No Creature in This World So Ignorantly Nurtured as the Average Baby

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No Creature in This World So Ignorantly Nurtured as the Average Baby


By: Erik Hans Krause

Date: 1936–1938

Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. "By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936–1943."

About the Artist: Erik Hans Krause (1899–1990) was born in Halle-Salle, Germany, attended the Academy of Decorative Arts and Crafts in Dresden, and emigrated to the United States in 1923. A commercial artist, designer, printmaker, and book illustrator, Krause was a supervisor and designer for Federal Art Project, a division of the WPA (the Works Progress Administration, renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939) in Rochester, New York, during the period 1936–1939. The Federal Art Project employed more than 5,000 artists who created murals, paintings, and sculptures, and produced more than two million posters from around 35,000 original designs to advertise the different types of work performed by the WPA in 1936–1943. About 900 of these posters are preserved in the Library of Congress in the Prints and Photographs collection. Eight of Erik Hans Klause's posters promoting public health in New York state from 1936 to 1938, including the silkscreened poster shown here, are in this collection. After the Depression, Krause taught design and illustration at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He specialized in botanical illustration and had exhibits at the Smithsonian and the National Audubon Society before he died in New York.


Erik Hans Krause' poster was part of the WPA campaign to improve public health, especially for children, during the last half of the Great Depression. The Federal Art Project's posters were displayed in busses, trains, stations, store windows, and other highly visible places, to inform people of government agencies offering useful services. Although one art historian notes that "an important factor in the posters' effectiveness was their nonjudgmental tone," (DeNoon 1987, p. 113), this particular poster is rather disparaging: Most parents are apparently not only ignorant, but cannot even nurture their young as well as other animals do.

In order to understand the caption on Krause's poster, it is necessary to know some of the history of parenting and to appreciate how attitudes towards mothers, raising children, and science changed in the early twentieth century. The growth of scientific parenting, also called trained motherhood or modern motherhood, closely related to medicalized motherhood, is tied to the contemporaneous development of several different fields, including home economics, sociology, psychology, child development, and pediatrics. Not coincidentally, during this period the United States government intervened in children's lives to a greater extant than ever before.



See primary source image.


Rima Apple and Julia Grant point out that the roots of scientific parenting lie in the late nineteenth century, when doctors began supplanting other mothers and religious figures as the primary authors of advice books for parents. An increase in literacy and mobility, medical advances, and decreasing birth rates made this prescriptive literature progressively more important to parents. In the early 1900s, raising children was more labor- and knowledge-intensive than ever before. The notion that motherhood was natural, a matter of common sense, or something passed from generation to generation, was definitely in decline.

A more systematic campaign for mothers' education emerged in the 1920s, fueled by the child welfare movement, the growth of kindergarten education, organized women's groups (including the National Congress of Mothers, which became the modern PTA—the Parent Teacher Association), social workers, psychologists, pediatricians, and government bureaucracy. The scientific utopianism of this period also played an important role. Trained mothering was further seen as a way to assimilate immigrant, working class, and African American families (Litt 2000). Foreshadowing some modern concerns, policy makers were also concerned that middle or upper class women might chose not to have children as women became more active in public life and many professions. By defining motherhood as "valuable work requiring extensive knowledge and training" (Grant 1998, p. 10), educators supported women who chose to stay home with their children.

Some of the main tenets of scientific parenting in the 1920s and 1930s included increased attention to hygiene, rigorous scheduling (particularly for feeding, sleeping, and toileting), vaccinations, and yearly pediatric checks. Infant and child behavior became more closely monitored than ever before, and deviation from physical or psychological norms was usually blamed on poor mothering. Although infant mortality and disease rates dropped quite drastically during 1900–1940, mothers were still routinely blamed for most illnesses and deaths amongst children. The increased poverty of the Depression did make many of the existing problems facing children more widespread or dangerous. As in recent times, the assistance of professionals from many fields was seen as crucial to good parenting. Mothers who did not want to be judged ignorant or reckless were responsible for seeking out the appropriate experts, like those at the New York state Health Bureau advertised by Krause's poster.



Apple, Rima. Perfect Motherhood: Science and Childrearing in America. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2006.

DeNoon, Christopher. Posters of the WPA. Los Angeles: The Wheatley Press, 1987.

Grant, Julia. Raising Baby by the Book: The Education of American Mothers. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.

Litt, Jacquelyn S. Medicalized Motherhood: Perspectives from the Lives of African-American and Jewish Women. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2000.

Web site

National Archives and Records Administration. "A New Deal for the Arts." 〈〉 (accessed June 11, 2006).