May 2: Pediatrician Benjamin Spock Born in New Haven

 

Today in 1903, pediatrician Benjamin Spock, the most influential doctor of the Baby Boomer generation, was born in New Haven.  A graduate of Yale University and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Spock is considered to be the first doctor to apply Freudian psychoanalysis to child care.

In 1946, Spock published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which advocated a more intuitive and less rigid approach to child-rearing, written in a conversational, easy-to-understand style. The book, published in the earliest years of America’s post-war baby boom, became an instant bestseller, selling over four million copies in its first few years of publication.

Dr. Benjamin Spock in 1976.

As with every popular medical fad, Spock’s child-rearing advice attracted its fair share of critics, including academics who claimed the book relied on too much anecdotal evidence and, in the 1960s, from second-wave feminists who denounced Spock’s book as sexist.   Spock’s emphasis on lenient and permissive parenting struck many traditionally-minded families as radical and even borderline dangerous advice.  They argued that overindulging young children would lead to a generation of rebellious, troubled teenagers — a view that became increasingly popular during amid the turbulent events of the 1960s — and cited Dr. Spock’s own outspoken anti-war activism and unapologetic embrace of socialism as further reason to question his advice.

In spite of Spock’s many critics, there is no doubt that he singlehandedly changed the way millions of parents in America and throughout the Western world approached childcare. His book (now titled Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care) has continuously remained in print for over seventy years, and by the time of Spock’s death in 1998 had sold over 50 million copies worldwide.

Further Reading

Andy Piascik, “Benjamin Spock: Raising the World’s Children,” connecticuthistory.org

Spock at 65: Five Ideas that Changed American Parenting,TIME Magazine