Today’s New York Times contains an obituary of Dana Raphael. She died earlier this month in Fairfield, at 90.
Like nearly every dead person the Times honors, she led a remarkable life.
“An apostle of breast-feeding and a catalyst for the movement to recruit nonmedical caregivers to assist mothers during and after childbirth — attendants she called doulas,” Raphael was also one of the first scientists to link rising dependence on milk formula to high infant mortality rates in developing nations.
But that’s not enough to give Raphael a send-off on “06880.”
Buried in the story is this tidbit: In the early 1980s, when she discovered that poor and malnourished women in 3rd world countries were physically unable to breast-feed, she was working for the Human Lactation Center.
And that organization — which Raphael and her mentor, Margaret Mead, founded in the ’70s — was headquartered in Westport.
Writing in the Times in 1978 — in a story headlined “Westport Center Studies Breastfeeding Around the World” — Lise Connell said that the organization’s headquarters were in what were formerly the bedrooms of Raphael’s 3 children, in her home here.
Financed largely with a $150,000 Agency for International Development grant, its goal was to study breastfeeding practices around the world, and serve as a clearinghouse for international data. It also published a monthly journal, The Lactation Review. There was a full-time secretary, and part-time researcher.
Raphael told the Times that the Center was “lucky” to be there. “Southern Connecticut is full of highly intelligent women who want to do meaningful work but don’t need to earn a living. We pay minimal salaries,” and offered no benefits.
So what happened to the Human Lactation Center?
It still may be located here. Various online business yellow pages say it’s at “666 Sturges Highway, Westport,” though no such number exists. A call to the phone number listed brings up a generic “please leave a message” request — and it sounds like it was recorded by a young kid. There is no website.
There does, however, appear to be a legit Human Lactation Center based at the University of California-Davis. Its website says it’s been around “for more than 20 years” — but gives no mention of Westport.
Yet that mystery is for another day. RIP, Dana Raphael. Thanks for all you’ve done for woman and infants around the world — some of it right here in Westport.
(Hat tips: Peter Blau and Ed Bloch)