THE conservation of human life stands next to the giving of life and inseparably one with it as the supreme task of woman. The birth rate is affected by so many different factors that conclusions must not be hastily drawn from any given set of figures. It may be lowered from voluntary or involuntary causes; by extreme want or excessive luxury; by diseases of immorality, or by the higher education of women. It was formerly highest in the centers of population, but this condition is being reversed, and the rural birth rate is falling less rapidly than the urban.
The death rate among young children, however, is actually a touchstone of community welfare; a test of civilization. A high rate of infant mortality means individual ignorance, and social injustice. A lowering of the rate denotes a definite and positive improvement in living conditions, a prevention of economic waste and human suffering comparable only to the total abolition of war in magnitude. The number of babies dying from neglect in the United States alone, would about equal in three years the total number of soldiers killed on both sides during our Civil War!When we ask how many died in any one year, we find, first of all, our vital statistics greatly modified in value by the surprising fact that effective registration of births and deaths is not yet general throughout this country. From the latest report of the Census Bureau (1911) we learn that birth registration is especially unsatisfactory, and that probably not over one fourth of our population is represented by records even approximately complete. The National Federation of Woman's Clubs is cooperating actively with other organizations and with the Census Bureau itself in the effort to remedy this defect, through the enactment and adequate enforcement of standard laws in the several states. The new Children's Bureau of the Department of Labor, under Miss Julia Lathrop, is bringing additional support to this important movement. It is by no means creditable to us that the accuracy and uniformity of our vital statistics should compare thus unfavorably with those of the civilized nations of the Old World.