Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

CNHI/SE Iowa

April 24, 2013

Slate: Parenting advice from Uncle Sam

CHICAGO — A century ago, an Orwellian plot to subjugate all American children to federal authority was set in motion. Government bureaucrats systemically undermined the influence and the sanctity of the family: They told parents the right way to raise their children. Children no longer belonged exclusively to their parents. Uncle Sam was moving in.

Or at least, that's how it would be described today. At the time, they called this dystopian nightmare the U.S. Children's Bureau, founded in 1912. And it was wildly popular.

 In an era of high child mortality and chronically poor health, as well as rapidly changing norms for childrearing, the bureau was seen as a salvation. As if they'd been waiting for the bureau to be founded, parents across the country immediately inundated the Children's Bureau with letters - at its high point, the bureau received 400,000 missives a year - and got personal responses back. Many of the letters, from mothers desperate for guidance and struggling to survive, are heartrending to read. "Some of the letters are handwritten, semi-literate, pencil letters from rural, black communities in Alabama - and then some are from Fifth Avenue," says Janet Golden, a historian at Rutgers-Camden. "Sometimes you have wealthy people who write and say, 'I took my baby to five different doctors but I want to know what the government thinks.' "

 The new scientific-minded childrearing wisdom of the era - the new right way to raise your child - was disseminated through the Bureau's wildly popular pamphlet, "Infant Care." Tens of millions of copies were distributed - but that actually underestimates its reach. Early baby books, where parents kept a record of their infants, were also filled with its official advice; the publishers simply cut and pasted parts of "Infant Care" into their books.

No one objected to all this federal oversight. On the contrary, in the 1910s and 20s, even before the modern welfare state, people not just felt invested in government programs - they thought the job of the government was to give advice. It's a communal connection unimaginable today. "Now we have a very privatized world," Golden says. "We don't have a collective interest in our babies. It's my baby."

And how: Just recently, MSNBC's Melissa Harris Perry ignited a firestorm by saying that Americans need to have a more collective notion of our children. Perry was making what she thought was an anodyne comment. And it once would have been. But it isn't anymore.

"Today a lot of people have a 'don't tell me how to live my life' attitude toward the federal government," Golden says. "And here we have an era where people are saying, 'Please tell me how to raise my child.' "

This may be the most fundamental difference between the world for which the Children's Bureau was founded and our own. Parents then and now are still obsessed with the same things: eating, sleeping, what to buy, how to survive this madness. The advice of the authorities about these things has changed - but then again, the advice was, and is, always changing. The far bigger change is where we look for that authority.

Nicholas Day's book on the science and history of infancy, "Baby Meets World," was just published. His website is nicholasday.net. He is @nicksday on Twitter.

              

1
Text Only
CNHI/SE Iowa
  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 25, 2014

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 25, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Taking a look at Iowa's rural bridges and roads

    OSKALOOSA — National statistics indicate that Iowa roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair.According to the Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America’s Heartland report, 22 percent of Iowa’s rural bridges are deficient.Maha

    July 25, 2014

  • 0724 OTT Tehel mug -T -M Resolution — Techel verdict reached

    DAVENPORT — The father of a slain Wapello County woman said he began to heal as soon as he heard the guilty verdict today. The jury unanimously pronounced Seth Techel, 23, guilty on charges of first-degree murder and non-consensual termination of a h

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Arizona's prolonged lethal injection is fourth in U.S. this year

    Arizona's execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.3

    July 24, 2014

  • Honey Creek Resort recognized for recycling MORAVIA — Honey Creek Resort State Park on Rathbun Lake has been selected as having the best government recycling program by the Iowa Recycling Association.“Iowa’s Greenest Resort” received the award July 17 during the Iowa Recycling Association annu

    July 24, 2014

  • 0724 OTT Tehel mug -T -M Techel found guilty on both counts

    DAVENPORT — Jurors have found Seth Techel guilty in the 2012 murder of his wife, Lisa, and the couple’s unborn child.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Police Brutality screen shot. Technology plays key part in battling police brutality (VIDEO)

    Allegations of police brutality are nothing new -- as long as there has been law enforcement, citizens have registered claims that some officers cross the line. But in the last few years, the claims of excessive force are being corroborated with new technology from cell phone cameras, police dash-cams and surveillance videos. 

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

Features
AP Video
Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Obama Asks Central American Leaders for Help Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Obama Advisor Skips House Hearing Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Dempsey: Putin May Light Fire and Lose Control In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites Anti-violence Advocate Killed, but Not Silenced. Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched Calif. Police Investigate Peacock Shooting Death Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' MN Twins Debut Beer Vending Machine
Facebook
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Upon completion and reopening of Third Street, should the City of Knoxville wait to start the next stage of the Streetscape and Infrastructure project until 2015?

Yes
No
     View Results