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Doctor Spock, 1903-1998: The World's Most Famous Baby Doctor


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I'm Faith Lapidus. 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.

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.  Doctor Spock wrote: "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do".

This message shocked many parents.  For years, mothers had been told that they should reject their natural feelings about their babies.  Before Doctor 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.

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

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

Doctor 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, Doctor 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.

Doctor 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.

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"The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care" examined the emotional and physical growth of children.  Doctor 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.

Doctor 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.  Doctor Spock began receiving many letters of thanks from mothers around the country.

Doctor 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.

Doctor 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.

Doctor 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.

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.

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.

Doctor 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.

During the nineteen fifties, Doctor 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 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.

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.

Doctor 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.

Doctor 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 Doctor 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 Doctor Spock "the father of permissiveness."

In nineteen seventy-two, Doctor 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. Doctor Spock received about seventy-five thousand votes in the election that Richard Nixon won.

Doctor 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.

More than fifty million copies of Doctor 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.  It includes the latest medical information about nutrition, physical disorders and behavior.   It also deals with social issues such as working mothers, day care centers, single parents and gay and lesbian parenting.

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.

This program was written by Caty Weaver.  It was produced by Lawan Davis.  I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember.  Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program in VOA Special English.


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Source: Doctor Spock, 1903-1998: The World's Most Famous Baby Doctor
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