The King of Building Better Blokes

Sir Frederic Truby King CMG (1 April 1858 – 10 February 1938), generally known as Truby King, was a New Zealand health reformer and Director of Child Welfare. He is best known as the founder of the Plunket Society.

King was born at New Plymouth on 1 April 1858, the son of Thomas and Mary King.[1] He was privately educated by Henry Richmond and proved to be a keen scholar. After working for a short time as a bank clerk he travelled to Edinburgh and Paris to study medicine.[2] In 1886 he graduated with honours with a M.B., C.M, and later completed a BSc in Public Health (Edinburgh). Although his interest was in surgery it was the demonstrations of Charcot on hysteria and neurological disorders that influenced his choice of career. While training in Scotland he married Isabella Cockburn Miller.[2]

It is the establishment of the Plunket Society on 14 May 1907 for which Truby King is best known. Set up to apply scientific principles to nutrition of babies, and strongly rooted in eugenics and patriotism,[3] its 1917 “Save the Babies” Week had the slogan “The Race marches forward on the feet of Little Children”.,[4]

Truby King’s methods to teach mothers domestic hygiene and childcare were strongly promoted through his first book on mothercare, Feeding and Care of Baby, and via a network of specially trained Karitane Nurses and a widely syndicated newspaper column, Our babies, written by King’s wife Isabella. Apart from nutrition, Truby King’s methods specifically emphasised regularity of feeding, sleeping and bowel movements, within a generally strict regimen supposed to build character by avoiding cuddling and other attention.[3]

His methods were controversial. In 1914 the physician Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd Bennett publicly opposed his stance that higher education for women was detrimental to their maternal functions and hence to the human race.[5] He also excited controversy during his efforts to export his methods to Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, with particular debate associated with his views on infant feeding formulas. He believed in “humanized” milk with the protein reduced to 1.4% to match breast milk, against the general paediatric consensus at the time in favour of high protein feeds.[6]The work of the Plunket Society was credited with lowering infant mortality in New Zealand from 88 per thousand in 1907 to 32 per thousand over the next thirty years, though it has since been argued that this was due less to its specific methods than to its general raising of awareness of childcare.[6]

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