can be combined with a life in an open yard or on a roof garden, such as we have at some of our day nurseries, the transformation which is wrought is little short of amazing. Indeed, people often think that the children have just returned from the seaside.
Another adjunct to beauty in children is, undoubtedly, cleanliness, not only cleanliness of person, but cleanliness of clothing. It is amazing how soon even babies can be taught to be cleanly in their habits and obedient. These all important characteristics can be thoroughly inculcated in them if we have them with us for a few months. On the other hand, it is amazing how many mothers neglect this very necessary factor not merely in the beauty but in the health of their children.
Master Andrea, a perfect type of the healthy child
Photo, Lallie Charles
At our nurseries, the children leave on Saturday afternoon and do not come back again until Monday morning, for it is one of the objects of the nurseries not to relieve the mothers from the responsibility of taking care of their children. We not only do not desire to take away the parental authority or the duty which mothers and fathers in their home have to their little ones, but we advocate every woman being a good mother. For this reason it is essential that the children should be with those who are responsible for their birth. The ugliness which comes from neglect we have, unfortunately, abundant opportunities of observing on Monday morning, when the children are brought back to the nursery which they had left as perfectly clean, healthy, pretty, little mites less than forty-eight hours before. Happily, these institutions are doing a great deal of good, for they become the meeting-place of humanity; and the mothers who keep their little ones neat and clean are examples which other mothers try to emulate, sooner or later. The result is that the women of the poorer classes are realising more and more that clean clothes make more for beauty than dirty finery.