Friday, January 21, 2011

Practice Babies

No, it's not what you're thinking.  Read on:

Once upon a time, infants were quietly removed from orphanages and delivered to the home economics programs at elite U.S. colleges, where young women were eager to learn the science of mothering. These infants became “practice babies,” living in “practice apartments,” where a gaggle of young “practice mothers” took turns caring for them. After a year or two of such rearing, the babies would be returned to orphanages, where they apparently were in great demand; adoptive parents were eager to take home an infant that had been cared for with the latest “scientific” childcare methods.

Read the rest of this fascinating story here.


Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, there was something similar in the Philippines back in the 1950s or so. But I don't think the children were "borrowed" from orphanages, but from working class parents who got some compensation in return. (And others have to pay for baby-sitting, you know?)

Last year, I read one of those "creative non-fiction" essays by a woman who had had to care for a baby in her college Home Economics course. The first baby, the child of a local laundress, was noticeably sickly and weak when they received him, and he actually died while one of the students was bathing him. (Not the traumatised girl's fault.) The university promptly found another baby--a much healthier one--for the girls in that group to care for.

I think that if a baby died in a similar programme today, the whole thing would be discontinued immediately. But I guess the past really is a foreign country where they do things differently . . .

mrsdarwin said...

There was a recent novel which featured this practice -- the protagonist was the baby. But I can't remember the title, and I didn't read the book itself, only the reviews.

Okay, that wasn't very helpful.

Pentimento said...

Hee hee . . . :)

The book is mentioned in the essay I linked to, I think: The Irresistible Henry House?

Melanie B said...

Wow! That's just... bizarre. I really don't have words.

Pentimento said...

Isn't it?

Melanie B said...

Now I'm really curious about the novel too. I wonder how the child fares after the program and once he's an adult. Because really, if you think about it they were taking children from orphanages. So all things considered the babies might very well have been getting much better care in these college programs than they would have in an institution. I'm guessing the caregiver ratios, for example, were much more favorable in the home economics program. It would be interesting to know how the orphanages were staffed; but I wouldn't be surprised if the comparison was something like eight women to one baby in the college program vs eight babies to one caregiver in the orphanage. And they were getting the best standard of care according what people knew at the time. They were at least not being neglected or undernourished.

Still, bizarre according to the way we see things. Like Enbrethiliel says, the past is a very foreign country indeed.

Pentimento said...

Yes, especially since it's essentially the *recent* past.

But also, there were orphanages then. There are no orphanages in the US now.