Since February 27, 2019 that Lisbon has one more museum of great sociological and patrimonial interest, the Milk Station Museum, whose collection is not only rare in Portugal, but also in Europe.
In Santa Apolónia, it is located in the old facilities of the first milk station of the country, destined to help needy mothers and children in the zone of Alfama.
After it was established, three others followed in Lisbon. In total, around 16.000 children were nursed.
Today we’re telling you this story and inviting you to get to know this curious museum and the project that originated it.
The Harsh Social Reality
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, both the infant mortality and illiteracy rates were incredibly high. This misery, that arose during the secular monarchy, remained throughout the short and troubled period of the 1st Republic and the long dictatorship of the Estado Novo. Only after the revolution of April 1974 was this reality changed.
The differences in the quality of life attained after the revolution can be measured through rates related with education, housing, health, among others. These are present in the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Aljube, another unmissable museum that is worth visiting.
All sorts of problems arose from the housing needs and food shortage of the poorest layers of the population. The sanitary conditions of their habitations were precarious, women didn’t have any sort of prenatal care, and the lack of food didn’t allow them to have milk in order to feed their babies. This led them to many times hand the babies over to wet nurses, who carried fatal contagious diseases, such as syphilis…
There are countless of these cases documented in the Dermatology Collection of the Capuchos Hospital. Times have fortunately changed. Today, these situations, not only outrage us, but also shock us, seeing that it hasn’t been that long since these events.
Aboim Ascensão and the First Milk Station of Lisbon
The first milk station of Lisbon was created in 1901, at the initiative of colonel Rodrigo António Aboim Ascensão (1859-1930), commander of the Fiscal Guard Cavalry Company situated in the neighbourhood of Alfama.
This patron was sensitised by the premature death of his son of only 8 months and by the deplorable life conditions of the population of Alfama he was confronted with everyday. His creation allowed to in addition to tackling the children’s food shortage, to educate the mothers, thus revolutionising the maternal and infant care. It would never be enough to solve such a complex problem in its core, but it undoubtedly made a difference in the reality of this population.
It was in the 1900 Paris Exposition that he had contact with the French vanguard when it came to early childhood care. Based on the French gouttes-de-lait (milk drops) model, developed by the paediatrician Léon Dufour (1856-1928), Aboim Ascensão created in Portugal an association dedicated to supporting early childhood that promoted the free distribution of quality-controlled milk to needy children, as well as paediatric and social care.
This way, in buildings projected by the architect Ventura Terra (1866-1919), this ambitious initiative was launched and called lactário, a word that had to be invented in order to name such an innovative activity.
The Pioneer Milk Station
According to the Milk Station Museum that now occupies this space:
“The service involved these separate areas:
- Milk Production, responsible for the production of hygienic milk;
- Milk Station, which distributed milk on prescription on a daily basis;
- Medical Service, with a paediatrician who weekly monitored each user and provided neonatal support with a state-of-the-art technology at the time: Alexandre Lion incubators;
- Social Service, which lent support to the family through the work of the Assistant Protectors; and
- Administrative Service, responsible for the management of the Association and for communication with the outside world.”
In the next-door autonomous installations operated a dairy that was carefully watched over by a dairyman and a veterinary, who ensured the quality of the milk.
Due to high demand, the milk that was produced here started being distributed across the city in other stations. First, in 1907 near the neighbourhood of Madragoa, in Santos-o-Velho, then in 1927 in Alcântara and finally in 1929, in the east zone of the city, in Beato.
These facilities have disappeared, except for the deactivated facilities of Beato that no longer belong to the milk station. We believe they should be kept for future memory, adapted for another purpose.
When it operated, the milk station provided each child with a complete layette made by volunteer women who sewed and embroidered the little clothes, blankets and bedsheets.
In addition to the service provided in the facilities, the association had volunteer assistant protectors, who visited the homes everyday, giving support and hygiene and maternal care advice.
The Milk Station of Lisbon always had the support of the elites and of the most relevant members of the State. Initially the kings and later the presidents contributed to the visibility of the project with their visits and distribution of layettes during Christmas time. This is also featured in the museum’s collection.
The Milk Station Museum
The Milk Station Museum was established by the Aboim Sande Lemos Foundation in order to divulge the history of the pioneering institution that created the first milk station in Portugal.
The museum’s collection is rare not only in Portugal, but also in Europe, seeing that the destruction caused by the dreadful world wars led to the disappearance of the modern equipment of that time that we can see here. These are the cases of the first incubators for premature babies of the beginning of the 20th century that the museum preserves.
The collection featured different types of objects – paintings, sculptures, tiles, photographs, technical material, everyday-use objects, furniture, among others – that are organised in two themed areas – one dedicated to the founder and the other divided into nuclei related to the milk station’s activity itself.
All services that were provided are represented here and, this way, we can observe the objects related to the different activities. We can find the layettes, the premature baby feeding spoons, the milk bottles and even the technical equipment used in the production of the high-quality hygienic raw milk, among others.
The entire exhibition is available in english and features an appealing short film that describes and illustrates the story of the milk station since its establishment.
Don’t miss this experience!
The visits to the Milk Station Museum are always guided, subject to prior booking, and are available in english!
More information can be found on the Museum’s website.