Skip to main content
Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Marie-Hélène Vanier, History

The Voice of the Child Cries Out Against You: The 1912 Montreal Child Welfare Exhibition in its North American and Transnational Contexts

Date & time
Wednesday, March 20, 2024
3 p.m. – 6 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Nadeem Butt


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Room 362

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This thesis explores the 1912 Montreal Child Welfare Exhibition as part of a transnational public-education project that provided tools for the promotion of public health, child welfare, and the prevention of child and infant mortality in North America. During the Progressive Era, the population of cities increased and their living conditions became a major concern for reformers, who were especially worried about a vulnerable group within this population: children. Child welfare exhibitions became an important component of the child-saving movement in the early 1910s, developed in response to the dangers and risks of the cities, as well as the alarming childhood and infant mortality rates. They were grassroots initiatives organized by communities seeking to share new education methods and to explain their philanthropic work around children’s well-being. The Montreal exhibition was based on an American model and largely influenced by the New York and Chicago exhibitions held the year before. Inviting readers on a virtual tour of the 1912 exhibition, the dissertation examines the different thematic sections of the Montreal event, which dealt in turn with the following child-related issues: health, housing and the city environment, education and religious training, recreation, philanthropy, juvenile court, and industrial conditions. The omnipresence of children in urban setting and the particular salience of the mother's responsibility are emphasized throughout the chapters. In Montreal, reformers from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds put their differences aside in this endeavor, designing and presenting a successful exhibition visited by over three hundred thousand people. The transnational lens shows that reformers worked together across countries and shared elite ideologies, beliefs, values, and attitudes, but also concepts of public health, moral and social regulation, nationalism, scientific motherhood, and materials for child welfare exhibitions. This dissertation asserts that this heterogenous group had conflicting views regarding the origins of child welfare problems, blaming mothers or poverty, and proposed contrasting solutions in the exhibition materials. Overall, the thesis argues that the visual and experiential elements of the exhibition were central to the choice of this medium for the transnational public-education project on child welfare.

Back to top

© Concordia University