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Dr. Benjamin Spock

author of a best-selling book on how to raise children

Dr. Benjamin Spock

Benjamin McLane Spock was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on May 2, 1903, the oldest of six children -- four girls and two boys -- of Benjamin Ives Spock, a railroad lawyer, and Mildred Louise Stoughton Spock. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and received his Bachelor's in English (with a minor in history) from Yale University in 1925. He was a member of the Yale Rowing Team, and earned a gold medal in the Men's Eights at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Spock began his medical training at Yale Medical School in 1925, but transferred to Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1927. After graduating first in his class in 1929, he interned at Presbyterian Hospital in New York and did his residency at New York Nursery and Child's Hospital. It was during his residency that Spock decided that pediatricians should have psychological training, so he also spent 10 months as a resident in psychiatry at New York Hospital, and he went on to part-time training at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute from 1933 to 1938. He opened a pediatric practice in New York City in 1933, and became a board-certified pediatrician in 1937.

Almost from the beginning of his private practice Dr. Spock believed that the conventional wisdom of the day concerning how to best raise a child was less than sound, and he devoted much of his "spare" time dictating his child-rearing ideas to his wife, who transcribed them into book form. He joined the Navy in 1944, but kept on writing in his spare time while working as a psychiatrist in military hospitals in New York and California. He left the Navy, with the rank of lieutenant commander, in 1946.

Published in 1946, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care quickly became one of the most popular books of its kind. In it, Spock insisted that mothers could, and should, trust their own judgment when it came to how best to raise their children. He encouraged new mothers by telling them "Do what feels right for you, and you probably won't go wrong" and "Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense.'' This was in direct opposition to the "establishment," which told parents that babies needed to learn to sleep on a regular schedule, and that picking them up and holding them whenever they cried would only teach them to cry more and not to sleep through the night. They were also told that they should not pick their children up, kiss them, or hug them, because that would not prepare them to be strong and independent individuals in a harsh world. Spock encouraged parents to see their children as individuals, and not to apply a one-size-fits all philosophy to them. In response to accusations that he taught a laissez-faire approach to child rearing, he stressed in later editions that children need standards, and that parents, too, have a right to respect. He constantly sought to keep his material updated to be in line with the changing times, and by the time of his death the book had sold more than 50 million copies in seven editions and had been translated into 39 languages.

After giving up his New York practice in 1947, Dr. Spock was affiliated with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and went on to serve as professor of child development at the University of Pittsburgh from 1951 to 1955 and at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland from 1955 to 1967, when he retired from teaching. He began a nationwide TV show in 1955, and went on to write columns for Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, Parenting, and other magazines.

Spock's advocacy for children led him to become active in the antiwar and anti-nuclear movements of the 1960's and 1970's, lending high-profile support to draft dodgers and various antiestablishment causes associated with that era. He served as co-chairman of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, known as SANE, from 1962 to 1967, and was arrested at various protest demonstrations. In 1968, a Boston court convicted him of conspiring to counsel evasion of the draft. He was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $5,000, but the conviction was reversed in 1969 by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on the grounds of insufficient evidence. In 1972, he ran for President as the candidate for the People's Party, a coalition of left-wing organizations. His platform called for free medical care, the legalization of abortion and marijuana, a guaranteed minimum income for families, and the immediate withdrawal of all American troops from foreign countries. He was the party's candidate for Vice President in 1976. In 1987, he and others were arrested and charged with trespassing after demonstrating at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station against the test launching of a Trident 2 missile.

In addition to his first book and subsequent updated editions, Dr. Spock was the author of: A Baby's First Year (1954), Feeding Your Baby and Child (1955), Dr. Spock Talks With Mothers (1961), Problems of Parents (1962), Caring for Your Disabled Child (1965), Dr. Spock on Vietnam (1968), Decent and Indecent (1970), A Teenager's Guide to Life and Love (1970), Raising Children in a Difficult Time (1974), Spock on Parenting (1988), Spock on Spock: a Memoir of Growing Up With the Century (1989), A Better World for our Children (1994).

Dr. Benjamin Spock died at his home in La Jolla, California, on March 15, 1998.


New York Times
United States History

See Also

Mayo Clinic

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The Robinson Library >> Pediatrics

This page was last updated on 02/06/2019.