Spock, Benjamin McLane(1903-)
Spock, Benjamin McLane(1903-)
In a controversial book that sold more than 30 million copies in the three decades following its publication in 1946, pediatrician Benjamin Spock changed the way American parents raised their babies. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, based on Spock's ten years of pediatrie practice and psychoanalytic training, gave parents permission to use pacifiers, maintain flexible feeding schedules, and show ample affection to their babies. All were considered radical ideas at the time and, many believed, led to permissiveness that produced undisciplined, out-of-control behavior. The controversy created by the book catapulted Spock to fame, making him a worldwide child-rearing icon and prompting him to branch out in his career to include teaching and political activism.
Benjamin McLane Spock was born the eldest of six children in 1903 in New Haven, Connecticut. His father was a railroad lawyer whom Spock describes as "grave" and "just," who commuted by trolley to his job and left most of the household and child-rearing duties to his wife. Spock's mother, the dominant influence in her son's life even many years later, rarely relied on any type of physical punishment for discipline. Rather, she controlled her children by instilling a strong sense of guilt. Spock credits his mother with encouraging him to read and inspiring him and his siblings to succeed later
After two years of schooling at the prestigious Andover Academy, Spock enrolled at Yale University where, as part of the school's varsity crew team, he won an Olympic gold medal in Paris in 1924. He earned an undergraduate degree in English literature and then, inspired by his summer job at a small home for crippled children, he began medical school. Two years at Yale's medical school were followed by a final two years at Columbia University, where he was at the top of his class both years. Now married—he and his wife Jane were married for 48 years before divorcing—Spock interned for two years at Presbyterian Hospital in New York. A subsequent one-year residency at New York Nursery and Child's Hospital led to what Spock has called "the most independent decision of my life:" accepting a residency in psychiatry at New York Hospital.
As he started his own pediatric practice, Spock began psychoanalytic training and quickly saw a link between the medical and psychological aspects of treating children and helping their parents cope with their responsibilities. When he learned "that mothers were delighted to find a pediatrician interested in such common problems as thumb sucking and resistance to weaning or toilet training, I decided to stay in pediatrics. That was a momentous decision."
The publication of The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care led to teaching positions for Spock at Wayne State University in Detroit, Children's Hospital of the East Bay in Oakland and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and an administrative position at the University of Pittsburgh. Before he retired in 1967, Spock spent 12 years at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland in the departments of psychiatry and pediatrics. Almost everywhere he went, he experienced some resistance from physicians uncomfortable with the psychoanalytic theories he used to supplement traditional medical norms.
In 1962, Spock joined the board of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, prompted by his belief that the world's children were both physically and psychologically endangered by nuclear testing and the threat of nuclear war. It was just the beginning of Spock's life as a political activist. In 1968 he was convicted of conspiracy for his anti-Vietnam War activities, a conviction that later was overturned on appeal. In 1972, he ran for president, a candidate of the small People's Party. He received 80,000 votes in ten states.
Spock continued to write and speak, often about what he considered disturbing changes in society, such as increases in divorce, teen pregnancy, suicide, substance abuse, and violence. He remarried in 1976 to Mary Morgan, and she began to manage his speaking, writing, and consulting activities. Speaking with pride of his diverse career, all related to children's health, Spock says that people need to "realize that child care, the happiness of the family, the feelings of adults and children, and cultural and neighborhood activities are the most vital aspects of existence."
Spock, Benjamin. Spock on Spock. New York: Pantheon Books, 1989.
——. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1946.
——. Baby and Child Care. Revised and Updated. New York: Pocket Books, 1985.
——. A Better World for Our Children. Bethesda, MD: National Press Books, 1994.