Early in the war, it became apparent that, among the many problems resulting from the dislocation of populations and the development of large military establishments distant from medical centers, medical services for mothers and children were not being maintained at a satisfactory level. This difficulty was further aggravated by the depletion of the limited medical resources of many of these communities, inevitable in a country at war.
The rapidly increasing birth rate associated with the war made increasing demands for obstetrical and pediatric services for the wives and children of servicemen, all too frequently in communities where these services were at a low level. Martha Eliot was quick to recognize the need for new methods to meet these new problems. Funds allocated to the states for general maternal and child hygiene were promptly diverted to meet this emergency need. Out of this beginning grew a nationwide Emergency Maternal and Infant Care program, organized and operated by Dr. Eliot, to provide adequate medical service for the wives and infants of servicemen of the four lowest pay-grades, financed through generous appropriation by Congress.
This huge program was extraordinarily difficult to administer, for the need for quick action did not permit slow and cautious planning or the leisurely arbitration of differences of opinion among the many interested groups. A new pattern for efficient cooperation between government and hospitals and physicians and community agencies was developed, which worked.
As a contribution to the mental health and the morale of the men in the armed forces as well as their families, it made a unique contribution to the success of our war effort. Millions of mothers and babies benefited by the program. Quite possibly, the greatest good that history will attribute to the program will be the demonstration of the possibilities of government cooperation with hospitals and with physicians and nurses in the provision of good medical service.
It is not surprising that other nations and various international groups have called upon Dr. Eliot for advice and counsel. She gives unstintingly of herself, not only for the solution of post-war problems at home, but also through the US Children’s Emergency Fund and the World Health Organization, to the problems of the mothers and children of war-ridden countries throughout the world.