Scarvey column: How much for that baby in the window?
I recently came across a fascinating vintage book called “The Health-Care of the Baby: A Handbook for Mothers and Nurses” by Louis Fischer, M.D.
The book must have been popular, since it went through numerous editions, first appearing in 1906.
Fishcher talks about both protecting and “hardening” the infant ó hardening, meaning, presumably, “to make hardy.”
He felt that “the giving of fresh air to the baby” was often “sadly neglected” by parents who worried about their babies “taking cold.”
He believed in fresh air so much that he advocated use of a rather ingenious device called the Boggins’ Window Crib, an open air sleeping compartment. This metal cube was, he wrote, “admirably adapted for city apartments.”
How much for that baby in the window?
Apparently, it was a well-known piece of baby gear at the time, although it’s strange to think about a baby in a box, suspended outside the window. As I read about it, I had a flashback to that image of Michael Jackson, dangling his baby off a hotel balcony some years ago.
Fischer’s advice on the selection of a nursemaid is also pretty entertaining.
“Her teeth and gums should be examined,” Fischer wrote. “If pus exists at the roots of her teeth, a mouth infection can be transmitted to the infant by an innocent kiss.”
I’m trying to imagine conducting a job interview with a potential nanny: “Could you please open your mouth? I need to inspect your gums.”
Your baby’s caretaker, Fischer continues, “should be a woman between twenty and forty years of age….and one ‘that does not ‘know everything.'”
“So, Erin, we’ve established that you are pus-free. Now I need to know whether you’d describe yourself as a know-it-all bossy boots.”
Fischer also addresses baby hygiene: “After baby is drest, his nose and ears should be cleaned by means of wooden tooth picks on which a little absorbent cotton is twisted…”
I’m picturing a budding entrepreneur reading this, a light bulb going off over his head, pronouncing: “And it shall be called … the Q-tip.”
Apparently, Dr. Fischer thought that potty training could begin quite early: “When baby is three months old he can be taught to use the commode.” I know parents who would have been happy to have their kid using the potty by three years.
Fischer gets pretty detailed when it comes to feeding baby: “Six teaspoons of spinach juice are to be given at 5:00 p.m.” Not four, and not seven, mind you. Spinach juice sounds a lot better than the teaspoon of castor oil that he suggests administering at sign of illness. I think I’d rather be the baby that got the “aromatic sirup of rhubarb,” which is also suggested.
Bathtime, as recommended by Fischer, doesn’t sound quite as soothing as the ones I remember: “After the morning bath he should receive a dash of cold water over his spine” given by means of a large sponge, squeezed outdown the baby’s back.
Who doesn’t love a nice shot of cold water after a soothing bath?
The goal was to “contract the blood-vessels and prevent chilling of the surface,” which Fischer deemed “admirably adapted for hardening the baby, thus preventing him from taking cold easily.”
Some of Fischer’s advice is a little bizarre to modern sensibilities; but a lot of it ó like how to distinguish between different types of crying ó seems pretty good to me.
Still, I don’t think I’ll put the Boggins Window Crib on my list of baby shower gifts.
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