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Our Children in Old Scotland and Nova Scotia
Chapter II - Day Nursery Children in Edinburgh


IN the autumn of 1876 a friend told me she had been shocked by the fearful stories she had heard of the ill-usage of young children in Edinburgh, some of which she related. The result was that I opened a Day Nursery early in 1877, where mothers who worked out during the day could bring their babies and little children below seven years of age, and by paying a very small sum, leave them to be well taken care of till night.

A. few came at first, but by degrees the Nursery increased, and the children grew and throve. I could not pay for much help, and had to be practically head nurse myself. For this end I spent the greater part of my days there, only going home to sleep. The work was hard, but most interesting from a missionary point of view, as in living the life and sharing the burden of the very poor, it gave one the opportunity of speaking words for Jesus which at a greater distance are either more apt to remain unsaid,

or are less likely to be listened to. As you may suppose, the demands of so many hungry and often fretful little children were incessant. The daily attendances, when reckoned up at the year’s end, numbered by the thousand. How well I remember often sitting on a "creepie " (Anglicé, low stool) with seven infants round me on the floor, waiting for me to feed them turn about! All our arrangements were of an equally primitive description, which I discovered commended themselves greatly to the hard-working mothers who took advantage of my invitation. It will be seen we made no attempt to pose as a highly drilled institution!

The offer I made in return for 2d. a day was a warm house, three meals a day and a piece for those who had teeth to eat with. For the bottle babies I provided the best milk I could get, and an unlimited supply of crusts and drinks of milk for the teething children. Some friends used to shake their heads gently and murmur, "Irregularity." But the proof of the pudding was literally in the eating, and the starving mites grew fat and even rosy. The great difficulty was in the nursing required. Babies will not do unless they are kept cheerful, and I strongly objected to their being left lying in bed for the sake of convenience. But we did our best; and I employed a certain number of motherless girls, who, with good looking after, made very efficient nurses. We had a good many cradles and swing cots, and I had a wonderful chair, in which I could nurse five little ones at a time. Added to these advantages, we had a large and perfectly safe playground, with good-sized trees in it, and a steep bank to run up and down, which was an endless delight to our children. It was carefully fenced from the street at one side, from our neighbours’ gardens on the other and top of the bank, also from the mill dam at the bottom, which was a greater source of anxiety, as this was believed to be more dangerous than the Water of Leith running just below. Many a decent mother has thanked me for this "more than anything. Just to keep the bairns off the street."

I think I loved the old Nursery better than any of the Homes, for I spent so many of the early days of the work there, and learnt so many hard lessons concerning the children of the poor.

This is a cheerful picture, but of course there were very black shadows too, in having to see in so many cases the children suffer for the mother’s fault, even to the extent of poor innocent little babies being poisoned by whisky!

I often think what a wonderful result has, by the blessing of God, grown out of the seed planted at the Stockbridge Day Nursery. It is now a big family tree, whose branches have spread beyond the sea, where active and capable young men and maidens are carving out their own fortunes, and making homes for themselves in the New World, followed in their turn by bright, bonny boys and girls, who were brought as babies in arms, or very little children, just able to toddle in and out after one, like a flock of ducks, whose greatest pleasure was "a dirt pie," and greatest grief to be inadvertently left behind when the rest of the family had adjourned to have dinner in the kitchen. Now they are earning their own living; and it is but fair to them to say I have had no reason to be ashamed of them.

One of my greatest pleasures in looking back to the old nursery days is the recollection of the pleasant and affectionate intercourse with Miss Auld, who was so true and kind a friend to me and our children all through those years of (it must be confessed!) the anxiety and drudgery of Day Nursery work. How she came in all weathers to look after us and see we had all we needed in the way of housekeeping; how she cheered us up by taking the best view of everything, coaxed the bairns with sweeties—I always said it made me jealous, but I did not think it—how she controlled rebellious and provoking girls, kept up the spirits of the nurse, conducted mothers’ meetings once a week, and scolded me roundly for my imprudence in various directions and not taking care of my health! I wish I had her here now, that is all I can say. I had many other kind helpers in the lady visitors too, but as the object of their being there was to give me time for other things, I saw less of them, though I was most grateful to them all the same.


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