Produced by the Helsinki University Museum and Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, the Baby in the Box exhibition focuses on the history of the Finnish maternity package from its early years to the current day. The exhibition reaches back to the 1920s, before the debut of the maternity package, and to the introduction of the kiertokori (pass-around baby basket) programme for families with children. Visitors can also learn about the history of child health services and the opening of child and maternal health clinics.
The kiertokori was passed from one family to another
Developed by the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, the kiertokori contained a selection of clothes which local sewing circles could use as a reference when making more baby clothing. The basket and the clothes were given to a family expecting a child, who passed them on to the next user.
According to Pia Vuorikoski, head of exhibitions at the Helsinki University Museum, the kiertokori was a very active and geographically widespread programme. The original plan was to end the kiertokori programme when the maternity package was introduced, but the programme continued through World War II because the government had difficulty finding supplies for the maternity package.
Oldest maternity package on display is from 1962
In addition to a kiertokori, the exhibition features four fully featured maternity packages and a variety of items from different years including a small jacket and shirt made of paper because of war-time fabric shortages. The most recent full maternity package is from the 2000s and the oldest from 1962. No maternity packages older than 1962 are known to have survived.
– The 1962 edition contains only a small selection of clothes, all in white. Of the other items, only the mattress, blanket and quilt feature colours other than white. The 1962 maternity package also includes a bar of soap, safety pins, muslin squares and an enamel basin, which remained part of the programme until around 1980. There is also a mattress pad made of oxidised sellulose, which was inserted between mattress and sheet to absorb moisture. It was an innovation of its time which later was replaced by plastic-lined terry cotton, Vuorikoski says.
The exhibition reflects changes in Finnish society
Vuorikoski says that putting together the exhibition was an interesting, eye-opening and at times emotional experience. The clothes and other items exemplify the profound change that Finnish society has experienced over the past decades.
Vuorikoski says that it was eye-opening to see how the boxes from different years reflect the rise in the standard of living. The earliest boxes illustrate the fact that segments of the Finnish population once experienced considerable material deprivation in their lives.
– The contents of the maternity package have changed along with general attitudes and trends, Vuorikoski says. One example is the dummy or pacifier, which by the early 2000s began to be seen as bad for the baby and was dropped from the selection. Another trend is the growing popularity of reusable nappies.
The exhibition is displayed partly in the museum’s permanent exhibition and partly in the university’s Think Corner display space. Vuorikoski believes that because of the international interest in the Finnish maternity package, the exhibition will also draw foreign visitors. The Helsinki University Museum is open to lending the Finland 100 anniversary exhibition as a touring exhibition to Finnish Institutes abroad, provided that the necessary financial resources are made available.
– The museum received an inquiry from New Zealand about this as early as last winter, Vuorikoski says.