Nature, Prescribed

Old photo of children playing in a river




Lecturer in History and Sociology of Science

Project Summary

This historical research project aimed to situate the work of the Children’s Country Week Association within the broader social context of the relationship between nature, children, and wellbeing as it developed over the course of the twentieth century. Through an analysis of the marketing and evaluation materials published by the Children’s Country Week Association from 1875 to 1968, several themes emerged.

First, notions of who is best equipped to care for children changed greatly over the course of these ninety-three years. The organization was founded based on the idea that women running homes in the country were capable of providing care that promoted health and wellbeing. As ideas about child care became more formalized, so too did the people who were providing the children with care. Replacing the mothers were near-peer counselors who were lauded for their specific training received.

In addition to more specialized care, children were evaluated over the course of this time period. Invitations to return to the CCWA were initially dependent on agreeability and good behavior. Starting in the middle decades of the twentieth century, counselors reported on camper progress—indicating that in addition to general well-being, qualities like leadership, helpfulness, and obedience were highly valued.

These qualities were appreciated in part because of a greater trend towards valuing children for their future potential. After World War II, the CCWA emphasized the importance of building a community of future leaders that understood the values that “made America great”. In no small way, the Association aimed to promote not only the health of physical bodies but also the health of the nation.

Finally, in the CCWA children’s health included also their spiritual health. Nature as a tool for understanding one’s relationship with God became an integral part of the fundraising efforts on behalf of the Association. Psalms, photographs, and poetry were used in annual reports to depict this important connection between children, the natural world and their spiritual relationship with God.

Ultimately, the Children’s Country Week Association  was able to adapt its mission and rhetoric to address the issues of physical, national, and spiritual health. Indeed, the CCWA is an example of how despite strict interpretations of medical care during the second half of the twentieth century, prioritizing aspects other than physical health was in fact still occurring.

Going forward, this research project will aim to answer how this understanding of health in a more holistic way can be seen in more traditionally biomedical spaces, like the pediatricians office.