Florence and Dorothy Child, physicians.

ChildSisters

From left to right: Drs. Florence and Dorothy Child, May 1918. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Longtime Germantown, PA, residents Florence Chapman Child (1883–1957) and Dorothy Child (1888–1941) were the daughters of Quaker jeweler George Chapman Child. Florence earned her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr in 1905 and her MD from Johns Hopkins in 1909. She interned at the Syracuse Hospital for Women and Children and at the Babies’ Hospital in New York. Dorothy earned her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr in 1910, graduated from Johns Hopkins with her MD in 1914, and earned a doctorate in public hygiene from the University of Pennsylvania in 1916. In November 1916, she became associate professor of physical education of women at the University of Kansas.

In response to an urgent call from the Red Cross, the Child sisters traveled to France in September 1917 and were assigned to Evian-les-Bains (near Lausanne, Switzerland) to care for refugees and civilians. A 31 July 1919 article in the Harrisburg Telegraph provided some insight into Dorothy’s work, with poignant stories of refugees who had been trapped behind German lines arriving on trains at least twice a day and seeking news of relatives, only to learn their men had been dead since 1914. Many of the new arrivals were ill, especially the children. Cowritten by Dorothy, this 1919 report of the American Red Cross in France on infant mortality in Le Havre supplied statistics such as 164 newborns and 11 who died from causes that ranged from maternal neglect to syphilis. An interview with Florence that appeared in the 14 May 1919 Evening Public Ledger discussed serious hygiene issues and the alarmingly high mortality rate of French children. As Florence said, “It was not sufficient to save the wounded and let the babies die. Yet they were dying by the hundreds and thousands of them in all the villages and towns of France. And the American Red Cross felt that it must come in and complete its work of saving France. We did” (15). The article also noted that Florence had received two medals from the French government.

The Child sisters returned to the United States in November 1918. In 1919, Dorothy was appointed chief of the Division of Child Welfare in the Pennsylvania State Health Department. In November 1920, Florence was appointed chief of the Division of School Medical Inspection and Welfare Nursing, Bureau of Health, in Trenton, NJ, where she worked to reduce the infant mortality rate.

In September 1941, Dorothy was killed in Fredericktown, MD, when the yacht Koonyung where she had been vacationing with friends exploded due to a gas leak. Florence retired from medical practice in 1935, dividing her time between Margate City, NJ, and Deerfield Beach, FL. She died of breast cancer in 1957, attracting attention when her sizable bequest to Bryn Mawr was revealed as contingent on the college supplying a proper home for a grandfather clock built by her great-grandfather.

Further reading:

Geraldine R. Hutner, “Medical History: Health Care Crusader, Florence C. Child,” New Jersey Medicine: The Journal of the Medical Society of New Jersey, 88 (1991): 823–25.