Between Public Health and Social Work: Visiting Nurses in the Struggle Against Poverty and Infant Mortality in Bulgaria 1923-1934

Kristina Popova

Abstract

At the beginning of the 20th century, Bulgaria as a part of the Balkan and South East European region was a a typical rural country of small and middle scale farming and prevailing peasant population.At the beginning of the 20th century, many rural regions were involved in economic and cultural modernization processes. Nevertheless of the prevailing peasant population, Bulgaria underwent intensive economic and social transformation which introduced modern industry, transportation and communication and new urban social strata as well. After 1910 the relative share of the urban population began to increase – from 19. 1% in 1910 to 21. 4% in 1934. The few bigger towns such as Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Ruse (and Burgas lately) had a population between 50, 000 and 300, 000 (only Sofia after 1930) inhabitants. Water supply and sewerage were introduced but quite slowly especially in the villages. Concerning birth and child mortality rates, there was a small difference between towns and villages. The birth rate was 40-45 per 1000 in average, the infant mortality rate - about 160 per 1000. Traditional family and kinship circles played most important role in the social support of children, elderly people and disabled people. Mutual aid of fellow-villagers was the next most important social net. Local Religious (Christian, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim), women societies and other charity organizations supported small children or elderly people homes and other charity initiatives. In the end of the 19th – beginning of 20th century, experts (doctors, teachers, economists, jurists) and politicians (first of all of the left and left – centered parties) started discussions about new groups of people who needed social protection; international scientific standards were adopted to present the situation of working children and women, neglected children, child nutrition and infant mortality. New organizations were founded in the capital of Sofia in order to research social problems and to support such needy groups - “Soup Kitchen for Pupils” (1897), “Association for Fight against Tuberculoses”, (1907), “Child Summer camps ”(1904), “Union for Fighting Child Delinquency” (1906).(Author, Angelova, 2005). They insisted on social legislation and state and municipality biopolitical measures which followed international models. During the years of the wars 1912 – 1918 (Balkan wars 1912 – 1913 and World War I 1914 – 1918) many articles about the foreign social support systems were published. In 1915 the first Municipality Social Service in Sofia was established.

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