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Spock, Benjamin

Spock, Benjamin 19031998

THE EARLY YEARS

A CHILD-CENTERED APPROACH

AN ACTIVIST LIFE

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Benjamin Spock was, for a generation, the canonical authority in America on the raising of children. Even after Spock passed the apogee of his influence, he continued to be the point of reference for almost all writers on the subject for the next forty years and into the early twenty-first century. By almost any standard Spock was the most important American author of child-rearing advice of the twentieth century. His principal work, Baby and Child Care, went through seven editions, was translated into thirty-eight languages, and sold more than fifty million copies around the world. Aside from the Bible, it was the best-selling book of the twentieth century in America.

THE EARLY YEARS

Spock was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of a successful corporate lawyer. He graduated from Yale University, won a gold medal as an oarsman at the 1924 Olympics, and went to medical school at Columbia University. In the 1930s Spock studied at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. He was the first psychoanalytically trained pediatrician in New York, where he maintained a private practice from 1933 to 1943.

Spocks Park Avenue practice brought him overtures from publishers, who pressed him to write a book setting forth his distinctive combination of pediatrics and child psychology. In 1946 he did. The first edition of The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care began, as did all subsequent editions: Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do. It invited mothers to indulge their own impulses and their childrens, assuring them on the basis of the latest scientific studies that it was safe to do so. In the process, the book overturned the expertise of the previous generation and authorized mothers to express their natural feelings toward their children.

Earlier advice, embodied in the convergence of the psychologist John Watsons Psychological Care of Infant and Child and the U.S. governments Infant Care pamphlets of the 1920s and 1930s, warned against parental deviation from rigid disciplinary schedules and undue display of fondness or physical affection. Spock urged spontaneity, warmth, and a fair measure of fun for parents and children alike. He insisted that there were no infallible rules and that each child had to be treated as a distinct individual.

A CHILD-CENTERED APPROACH

Baby and Child Care seemed predicated on an unprecedented child-centeredness that celebrated instinct in youngsters and their mothers as well. After decades during which parents had been told they would spoil the child disastrously if they yielded to the childs demands, Spock told parents they could trust the childs desires and their own. What you instinctively feel like doing is best, he promised his readers, in deliberate defiance of Watson. If you feel like comforting the child, do it. The very feeling would make it natural and right.

Spock found parables of the reliability of desire in what was at the time the most current research on sleeping and eating. Those studies showed that infants stabilized a bedtime schedule on their own, without parental coercion, if given a little time. The studies demonstrated that somewhat older children worked out a feeding routine on their own, if they were indulged while they came to it. Older children even chose a balanced diet once past the first rush to sweets. Afforded free run of a smorgasbord, children pigged out for a few days on candy, cake, and ice cream but then of their own volition turned to proteins, greens, and grains. It turned out that, as Spock put it, the child knows a lot. Parents could give in to their child without worrying about the consequences, hard though it might be for them to have this kind of confidence in [the childs] appetites. Modern mothers and fathers were lucky to be able to let go and be natural.

Impulseof both the child and the parentscould be safely followed. Spontaneous inclination was a virtue, deliberate control a vice. A mother angry at her child would do better to express her anger at once. Waiting until she calmed down and came to conscious mastery would be grim and unnatural.

Conservative critics later complained that Spock promoted what they called permissive child rearing. In one of the earliest expressions of the culture wars that marked the last quarter of the twentieth century, critics held Spock responsible for the counterculture and the collapse of conventional morality. On their face, such charges were difficult to sustain. Spock never counseled permissiveness and soon enough advised against it. He simply had no stake in permissiveness per se. When critics of the 1946 edition assailed what they took to be Spocks undue indulgence of the child, Spock rewrote the permissive passages without a pang in the second edition. As Spock said in that revised version and in every revision that came after, the issue was not intrinsically important. Both strictness and permissiveness would work for goodhearted parents, neither for insecure ones. The only matter of any real moment was the spirit that the parent [put] into managing the child.

Discipline and indulgence were not, for Spock, at odds. He trained as a psychoanalyst, but he never permitted Sigmund Freuds (18561939) tragic vision to inflect his advice. Civilization, in Spocks view, did not entail discontents. Conflict was not in the nature of things. Antagonism only appeared when parents mismanaged.

Spocks essential endeavor was to keep parents from activating the infantile ego. His deepest concern was to prevent pitched battles of will between mother and child. He resorted to permissiveness only as a tacticone among severalin a larger strategy of conflict management. It was never a principle, only a ploy, driven by fear of the fallout of contention.

AN ACTIVIST LIFE

But if Spock did not espouse opposition in his pediatrics, he embraced it in his politics. Even before the war in Vietnam, he warned against the dangers of nuclear testing and served as cochairman of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. He was a vocal opponent of the war, helped lead the march on the Pentagon in 1967, and was convicted and sentenced to jail for conspiracy to aid draft resisters in 1968. (His conviction was reversed on appeal.) He ran for president in 1972 as the candidate of the Peoples Party and continued as an activist long after. Past the age of seventy, Spock was arrested for protesting against a nuclear power plant in New Hampshire, budget cuts at the White House, and nuclear weapons at the Pentagon. Past eighty, Spock still gave as many as a hundred talks a year on the nuclear arms race.

Spocks child-rearing advice changed as his political views and American family life evolved. In successive editions of Baby and Child Care, he made a place for fathers as well as mothers in child care, allowed new gender roles for boys and girls, acknowledged divorce and single parenting, and explicitly urged vegetarianism on his readers.

But in essentials Spocks advice never changed. He always aimed to write a guide for living more than a medical reference book. He always challenged conventional notions of normality and sought to alleviate anxiety, in parents and children alike. He always offered reassurance in the down-to-earth manner in which he set forth his advice. He had a genius for popularization. No one ever explained Freud better in everyday language. No one ever wrote better gender-neutral prose.

Even as Spock set himself in militant antagonism to the status quo in politics, he endeavored to help parents accommodate their children to fit in the society and the economy the children would encounter. However inadvertently, he pushed mothers and fathers to prepare children for the corporate bureaucracies in which they would make their careers. He emphasized the cooperativeness and congeniality that organizational life demands. He held that parents owe it to the child to make him likeable and that they had to make the child be like others to be likable. He never did reconcile his dissident politics and his conformist child rearing.

SEE ALSO Brazelton, T. Berry; Child Development; Parent-Child Relationships; Parenting Styles; Psychology; Socialization

BIBLIOGRAPHY

PRIMARY WORKS

Spock, Benjamin. 1946. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce.

Spock, Benjamin, and Mary Morgan. 1989. Spock on Spock: A Memoir of Growing Up with the Century. New York: Pantheon.

SECONDARY WORKS

Bloom, Lynn. 1972. Doctor Spock: Biography of a Conservative Radical. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill.

Mitford, Jessica. 1969. The Trial of Dr. Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, and Marcus Raskin. New York: Knopf.

Watson, John B. 1928. Psychological Care of Infant and Child. New York, Norton.

Zuckerman, Michael. 1993. Doctor Spock: The Confidence Man. In Almost Chosen People: Oblique Biographies in the American Grain. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Michael Zuckerman

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Benjamin Spock

Benjamin Spock

Benjamin Spock (born 1903), pediatrician and political activist, was most noted for his authorship of Baby and Child Care, which significantly changed predominant attitudes toward the raising of infants and children.

Benjamin McLane Spock was born on May 2, 1903, in New Haven, Connecticut, the oldest child in a large, strict New England family. His family was so strict that in his 82nd year he would still be saying "I love to dance in order to liberate myself from my puritanical upbringing." Educated at private preparatory schools, he attended Yale from 1921 to 1925, majoring in English literature. He was a member of the racing crew that represented the United States in the 1924 Olympic Games at Paris, finishing 300 feet ahead of its nearest rival. He began medical school at Yale in 1925, and transferring to Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1927. He had, by this time, married Jane Davenport Cheney, whom he had met after a Yale-Harvard boat race.

Spock had decided well before starting his medical studies that he would "work with children, who have their whole lives ahead of them" and so, upon taking his M.D. degree in 1929 and serving his general internship at the prestigious Presbyterian Hospital, he specialized in pediatrics at a small hospital crowded with children in New York's Hell's Kitchen area. Believing that pediatricians at that time were focusing too much on the physical side of child development, he took up a residency in psychiatry as well.

Between 1933 and 1944 Spock practiced pediatric medicine while at the same time teaching pediatrics at Cornell Medical College and consulting in pediatric psychiatry for the New York City Health Department. On a summer vacation in 1943 he began to write his most famous book, Baby and Child Care, and he continued to work on it from 1944 to 1946 while serving as a medical officer in the Navy.

The book sharply broke with the authoritarian tone and rigorous instructions found in earlier generations of baby-care books, most of which said to feed infants on a strict schedule and not to pick them up when they cried. Spock, who spent ten years trying to reconcile his psychoanalytic training with what mothers were telling him about their children, told his readers "You know more than you think you do…. Don't be afraid to trust your own commonsense…. Take it easy, trust your own instincts, and follow the directions that your doctor gives you." The response was overwhelming. Baby and Child Care rapidly became America's all-time best-seller except for Shakespeare and the Bible; by 1976 it had also eclipsed Shakespeare.

After his discharge from the Navy, Spock became associated with the famous Mayo Clinic (1947-1951) and then became a professor of child development at the University of Pittsburgh (1951-1955) and at Case Western Reserve (1955-1967). His political activism began during this period, growing logically out of his concern for children. A healthy environment for growing children, he believed, included a radiation-free atmosphere to breathe and so, in 1962, he became co-chairman of SANE, an organization dedicated to stopping nuclear bomb tests in the Earth's atmosphere. The following year, in which the United States did ratify a nuclear test ban treaty, he campaigned for Medicare, incurring the wrath of the American Medical Association, many of whose members were already suspicious of a colleague who wrote advice columns for the Ladies Home Journal and Redbook instead of writing technical monographs for the medical journals.

Spock was an early opponent of the Indo-China war; his view on that subject, Dr. Spock on Vietnam, appeared in 1968. As the war escalated, so did antiwar protest, in which Spock participated vigorously, marching and demonstrating with militant youths who had not yet been born when he began his medical career. Conservatives accused him of having created, in large measure, the youth protest movement of the 1960s. Ignoring his many admonitions to parents in Baby and Child Care that they should "set limits," his political opponents accused Spock of teaching "permissiveness," by which they claimed an entire generation of American youth had been raised and ruined. In vain Spock pointed out that similar student protests were happening in Third World countries where his book enjoyed no circulation and were not happening in Western Europe countries where it sold well.

Because of his own strict personal upbringing and his acute moral sense, Spock may have intended a lot less when he told parents to "relax" than some of them realized. In 1968 he revised Baby and Child Care to make his intentions more clear, now cautioning his readers "Don't be afraid that your children will dislike you" if you set those limits and enforce them. Nevertheless, that 1968 edition showed a 50 percent drop in sales, mainly, Spock thought, because of his stand on Vietnam.

On May 20, 1968, along with several other leading war protesters, Spock was put on trial for conspiracy. The charge was that he had counseled young people to resist the draft. In the superheated political atmosphere of the times he was convicted, but on appeal the verdict was set aside on a technicality. Some indignant readers returned their well-thumbed copies of Baby and Child Care in order to prevent further undermining of their children's patriotism. To many other readers, however, the government's indictment of the baby doctor seemed rather like prosecuting Santa Claus.

Two books published in 1970, Decent and Indecent: Our Personal and Political Behavior and A Teenager's Guide to Life and Love, made it clear that Spock was a good deal more of a traditional moralist than either his friends or his enemies were aware. He had been driven into the antiwar and other reform movements by the same imperious, old-fashioned conscience that propelled some of his opponents in exactly the opposite direction.

At the same time the doctor showed himself capable of growing and changing. His social activism mutated into socialism, and in 1972 he ran for president on the People's Party ticket. He was also capable of admitting a mistake. Badgered for some five years on the lecture platform by feminist objectors to the gender-role stereotypes of fathers and mothers as they appeared in Baby and Child Care, he eventually conceded that much of what they had said had been right. In 1976, 30 years after its initial publication, Spock brought out a third version of the famous book, deleting material he himself termed "sexist" and calling for greater sharing by fathers in the parental role. He also yielded 45 percent of subsequent book royalties in the divorce settlement that year with his wife, who contended she had done much more of the work on Baby and Child Care than he had ever acknowledged. Spock was remarried in the fall of 1976 to Mary Morgan Councille.

Formally retired in 1967, Spock was the kind of person who in spirit never really retires. Contemplating his own death as his health began to fail in the 1980s, he wrote in 1985 (at the age of 82) that he did not want any lugubrious funeral tunes played over him: "My ideal would be the New Orleans black funeral, in which friends snake-dance through the streets to the music of a jazz band." He had chronic bronchitis and suffered a stroke in 1989. His wife, Mary, collaborated with Spock on his autobiography, Spock on Spock, which was published in 1989. His book A Better World for Our Children was published in 1994 and explored the relationship between child-rearing and politics. According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, Spock said "When I look at our society and think of the millions of children exposed every day to its harmful effects, I am near despair."

Further Reading

Lynn Z. Bloom wrote a perceptive study entitled Doctor Spock:Biography of A Conservative Radical (1972). Doctor Spock's own writings, in addition to the famous baby book, included Decent and Indecent and A Teenager's Guide to Life and Love, both published in 1970. An account of the conspiracy trial was Jessica Mitford's The Trial of Dr. Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, and Marcus Raskin (1969). Changes in Spock's thinking after the Bloom book appeared were briefly noted in M.A. Kellogg's "Updating Dr. Spock," Newsweek (March 3, 1976). A mellow valedictory statement by Spock, "A Way To Say Farewell," appeared in Parade Magazine on March 10, 1985.

See also Spock on Parenting (1988); Spock on Spock: A Memoir of Growing Up With the Century (1989); and A Better World for Our Children (National Press Books, 1994). □

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Spock, Benjamin

Benjamin Spock

1903-1998
Pediatrician most noted for his authorship of Baby and Child Care, which significantly changed predominant attitudes toward the raising of infants and children.

Benjamin McLane Spock was born on May 2, 1903, in New Haven, Connecticut, the oldest child in a large, strict New England family . His family was so strict that in his 82nd year he would still be saying "I love to dance in order to liberate myself from my puritanical upbringing." Educated at private preparatory schools, he attended Yale from 1921 to 1925, majoring in English literature. He was a member of the racing crew that represented the United States in the 1924 Olympic Games at Paris, finishing 300 feet ahead of its nearest rival. He began medical school at Yale in 1925, and transferred to Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1927. He had, by this time, married Jane Davenport Cheney, whom he had met after a Yale-Harvard boat race.

Spock had decided well before starting his medical studies that he would "work with children, who have their whole lives ahead of them" and so, upon taking his M.D. degree in 1929 and serving his general internship at the prestigious Presbyterian Hospital, he specialized in pediatrics at a small hospital crowded with children in New York's Hell's Kitchen area. Believing that pediatricians at that time were focusing too much on the physical side of child development , he took up a residency in psychiatry as well.

Between 1933 and 1944, Spock practiced pediatric medicine, while at the same time teaching pediatrics at Cornell Medical College and consulting in pediatric psychiatry for the New York City Health Department. On a summer vacation in 1943, he began to write his most famous book, Baby and Child Care, and he continued to work on it from 1944 to 1946 while serving as a medical officer in the Navy.

The book sharply broke with the authoritarian tone and rigorous instructions found in earlier generations of baby-care books, most of which said to feed infants on a strict schedule and not to pick them up when they cried. Spock, who spent ten years trying to reconcile his psychoanalytic training with what mothers were telling him about their children, told his readers "You know more than you think you do. Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense. Take it easy, trust your own instincts, and follow the directions that your doctor gives you." The response was overwhelming. Baby and Child Care rapidly became America's all-time best-seller except for Shakespeare and the Bible; by 1976, it had also eclipsed Shakespeare.

After his discharge from the Navy, Spock became associated with the famous Mayo Clinic (1947-1951) and then became a professor of child development at the University of Pittsburgh (1951-1955) and at Case Western Reserve (1955-1967). His political activism began during this period, growing logically out of his concern for children. A healthy environment for growing children, he believed, included a radiation-free atmosphere to breathe and so, in 1962, he became co-chairman of SANE, an organization dedicated to stopping nuclear bomb tests in the Earth's atmosphere. The following year, in which the United States did ratify a nuclear test ban treaty, he campaigned for Medicare, incurring the wrath of the American Medical Association, many of whose members were already suspicious of a colleague who wrote advice columns for the Ladies Home Journal and Redbook instead of writing technical monographs for the medical journals.

Spock was an early opponent of the Indo-China war; his view on that subject, Dr. Spock on Vietnam, appeared in 1968. As the war escalated, so did antiwar protest, in which Spock participated vigorously, marching and demonstrating with militant youths who had not yet been born when he began his medical career. Conservatives accused him of having created, in large measure, the youth protest movement of the 1960s. Ignoring his many admonitions to parents in Baby and Child Care that they should "set limits," his political opponents accused Spock of teaching "permissiveness," by which they claimed an entire generation of American youth had been raised and ruined. In vain, Spock pointed out that similar student protests were happening in Third World countries where his book enjoyed no circulation and were not happening in Western Europe countries where it sold well.

Because of his own strict personal upbringing and his acute moral sense, Spock may have intended a lot less when he told parents to "relax" than some of them realized. In 1968, he revised Baby and Child Care to make his intentions more clear, now cautioning his readers "Don't be afraid that your children will dislike you" if you set those limits and enforce them. Nevertheless, that 1968 edition showed a 50 percent drop in sales, mainly, Spock thought, because of his stand on Vietnam.

On May 20, 1968, along with several other leading war protesters, Spock was put on trial for conspiracy. The charge was that he had counseled young people to resist the draft. In the superheated political atmosphere of the times, he was convicted, but on appeal the verdict was set aside on a technicality. Some indignant readers

returned their well-thumbed copies of Baby and Child Care in order to prevent further undermining of their children's patriotism. To many other readers, however, the government's indictment of the baby doctor seemed rather like prosecuting Santa Claus.

Two books published in 1970, Decent and Indecent: Our Personal and Political Behavior and A Teenager's Guide to Life and Love, made it clear that Spock was a good deal more of a traditional moralist than either his friends or his enemies were aware. He had been driven into the antiwar and other reform movements by the same imperious, old-fashioned conscience that propelled some of his opponents in exactly the opposite direction.

At the same time, the doctor showed himself capable of growing and changing. His social activism mutated into socialism, and in 1972 he ran for president on the People's Party ticket. He was also capable of admitting a mistake. Badgered for some five years on the lecture platform by feminist objectors to the gender-role stereo-types of fathers and mothers as they appeared in Baby and Child Care, he eventually conceded that much of what they had said had been right. In 1976, 30 years after its initial publication, Spock brought out a third version of the famous book, deleting material he himself termed "sexist" and calling for greater sharing by fathers in the parental role. He also yielded 45 percent of subsequent book royalties in the divorce settlement that year with his wife, who contended she had done much more of the work on Baby and Child Care than he had ever acknowledged. Spock was remarried in the fall of 1976 to Mary Morgan Councille.

Formally retired in 1967, Spock was the kind of person who in spirit never really retires. Contemplating his own death as his health began to fail in the 1980s, he wrote in 1985 (at the age of 82) that he did not want any lugubrious funeral tunes played over him: "My ideal would be the New Orleans black funeral, in which friends snake-dance through the streets to the music of a jazz band." He had chronic bronchitis and suffered a stroke in 1989. His wife, Mary, collaborated with Spock on his autobiography, Spock on Spock, which was published in 1989. His book A Better World for Our Children was published in 1994 and explored the relationship between child-rearing and politics. According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, Spock said "When I look at our society and think of the millions of children exposed every day to its harmful effects, I am near despair." Dr. Spock died at his home in La Jolla, California on March 15, 1998 at the age of 94.

See also Child development; Child psychology

Further Reading

Bloom, Lynn Z. Doctor Spock: biography of a conservative radical. 1972.

Maier, Thomas. Dr. Spock: an American life. 1998.

Mitford, Jessica. The trial of Dr. Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, and Marcus Raskin. 1969.

Kellogg, M.A. "Updating Dr. Spock." Newsweek. March 3, 1976.

Spock, Benjamin. Decent and indecent. 1970.

Spock, Benjamin. A Teenager's Guide to Life and Love. 1970.

Spock, Benjamin. "A way to say farewell." Parade Magazine. March 10, 1985.

Spock, Benjamin. Spock on parenting. 1988.

Spock, Benjamin. Spock on Spock: a memoir of growing up with the century. 1989.

Spock, Benjamin. A better world for our children. National Press Books, 1994.

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Spock, Benjamin

Benjamin Spock

Born: May 2, 1903
New Haven, Connecticut
Died: March 15, 1998
La Jolla, California

American pediatrician and political activist

Benjamin Spock, pediatrician (doctor who treats children) and political activist, was most noted for his book Baby and Child Care, which significantly changed widely held attitudes toward the raising of infants and children.

Youth and education

Benjamin McLane Spock was born on May 2, 1903, in New Haven, Connecticut, the oldest child in a large, strict New England family. His family was so strict that in his eighty-second year he would still be saying, "I love to dance in order to liberate myself from my puritanical [strict and conservative] upbringing." He was educated at private preparatory schools when he was young and attended Yale from 1921 to 1925, majoring in English literature. He was also a member of the rowing crew that represented the United States in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, France. Spock began medical school at Yale in 1925 but transferred to Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1927. By this time he had married Jane Davenport Cheney.

Spock had decided well before starting his medical studies that he would "work with children, who have their whole lives ahead of them." He believed that pediatricians of the time were focusing too much on the physical side of child development, so he learned psychiatry (medicine focusing on the mind) as well.

Baby and Child Care

Between 1933 and 1944 Spock practiced pediatric (specializing in children) medicine. At the same time he taught pediatrics at Cornell Medical College and consulted (advised) in pediatric psychiatry for the New York City Health Department. On a summer vacation in 1943 he began to write his most famous book, Baby and Child Care. He continued to work on it from 1944 to 1946 while serving as a medical officer in the navy.

Many early baby-care books said to feed infants on a strict schedule and not to pick them up when they cried. Spock's book broke with the strict tone and rigorous instructions found in earlier generations of baby-care books. Spock told his readers, "You know more than you think you do. Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense. Take it easy, trust your own instincts, and follow the directions that your doctor gives you." The response was overwhelming. At that time Baby and Child Care became America's all-time best-seller except for William Shakespeare's (15641616) works and the Bible. By 1976 it had also passed Shakespeare.

After Spock's discharge from the navy, he became associated with the famous Mayo Clinic (19471951). He then became a professor of child development at the University of Pittsburgh (19511955) and at Case Western Reserve (19551967).

Becomes politically active

Spock's political activism began during this period, growing logically out of his concern for children. A healthy environment for growing children, he believed, included a radiation-free atmosphere to breathe. In 1962 he became cochairman of SANE, an organization dedicated to stopping nuclear bomb tests in the Earth's atmosphere.

The following year Spock campaigned for Medicare, a government program to help older citizens. He angered the American Medical Association, many of whose members were already suspicious of a colleague who wrote advice columns for the Ladies Home Journal and Redbook instead of writing technical articles for the medical journals.

Spock was an early opponent of the Vietnam War (195575; a conflict fought in Vietnam when Communist North Vietnam invaded democratic South Vietnam). As the war escalated (grew), so did antiwar protest, in which Spock participated energetically. He marched and demonstrated with young people who had not yet been born when he had begun his medical career.

Spock's political opponents accused him of teaching "permissiveness" in Baby and Child Care. They claimed an entire generation of American youth had been raised and ruined. Without success Spock pointed out that similar student protests were happening in Third World countries, where his book was not sold, and were not happening in Western European countries, where it sold well.

Baby and Child Care revised

Because of Spock's own strict personal upbringing and his acute moral sense, he may have intended a lot less than some of them realized when he told parents to "relax." In 1968 he revised Baby and Child Care to make his intentions more clear, now cautioning his readers "Don't be afraid that your children will dislike you" when they set limits and enforced them. Nevertheless, the 1968 edition showed a fifty percent drop in sales. Spock thought it was because of his stand on the war in Vietnam.

On May 20, 1968, Spock was put on trial for conspiracy, along with several other leading war protesters. The charge was that he had counseled young people to resist the draft. He was convicted, but on appeal the verdict was set aside (cancelled) on a technicality (small detail). Some upset readers turned in their well-thumbed copies of Baby and Child Care in order to prevent further undermining of their children's patriotism. To many other readers, however, the government's indictment (charging with an offense) of the baby doctor seemed rather like prosecuting Santa Claus.

Modifies and explains his views

Two books published in 1970, Decent and Indecent: Our Personal and Political Behavior and A Teenager's Guide to Life and Love, made it clear that Spock was a good deal more of a traditional moralist than either his friends or enemies realized. He had been driven into the antiwar and other reform movements by the same old-fashioned conscience that propelled some of his opponents in exactly the opposite direction. At the same time the doctor showed himself capable of growing and changing. In 1972 he ran for president on the People's Party (an independent political party) ticket.

Spock was also capable of admitting a mistake. Badgered for some five years on the lecture platform by feminists objecting to the gender-role stereotypes of fathers and mothers as they appeared in Baby and Child Care, he eventually admitted that much of what they had said had been right. In 1976, thirty years after its initial publication, Spock brought out a third version of the famous book. He deleted material he himself termed "sexist" and called on fathers to share more of the parental responsibility.

Last years

Formally retired in 1967, Spock was the kind of person who never really retired in spirit. Contemplating his own death as his health began to fail in the 1980s, he wrote in 1985 (at the age of eighty-two) that he did not want any dark funeral tunes played over him: "My ideal would be the New Orleans black funeral, in which friends snake-dance through the streets to the music of a jazz band."

Spock had chronic bronchitis and suffered a stroke in 1989. His second wife, Mary, worked with him on his autobiography, Spock on Spock, which was published in 1989. Dr. Spock died at his home in La Jolla, California, on March 15, 1998, at the age of ninety-four.

Spock's work influenced how Americans brought up an entire generation of young people. Even today his books are still regarded as a popular source of information for bringing up children.

For More Information

Bloom, Lynn Z. Doctor Spock: Biography of a Conservative Radical. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.

Maier, Thomas. Dr. Spock: An American Life. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998.

Mitford, Jessica. The Trial of Dr. Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, and Marcus Raskin. New York: Knopf, 1969.

Spock, Benjamin, and Morgan, Mary. Spock on Spock: A Memoir of Growing Up with the Century. New York: Pantheon Books, 1989.

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Spock, Benjamin (1903–1998)

Spock, Benjamin (19031998)


Benjamin Spock was the most influential author of child-rearing advice of the twentieth century. His principal work, Baby and Child Care, went through seven editions, was translated into thirty-eight languages, and sold more than fifty million copies around the world. Aside from the Bible, it was the best-selling book of the century.

Spock was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of a successful corporate lawyer. He graduated from Yale, where he rowed on a varsity crew that won a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics, and from the medical school at Columbia. He studied at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and was the first psychoanalytically trained pediatrician in New York, where he maintained a private practice from 1933 to 1943.

His Park Avenue practice brought him overtures from publishers, who pressed him to write a book setting forth his distinctive combination of pediatrics and child psychology. In 1946, he did. The first edition of Baby and Child Care began, as all the subsequent editions did, "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do." It invited mothers to indulge their own impulses and their children's, assuring them on the basis of the latest scientific studies that it was safe to do so. In the process, it overturned the consensus of the previous generation of experts and authorized mothers to express their "natural" feelings toward their children. Spock's book was an immediate success both inside and outside of the United States.

Earlier advice, embodied in the convergence of John Watson's best-selling book and the U.S. government's Infant Care pamphlets, warned against parental deviation from rigid disciplinary schedules and undue display of fondness or physical affection. Spock urged spontaneity, warmth, and a fair measure of fun for parents and children alike. He pressed mothers to recognize that each child had to be treated differently.

Conservative critics later complained that Spock promoted what they called permissive child rearing. In one of the earliest expressions of the "culture wars" that marked the last quarter of the twentieth century, they held him responsible for the counterculture and the collapse of conventional morality. On their face, such charges were difficult to sustain. Spock never counseled permissiveness, and after the first edition he explicitly advised against it. But he did become progressive in his politics in the 1960s and after.

Even before the war in Vietnam, Spock warned against the dangers of nuclear testing and served as co-chairman of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, helped lead the march on the Pentagon in 1967, and was convicted and sentenced to jail for conspiracy to aid draft resisters in 1968. (His conviction was reversed on appeal.) He ran for president in 1972 as the candidate of the People's Party and continued his activism thereafter. Long after the age of seventy, he was arrested for protesting against a nuclear power plant in New Hampshire, against budget cuts at the White House, and against nuclear weapons at the Pentagon. Past the age of eighty, he still gave as many as a hundred talks a year on the nuclear arms race, as well as on pediatrics.

Spock's child-rearing advice changed as his political views and American family life evolved. In successive editions, he made a place for fathers as well as mothers in childcare, allowed new gender roles for boys and girls, acknowledged divorce and single parenting, and explicitly urged his readers toward a vegetarian lifestyle.

But the essentials of Spock's advice never changed. He always meant to write a guide for living more than a medical reference book. He challenged conventional notions of normality and sought to alleviate anxiety, in parents and children alike. He always offered reassurance, in the down-to-earth manner in which he set forth his advice. He had a genius for popularization. No one ever explained Freud better in everyday language. No one ever wrote more gender-neutral prose.

Even as he set himself in militant opposition to the status quo in politics, he endeavored to help parents accommodate their children to it in the society and economy they would encounter. However inadvertently, he pushed mothers and fathers to prepare children for the corporate bureaucracies in which they would make their careers. He emphasized the cooperativeness and congeniality that organizational life demands. He held that parents "owe it to the child to make him likeable" and that they had to make him be like others to be likeable. He never reconciled his dissident politics and his conformist approach to child rearing.

See also: Child-Rearing Advice Literature.

bibliography

Bloom, Lynn. 1972. Doctor Spock: Biography of a Conservative Radical. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Hulbert, Ann. 2003. Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice about Children. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Mitford, Jessica. 1969. The Trial of Dr. Spock, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, and Marcus Raskin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Spock, Benjamin, and Mary Morgan. 1989. Spock on Spock: A Memoir of Growing Up with the Century. New York: Pantheon.

Zuckerman, Michael. 1993. "Doctor Spock: The Confidence Man." In Almost Chosen People: Oblique Biographies in the American Grain. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Michael Zuckerman

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Spock, Benjamin McLane

Benjamin McLane Spock, 1903–98, American author and pediatrician, b. New Haven, Conn., educ. Yale (B.A., 1925) and Columbia Univ. College of Physicians and Surgeons (M.D., 1929). In 1946, Dr. Spock published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (later Baby and Child Care), offering parents and child-care personnel authoritative scientific and pediatric information on the care and upbringing of children, while dispelling many of the pejorative and oppressive methods of the past. The book has been a best seller for years. He was professor of child development at Western Reserve Univ.) from 1955 until 1967, when he resigned to devote himself to the campaign against the Vietnam War. In 1972 he was the presidential candidate of the People's Party, a coalition of pacifists and populists. Among his other writings are A Baby's First Year (1954), Feeding Your Baby and Child (1955), Decent and Indecent (1970), and Raising Children in a Difficult Time (1974, rev. ed. 1985).

See his autobiography (1989); biographies by L. Z. Bloom (1972) and T. Maier (1998).

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Spock, Dr Benjamin McLane

Spock, Dr Benjamin McLane (1903–98) US writer and paediatrician. Spock bestselling work The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946) called on parents to trust their instincts and show their child warmth and understanding.

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