|Keith's Baby Book|
|Lizzie's Baby Book|
The humble Baby Book has become a passing fashion. Sometimes fancy bound volumes, some inexpensive, others cheap, baby books went mass market in America beginning in the 1910s and only became more popular over the succeeding decades. But in todays fast pace world, there is a new trapping of parenthood – the baby blog. This new form of the baby book where mothers, and they are almost always mothers, record random thoughts about their babies, from the mundane, to significant moments, to the wondrous details of infancy. Be it book or blog, they contain useful information, keep track of things like height, weight, language, illnesses and immunizations. However, once the baby had grown into a healthy child, the book and/or blog isn't needed.
Why did baby books appear around the turn of the 20th century? Well, partly because parents could finally count on their babies surviving. Sanitation improved, medicine got better, and infant mortality rates dipped sharply. As parents kept all this information on their children, it help show how families thought about the health of their children; which measurements were thought to be important, which diseases were concerns, and how these things changed over time. But as much as the books were about medicine, they were also about culture, especially when they included photographs revealing aspects of home life, such as baby clothes, furniture and activities.
How do we know these things a century later? From historians who gathered, saved, and researched the history of babies in modern America. In time, few were intended to be keepsakes passed on to generations. "Most persons regret that the little items of babyhood, so interesting to the parents at least, pass into oblivion," reads the introduction to 1889's "Baby's Record: a Twofold Gift for Mothers and Children." Many baby books were only partially completed and sadly, few have been saved.
"The book is not intended to be a family record, but an individual one, which will form a part of the outfit of each newcomer in the household, and which can afterward to given to the child, to be preserved as a source of interest and entertainment for himself and his own children in after years."
Both my husband and I have been fortunate to still have our baby books. And because we were both born in 1950, the books are quite similar. Keith's was better attended to than mine, but both are preserving our babyhoods. Do you still have your baby book?
Excerpts from, "The Hidden History of Baby Books," by Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times; Nicholas Day, author of, "Baby Meets World," and Janet Golden, historian at Rutgers-Camden.
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