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This Mother’s Day, Celebrate Progress for Mothers and Children

Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

This Mother’s Day, Celebrate Progress for Mothers and Children

The woman who inspired Mother’s Day lost 9 of her 13 children to now-preventable illnesses.

Summary: The life of Ann Jarvis, the woman who inspired Mother’s Day, was filled with tragedies that illustrate the difficulties of motherhood in the past. With almost nonexistent prenatal care, only 4 of her 13 children reached adulthood. Learn more about the progress made in maternal and childhood health in this article by Chelsea Follett.

This article originally appeared in The Virginian‐​Pilot.

Few know the story of the woman who inspired Mother’s Day. Her name was Ann Jarvis, and the many tragedies in her life demonstrate how much more difficult motherhood was in the past and the progress that has been made since.

Ann was born in 1832 in Virginia, and married at age 18. After marrying, Ann had 13 children over the course of 17 years. In that era, prenatal care was almost nonexistent. During the 19th century, about 500 to 1,000 mothers died for every 100,000 births. Giving birth 13 times, as Ann did, meant that she faced between a 6 and 13 percent chance of death. Fortunately, she survived. Today, the maternal mortality rate, while still higher in poor countries than in rich ones, is falling—decreasing from 342 deaths per 100,000 live births in the year 2000 to 211 per 100,000 in 2017, the World Bank’s most recent year of data.

Children also faced fearful survival odds and were often killed by childhood ailments that are now preventable or treatable. Ann’s family was no exception: only four of her children lived to adulthood. Her children died of illnesses such as measles, typhoid, and diphtheria, which are now far less common thanks to vaccines and better sanitation. 

The grief of losing nine children is beyond the imagination of most people today. Ann faced better odds than her foremothers in this regard, although she fared worse than the statistical average. The average number of a mother’s children lost to premature death had fallen from three in 1800 to just two in 1850, the year that Ann wed. That figure fell to one child in 1900. Today, thankfully, childhood death is extraordinarily rare in developed countries, where most mothers can expect to see all of their children survive. That progress is ongoing, and has come about thanks to medical advances, improved sanitation, and rising prosperity to fund them—as well as the efforts of people like Ann.

In 1858, while she was pregnant with her sixth child, Ann began organizing women’s clubs with the goal of reducing childhood death. The clubs raised funds to buy medicine for local children, hired assistants for mothers suffering from tuberculosis, brought supplies to sick quarantining households to prevent the spread of disease, and more. “The clubs inspected food and milk for contamination—long before governments took on such tasks—and they visited homes to teach mothers how to improve sanitation. Ann became a popular speaker, addressing subjects [such as] ‘Great Value of Hygiene for Women and Children.’” 

Ann helped popularize the practice of boiling drinking water in her community, preventing cases of the often‐​deadly waterborne illnesses (such as tuberculosis and typhoid fever) that ravaged humanity before widespread chlorination.

Despite the demands of childrearing and her volunteer work on behalf of mothers and children, Ann also found time to organize efforts during the Civil War to treat wounded soldiers from both sides. A devout Methodist, Ann was also active in her religious community and taught Sunday School lessons.

Anna, one of Ann’s four children to make it to adulthood, created Mother’s Day in Ann’s honor. She was inspired by something Ann had said during Sunday School: “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial ‘mother’s day’ commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.” 

Given her tireless work to improve maternal and childhood health, Ann certainly deserves credit. This Mother’s Day, despite the problems that remain, take a moment to appreciate progress in the fight against premature death for mothers and their children.

Blog Post | Science & Education

Introducing Our Upcoming Book, Heroes of Progress

Over the past two centuries, humanity has become massively more prosperous, better educated, healthier, and more peaceful.

The underlying cause of this progress is innovation. Human innovation―whether it be new ideas, inventions, or systems―is the primary way people create wealth and escape poverty.

Our upcoming book, Heroes of Progress: 65 People Who Changed the World, explores the lives of the most important innovators who have ever lived, from agronomists who saved billions from starvation and intellectuals who changed public policy for the better, to businesspeople whose innovations helped millions rise from poverty.

If it weren’t for the heroes profiled in this book, we’d all be far poorer, sicker, hungrier, and less free―if we were fortunate enough to be alive at all.

Considering their impact on humanity, perhaps it’s time to learn their story?

Heroes of Progress book advertised on Amazon for pre-order

Heroes of Progress Book Forum

On March 21st, the author of Heroes of Progress, Alexander Hammond, will present the book live at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. He will be joined by Marian Tupy, the editor of Human Progress, and Clay Routledge, the Archbridge Institute’s Vice President of Research, who will speak on the individual’s role in advancing human progress and the need for a cultural progress movement.

Learn more about the event here.

Praise for Heroes of Progress

Making an inspiring case for progress at this time of skepticism and historical ingratitude is no easy feat. Yet, by relentlessly outlining the extraordinary ability of individuals to shape our world for the better, Alexander Hammond does just that.

Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Innovation is a team sport achieved by people working together, using precious freedoms to change the world, so it’s sometimes invidious to single out one person for credit. But once an idea is ripe for plucking, the right person at the right time can seize it and save a million lives or open a million possibilities. Each of these 65 people did that, and their stories are both thrilling and beautiful.

Matt Ridley, author of How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom

The figures in this book are the overlooked and often unknown figures who have transformed the lives of ordinary people, for the better… This book is a correction to widespread pessimism and is both informative and inspirational.

Dr. Stephen Davies, author of The Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity

Superman and the Avengers are all very well, of course, but the real superheroes are thinkers, scientists, and innovators of flesh and blood who saved us from a life that used to be poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Alexander Hammond tells their inspiring stories in this magnificent book that will leave you grateful to be living in the world these men and women created.

— Johan Norberg, author of Open: The Story of Human Progress

The 65 innovators honored here made us happier, healthier, and longer-lived. Indeed, it is thanks to some of them that we are here at all. Their story is the story of how the human race acquired powers once attributed to gods and sorcerers―the story of how we overcame hunger, disease, ignorance, and squalor. I defy anyone to read this book and not feel better afterwards.

Lord Daniel Hannan, president of the Institute for Free Trade

The 65 fascinating stories in Heroes of Progress are
testaments to the ingenuity of humankind in delivering a richer,
healthier, and hopefully freer world. Alexander C. R. Hammond
provides an inspirational reminder that when individuals are
free to speak, think, innovate, and engage in open markets, the
heroic potential of humanity knows no bounds.

Lord Syed Kamall, Professor of politics and international relations, St. Mary’s University

In Heroes of Progress, Alexander Hammond reminds us that human minds are the fundamental driver of every discovery, invention, and innovation that has improved our lives. By telling the stories of pioneering men and women who have advanced civilization, this book not only honors past heroes of progress, but also provides inspiration for the next generation to use their uniquely human imaginative and enterprising capacities to build a better future.

— Clay Routledge, Vice President of Research and Director of the Human Flourishing Lab at the Archbridge Institute

BBC | Health Systems

How Sewers Are Helping Us to Monitor Disease Outbreaks

“Traditionally, wastewater surveillance has involved the unpleasant and dangerous job of manually collecting samples. But in Queensland, each sewer is now equipped with an autosampler which gathers samples hourly over a 24-hour period. These are then blended together to produce a mixture which can be analysed in special facilities using PCR tests – a molecular technique that can be used to identify fragments of genetic material. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now runs a national wastewater surveillance system to regularly test for a variety of pathogens, including monkeypox, using technology provided by Alphabet-owned Verily.”

From BBC.

Blog Post | Human Development

1,000 Bits of Good News You May Have Missed in 2023

A necessary balance to the torrent of negativity.

Reading the news can leave you depressed and misinformed. It’s partisan, shallow, and, above all, hopelessly negative. As Steven Pinker from Harvard University quipped, “The news is a nonrandom sample of the worst events happening on the planet on a given day.”

So, why does Human Progress feature so many news items? And why did I compile them in this giant list? Here are a few reasons:

  • Negative headlines get more clicks. Promoting positive stories provides a necessary balance to the torrent of negativity.
  • Statistics are vital to a proper understanding of the world, but many find anecdotes more compelling.
  • Many people acknowledge humanity’s progress compared to the past but remain unreasonably pessimistic about the present—not to mention the future. Positive news can help improve their state of mind.
  • We have agency to make the world better. It is appropriate to recognize and be grateful for those who do.

Below is a nonrandom sample (n = ~1000) of positive news we collected this year, separated by topic area. Please scroll, skim, and click. Or—to be even more enlightened—read this blog post and then look through our collection of long-term trends and datasets.



Farming robots and drones

Food abundance

Genetic modification

Indoor farming

Lab-grown produce


Other innovations

Conservation and Biodiversity

Big cats




Other comebacks



Rivers and lakes

Surveillance and discovery

Rewilding and conservation


Culture and tolerance

Gender equality

General wellbeing


Treatment of animals

Energy and natural Resources



Fossil fuels

Other energy

Recycling and resource efficiency

Resource abundance

Environment and pollution

Climate change

Disaster resilience

Air pollution

Water pollution

Growth and development


Economic growth

Housing and urbanization

Labor and employment



Disability and assistive technology

Dementia and Alzheimer’s


Heart disease and stroke

Other non-communicable diseases



Other communicable diseases

Maternal care

Fertility and birth control

Mental health and addiction

Weight and nutrition

Longevity and mortality 

Surgery and emergency medicine

Measurement and imaging

Health systems

Other innovations



    Artificial intelligence



    Construction and manufacturing


    Robotics and automation

    Autonomous vehicles


    Other innovations


    AI in science


    Chemistry and materials