Scientific Advice on Parenting Part II: The Remarkable Mrs. West
Jan Armstrong, University of New Mexico
This essay is currently under revision. If you would like to read a draft of this work, please feel free to contact me (jka "at" unm "dot" edu). It will reappear as a print publication-- Jan A.
Martha Wolfenstein studied the advice given in the Infant Care Bulletin, comparing the 1914 and 1942 editions. The advice given to parents, particularly mothers, in 1914 seems very harsh. In contrast, the advice offered in 1942 seems familiar. Wolfenstein proposed the term "fun morality" to account for the shift that appears to have taken place in the way the pamphlets describe best practices for infant care.
Nancy Weiss(1985) provides an intriguing perspective on the historical context in which the harsh advice of 1914 was given. The Infant Care Bulletin was a publication of the Children's Bureau, a federal agency in Washington, DC. When Julia Lathrop became the head of the Children's Bureau she hired a woman named Mary Mills West to write a prenatal care pamphlet for mothers. The Prenatal Care pamphlet was distributed free of charge and was exceptionally popular. It was written in a way that was simple and clear, but not patronizing. The following year, Mrs. West wrote the Infant Care Bulletin of 1914.
Weiss, Nancy Pottisham (1985). Mother, the invention of necessity: Dr. Benjamin Spock's Baby and Childcare. In N.R. Hiner and J. H. Hawes (editors) Growing up in America: Children in historical perspective. (pp. 283-303), Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois.
revised 9/26/03. Last update 3/21/10 by jka.