The good Doctor Dufour

(1856 - 1928)

Precursor in the field of infant food hygiene, he is the founder of the “Drop of Milk” work

Jean Geoffroy - L'Œuvre de la goutte de lait au dispensaire de Belleville (triptyque) - PPP61 - Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de ParisJean Geoffroy - L'Œuvre de la goutte de lait au dispensaire de Belleville (triptyque) - PPP61 - Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris
©Jean Geoffroy - L'Œuvre de la goutte de lait au dispensaire de Belleville (triptyque) - PPP61 - Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris|Jean Geoffroy

Dr. Dufour

Origins & arrival on Fécamp

Born on October 18, 1856, in Saint Lô, Léon Dufour studied in Le Havre, Rouen and Nancy.

Barely 25 years old, Léon Dufour was a winner of the surgery and childbirth competition at the Faculty of Nancy.


He settled in Fécamp on November 29, 1881 as a “Doctor-Doctor”, 65 quai Bérigny, in front of the forest of masts of the ships that make the Capital of the Terre-neuvas famous.

Fécamp, a town of 13,000 inhabitants, had then only 5 doctors

As soon as he settled in, Léon Dufour specialized in home deliveries with the help of his coachman, whom he had trained in asepsis.

At that time he noticed that infant mortality was much higher in the maritime district than in the downtown area.
This was due to the sometimes very precarious housing of the sailors, the poorly paved streets made of sea pebbles where fish detritus decayed and putrefied.

Its actions

to develop a healthy lifestyle in Fécamp

In 1889, Doctor Dufour was appointed assistant physician of the Hospital of Fécamp and then set out on a crusade against the misery of the working classes who were victims of the lack of hygiene.

  • In 1890, the cleaning of the streets was ensured.
  • In 1893, he aroused the creation of a Hygiene Commission which obtained the removal of household waste and the installation of tinettes and septic tanks.
  • In 1895, an “Oeuvre de Maternité” ensures the loan of sheets and linen for babies.
  • In 1897, The cheap public Baths-Douches are installed rue de l’Aumône.
  • In 1898, Léon Dufour provides a series of lectures on hygiene for children aged 10 to 13 years.

The drop of milk

a revolution in the field of infant food hygiene

In Fécamp, the average number of births was higher than in all of France, but the average number of child deaths was much higher.

The delivery conditions of many mothers and the health conditions of the newborns worried Dr. Dufour a great deal.


Dr. Dufour observed that in the region, thanks to cattle breeding, milk was flowing freely. More than half of the mothers no longer breastfeed. They prefer to use a bottle filled with cow’s milk, especially since their work prevents them from breastfeeding their child. This practice turns out to be dangerous because cow’s milk is not suitable for the smallest.

This is the origin of the creation of “L’oeuvre de la Goutte de Lait” in 1894, intended to distribute sterilized milk bottles to indigent children.

The goal is to “fight against the mortality of infants”. Doctor Dufour emphasizes the importance and quality of breastfeeding, but he is aware of the difficulty or impossibility that young mothers working in the workshop encounter.

To overcome this, he proposes a balanced diet as close as possible to breast milk: every day, in the premises of the “Goutte de Lait”, rue du Précieux Sang, are prepared small baskets of 8 to 10 bottles, daily ration for a newborn. Families in need can withdraw these bottles free of charge and a consultation for infants is open every day.


Young mothers gradually learn to monitor the weight, evolution and diet of their children. Dr. Dufour is not afraid to leave the door of his consulting room and waiting room open, each one can put to good use the advice repeatedly expressed.

He shows boundless patience and perseverance to educate young mothers who are often unaware of the dangers of poor hygiene for their babies.


  • “A mother should never blame herself for not doing everything possible to breastfeed her child”
  • “Wash or bathe your children, with warm water, as often as possible, every day is the best”
  • “Ventilate your homes extensively”

It is from the creation of this institution, that Doctor Dufour helped by nuns of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and by volunteers more and more numerous, that the infant mortality will almost disappear.

This example soon became a school, so much so that before the 1914 war, there were more than 100 “Goutte de Lait” in France and their installation spread across the continents, in America, Australia and as far as Madagascar.

The work of the Goutte de Lait, which would last until 1972, would take on an international extension even before being recognized as a public utility in 1923.

Doctor Dufour

A life honored

The good doctor was decorated with the great office of Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1923 and a street was named after him in Fécamp in 1926. He died in 1928, after having worked for 50 years to save the lives of countless children.

Around the

Doctor Dufour

The Musée des Pêcheries dedicates a part of its collections to him, where you can see, among other things, baby bottles that are unique in the world.

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