October 31, 2014 19:57 UTC

People in America

Dr. Spock, 1903-1998: The World’s Most Famous Baby Doctor

Dr. Spock holds a baby at a Boston baby fair in April 1993. The birthday cake was presented to Dr. Spock to celebrate his 90th birthday
Dr. Spock holds a baby at a Boston baby fair in April 1993. The birthday cake was presented to Dr. Spock to celebrate his 90th birthday

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story


FAITH LAPIDUS: I’m Faith Lapidus.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember with People in America in VOA Special English.  Today we tell about the world’s most famous doctor for children, Benjamin Spock.

(MUSIC)

FAITH LAPIDUS: Benjamin Spock’s first book caused a revolution in the way American children were raised. His book, “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,” was published in nineteen forty-six. The book gave advice to parents of babies and young children. The first lines of the book are famous. Dr. Spock wrote: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do”.

STEVE EMBER: This message shocked many parents. For years, mothers had been told that they should reject their natural feelings about their babies. Before Dr. Spock’s book appeared, the most popular guide to raising children was called “Psychological Care of Infant and Child.” The book’s writer, John B. Watson, urged extreme firmness in dealing with children. The book called for a strong structure of rules in families. It warned parents never to kiss, hug or physically comfort their children.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Dr. Spock’s book was very different. He gave gentle advice to ease the fears of new parents. Dr. Spock said his work was an effort to help parents trust their own natural abilities in caring for their children.

Dr. Benjamin Spock revised his legendary best-selling "Baby and Child Care" book many times
Dr. Benjamin Spock revised his legendary best-selling "Baby and Child Care" book many times

DR. SPOCK: “I was always trying to lean in the direction of reassuring parents.”

Dr. Spock based much of his advice on the research and findings of the famous Austrian psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud.

DR. SPOCK: “Freud was interested in where is the origin of neuroses, I was interested in the other side of it, how do children grow emotionally. And I think Freud has given us a very good explanation of the stages of development.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: Dr. Spock’s book discusses the mental and emotional development of children. It urges parents to use that information to decide how to deal with their babies when they are crying, hungry, or tired.

For example, Dr. Spock dismissed the popular idea of exactly timed feedings for babies. Baby care experts had believed that babies must be fed at the same times every day or they would grow up to be demanding children.

Dr. Spock said babies should be fed when they are hungry. He argued that babies know better than anyone about when and how much they need to eat. He did not believe that feeding babies when they cry in hunger would make them more demanding.       He also believed that showing love to babies by hugging and kissing them would make them happier and more secure.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” examined the emotional and physical growth of children. Dr. Spock said he did not want to just tell a parent what to do. He said he tried to explain what children generally are like at different times in their development so parents would know what to expect.

Dr. Spock’s book did not receive much notice from the media when it was published in nineteen forty- six. Yet, seven hundred fifty thousand copies of the book were sold during the year after its release. Dr. Spock began receiving many letters of thanks from mothers around the country.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Dr. Spock considered his mother, Mildred Spock, to be the major influence on his personal and professional life. He said his ideas about how parents should act were first formed because of her. He reacted to the way in which his mother cared for him and his brother and sisters.

In the first printing of his legendary book there was no mention of pregnancy or drug abuse. Dr. Spock said the addition of those topics later was a new and startling change
In the first printing of his legendary book there was no mention of pregnancy or drug abuse. Dr. Spock said the addition of those topics later was a new and startling change

Dr. Spock described his mother as extremely controlling. He said she believed all human action was the result of a physical health issue or a moral one. She never considered her children’s actions were based on emotional needs.

DR. SPOCK: “And though some people have said I suppose this book is a protest against the way you were brought up, well that’s only about a third of it.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: Dr. Spock later argued against this way of thinking. Yet, he praised his mother’s trust of her own knowledge of her children. In his book, “Spock on Spock,” he wrote about his mother’s ability to correctly identify her children’s sicknesses when the doctors were wrong.

DR. SPOCK: “I think that my interest in children, devotion to children and those of my sisters and brother were all because my mother was totally devoted to her children. So I think that’s part of where I got launched from, I cared a lot about children, but I think I also thought there must be easier ways, more pleasant ways to bring up children than the rather severe oppressive way that my mother used.”

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: Benjamin Spock was born in nineteen-oh-three. He was the first of six children. The Spock family lived in New Haven, Connecticut. His father was a successful lawyer. Benjamin was a quiet child. He attended Phillips Academy, a private school in Andover, Massachusetts. Later he attended Yale University in New Haven. He joined a sports team at Yale that competed in rowing boats. In nineteen twenty-four, he and his team members competed in rowing at the Olympic Games in Paris, France. They won the gold medal.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Benjamin Spock worked at a camp for disabled children for three summers during his years at Yale. He said the experience probably led to his decision to enter medical school. He began at Yale Medical School, but he completed his medical degree at Columbia University in New York City. He graduated as the best student in his class in nineteen twenty-nine.

Benjamin Spock had married Jane Cheney during his second year in medical school. They later had two sons, Michael and John.

Dr. Spock began working as a pediatrician, treating babies and children in New York City in nineteen thirty-three. During the next ten years he tried to fit the theories about how children develop with what mothers told him about their children. In nineteen forty-three, a publisher asked him to write a book giving advice to parents. He finished the book by writing at night during his two years of service in the United States Navy.

Jane Spock helped her husband produce the first version of “Baby and Child Care.” She typed the book from his notes and spoken words.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: During the nineteen fifties, Dr. Spock became famous. He wrote several other books. He wrote articles for a number of magazines. He appeared on television programs. He taught at several universities. And he gave speeches around the country to talk to parents about their concerns.

During this time, he discovered things he wanted to change in the book. He wanted to make sure parents knew that they should have control over their children and expect cooperation from them. So, in nineteen fifty-seven the second version of the book was published. He continued to make changes to “Baby and Child Care” throughout his life.

Dr. Benjamin Spock spoke at a meeting for "Peace in Vietnam" in Fair Lawn, N.J in 1968
Dr. Benjamin Spock spoke at a meeting for "Peace in Vietnam" in Fair Lawn, N.J in 1968

FAITH LAPIDUS: In the nineteen sixties, Benjamin Spock began to be active in politics. He supported John F. Kennedy in his campaign for president. He joined a group opposed to the development of nuclear weapons.

Dr. Spock also took part in demonstrations to protest the Vietnam War. In nineteen sixty-eight, he was found guilty of plotting to aid men who were refusing to join the American armed forces.

STEVE EMBER: Dr. Spock appealed the ruling against him. Finally, it was cancelled. However, the legal battle cost Doctor Spock a lot of money. The events damaged public opinion of the once very trusted children’s doctor. Fewer people bought his books. Some people said Dr. Spock’s teachings were to blame for the way young people in the nineteen sixties and seventies rebelled against the rules of society. A leading American religious thinker of that time called Dr. Spock “the father of permissiveness.”

In nineteen seventy-two, Dr. Spock decided to seek election as president of the United States. He was the candidate of the small “People’s Party.”

He spoke out on issues concerning working families, children and minorities. Dr. Spock received about seventy-five thousand votes in the election that Richard Nixon won.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Dr. Spock’s marriage had been suffering for some time. For years, Jane Spock drank too much alcohol and suffered from depression. She reportedly felt her husband valued his professional and political interests more than he valued her. In nineteen seventy-five, Benjamin and Jane Spock ended their forty-eight-year marriage. One year later, Mary Morgan became his second wife.

STEVE EMBER: More than fifty million copies of Dr. Spock’s “Baby and Child Care” book have been sold since it was published. It has been translated into thirty-nine languages. The eighth edition was published in two thousand four.

Benjamin Spock died in nineteen ninety-eight at the age of ninety-four. Yet his advice continues to affect the lives of millions of children and their parents.

(MUSIC)

FAITH LAPIDUS: This program was written by Caty Weaver. It was produced by Jill Moss. I’m Faith Lapidus.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another People in America program in VOA Special English.

__

Sound of Dr. Spock taken from a 1982 interview on “The Alternative Information Network”, produced by Frank Morrow

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Video More US Hispanic Women Convert to Islam

    Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. The Pew Research Center says about six percent of American Muslims are Latino. And women make up a little more than half of the new converts -- the people who have changed their religion to Islam. More

  • A convoy of peshmerga vehicles is escorted by Turkish Kurds on their way to the Turkish-Syrian border, in Kiziltepe near the southeastern city of Mardin October 29, 2014

    Audio Iraqi Kurdish Fighters Enter Kobani

    Also in the news, Burkina Faso ends efforts to extend its presidential term limit after protests in the capital. Ukraine says the EU will be guarantor in any gas deal with Russia. Myanmar holds a major meeting Friday. And claims of cheating delay SAT results for South Korean and Chinese students. More

  • Video Singapore Film Ban Raises Free Speech Issue

    The documentary film, “To Singapore, with Love” tells about political dissidents from Singapore. The film has been shown at public events in Britain, India and Malaysia, among other countries. But one place the movie cannot be seen is Singapore. That is because the government there has banned it. More

  • Ghana Bamboo Bike

    Video Ghana's Bamboo Bikes Hit the Streets

    Bicycle frames are usually made out of materials like carbon fiber, steel or aluminum. But in rural Ghana, a businessman has developed another way to make bicycles from a natural product -- bamboo. The wooden bike parts are sent Ghana to Germany, the Netherlands and Australia. | As It Is More

  • Believer Benito Martinez (C), dressed as a "devil" wearing a mask, walks around in Almonacid del Marquesado, in central Spain, during the "Endiablada" traditional festival, Feb. 3, 2014.

    Audio A Halloween Special: The Devil is Everywhere ...

    Today we take you to the Dark Side. (insert evil laugh here) We teach expressions that involve the king of evil – the devil. Read on to learn how to “speak of the devil”, “to play devil’s advocate” and to ”make a deal with the devil.” | Words and Their Stories More

Featured Stories

  • Obama Halloween

    Audio Halloween Is Big with Kids and Business

    The National Retail Federation says sales of Halloween goods will total about $7.4 billion this year. It says the average American will spend about $77. The group expects 162 million people to celebrate. The NRF predicts 54 million of them will hold Halloween parties. | American Mosaic More

  • A print shows the Second Battle of Bull Run, also called Second Manassas.

    Audio South Defeats North Again at Manassas

    Lincoln named George Pope to lead the Army of Virginia. He wanted to join Pope’s forces with the Army of the Potomac and break through Confederate defenses around Richmond. But General Robert E. Lee decided to hit Pope first. More

  • Star House

    Video Home of Last Comanche Chief Close to Ruins

    One of the most interesting people in U.S. history is Quanah Parker, the last chief of the country’s Comanche Indian tribe. Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Quanah Parker was a fierce fighter. More

  • FILE - A veterinarian at the nonprofit Bali Animal Welfare Association gives a rabies shot to a puppy in Kebon Kaja village, Bangli Regency in Bali, Indonesia.

    Audio Mass Vaccination of Dogs Can Eliminate Rabies

    About 70,000 people worldwide die every year of rabies. Rabies is a viral infection that people get mainly through dog bites. Scientists say vaccinating dogs can effectively get rid of rabies outbreaks in dog populations. And this will have a domino effect, fewer humans with rabies. More

  • Methane oxidizing

    Photogallery Small Organisms in Deep Sea Rocks Eat Methane

    The gas methane has been linked to rising temperatures on Earth. But methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as another “greenhouse gas” -- carbon dioxide. Scientists say both gases trap heat from the sun. They prevent heat from escaping into outer space. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs