‘Baby and Child Care’ by Dr. Benjamin Spock, 1946

Exhibit / January 3, 2017

Object Name: Baby and Child Care by Dr. Benjamin Spock
Maker and Year: Dr. Benjamin Spock/Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1946 (Pictured: New Revised and Enlarged Edition, Pocket Books, 1968)
Object Type: Book
Description: (Richard McKenna and K.E. Roberts)

In the rapidly changing, highly prosperous world in which they found themselves after the Second World War, American parents began to seek more modern sources of information regarding the best way to rear their offspring. Baby and Child Care by Dr. Benjamin Spock, first published in 1946 as The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, advocated abandoning the rigid regimes and capital punishment previously considered normal and healthy, and adopting what Spock’s detractors dubbed a “permissive” approach to parenting.

Despite receiving praise in the mainstream press of the time—Look magazine said in 1959 that he had brought “naturalness, common sense, reassurance… and even joy to parents all over the world”—Spock was later accused of contributing to the creation of a generation of self-obsessed, over-indulged young people, many of whom comprised the counterculture of the ’60s and ’70s. Said author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich: “We were hearing by 1968—over and over—an analysis that we were a generation of spoiled kids. That we were ‘Dr. Spock’s kids.'” This perception of generational permissiveness, and especially Spock’s vocal opposition to the Vietnam War, led conservative preacher Norman Peale (whose self-help book The Power of Positive Thinking was released in 1952) to claim that “the U.S. was paying the price of two generations that followed the Dr. Spock baby plan of instant gratification of needs.”

Theodore Roszak, however, who coined the term “counterculture” in his 1969 book The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition, defended Spock’s methods and its beneficiaries:

Dr. Spock’s endearing latitudinarianism is much more a reflection than a cause of the new (and wise) conception of proper parent-child relations that prevails in our middle class. A high-consumption… society simply doesn’t need contingents of rigidly trained, ‘responsible’ young workers. It cannot employ more than a fraction of untrained youngsters fresh out of high school…

Thus the young are ‘spoiled,’ meaning they are influenced to believe that being human has something to do with pleasure and freedom.

In 1967, Spock asked Martin Luther King Jr. to march beside him in what would be King’s first anti-war demonstration. Although Spock and King did not run together in the 1968 presidential race as many in the peace movement had wished, Spock did run in the 1972 election as the candidate for the People’s Party, whose platform included free medical care; a guaranteed minimum wage; the decriminalization of abortion, homosexuality, and marijuana; and the immediate withdrawal of all American troops from foreign countries. The People’s Party won a mere 0.10% of the vote, and Richard Nixon was reelected in a landslide.

Over the years, Spock also drew the fire of the burgeoning feminist movement, whose advocates accused him of promoting Freudian ideas that enforced gender stereotypes and encouraged mothers to stay at home. He was publicly rebuked by Gloria Steinem and loudly booed at the 1971 National Women’s Political Caucus, which prompted him to revise his texts in an attempt to remove the offending casual sexism and stereotyping. Spock’s legacy as regards his own family life is somewhat ambivalent: one of his two sons claimed that Spock had always made him feel “judged, criticized, scared, beaten down”; and, after almost fifty years of marriage, Spock divorced his first wife, Jane—who had played a crucial part in his ascent to fame—to marry Mary Morgan, 40 years his junior.

At the time of his death in 1998, Baby and Child Care was the best-selling book of the century in America after the Bible, and the Library of Congress has since included it among its “Books That Shaped America.”

5 thoughts on “‘Baby and Child Care’ by Dr. Benjamin Spock, 1946

  1. I think my mom read his book, I do seem to remember a copy of it when I was a kid growing up in the early 70’s. Not sure on how it influenced her but I do not think it infuced my dad to much. I think he got the two Spocks confused. .

    • I do think so, years latter when I was serving in the Navy, I would notice how some of my fellow service members did not take military displine very well in the way my dad tought me. This is to do as you are told and and not question orders. As to where some of these kids would just thub their nose up at their superiors, I would sy to myself too many kinds raised on Dr Spock.

  2. Of all the many things I remember from my early to mid-’70s childhood, this book is easily one of the top 5. Somehow or another, I would find it just laying around or on a bookshelf…either way, it would be constantly appearing. As I grew older (7-8 yrs. old) and started watching Star Trek, I used to think Spock actually wrote the book…especially since it was “Dr. Spock.” I would be like, “How the heck does a Vulcan know how to raise human babies?” …

    When my parents started getting rid of stuff, I believe I held onto that book, as ratty and dog-eared as it was. I have to check if I still have it somewhere. If I do, I’ll post a pic.

  3. The Spock/Spock overlap was pretty widespread where I grew up – I know I assumed they were one and the same for quite a while, and Vulcan Spock was always referred to as ‘Dr. Spock’. Wonder how much Roddenberry’s choice of name was consciously or subconsciously influenced by the original?

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