In This Article Benjamin Spock

  • Introduction
  • Biographies
  • Profiles
  • Interviews
  • Political Life
  • Influence on American Child Rearing
  • Influence on Psychoanalysis

Childhood Studies Benjamin Spock
by
Stephanie Knaak
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0096

Introduction

Benjamin McLane Spock was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on 2 May 1903. The eldest of six children, Spock was raised in the strict, authoritarian style of L. Emmett Holt’s The Care and Feeding of Children (New York: Appleton, 1894), which, like Psychological Care of Infant and Child (Watson 1928, cited under Major Influences), advocated such methods as forced weaning, initiation of toilet training in infancy, and no playing with infants. It was an approach to child rearing and a view of child development with which Spock would come to disagree. The practical application of psychoanalytically informed theories about child development lies at the heart of Spock’s contribution to contemporary child care. His democratic philosophy of parenting, which focused as much on family relations as on the basics of baby and child care, was heavily influenced by his training in developmental psychiatry and psychoanalysis. The first edition of his landmark work, Baby and Child Care (Spock 1946, cited under Changes to Baby and Child Care, originally titled The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care), was published in 1946. Baby and Child Care, which advocated such things as love over coercion, more flexibility in the feeding and care of babies, and more diplomatic approaches to discipline, was a success from its very inception. By the time the seventh edition of the manual was released, just after Spock’s death in 1998, Baby and Child Care had sold over 50 million copies and been printed in more than forty languages. While known as “America’s pediatrician,” a trusted and caring author and doctor who taught people a new way to think about baby care and parenting, Spock’s methods were not without controversy. He was known by many as the “father of permissiveness” and, at the height of feminist activism, a major oppressor of women. Spock also had an active political life. He was heavily involved in the antiwar activism of the 1960s and ran for president in the early 1970s. Later in life, in efforts to better attend to his personal health needs, Spock adopted a macrobiotic diet and radically changed his views on the benefits of dairy and meat products for children. He passed away 15 March 1998, at the age of ninety-four.

Biographies

In addition to his own 1989 memoir (see Spock and Morgan 1989, cited under Later Career: Books), two biographies have been written on the life of Benjamin Spock: Doctor Spock: Biography of a Conservative Radical (Bloom 1972) and Dr. Spock: An American Life (Maier 1998). Bloom 1972 focuses extensively on Spock’s political activism and does not cover his life after the beginning of the 1970s. Maier 1998 provides a more complete picture of Spock’s personal and professional life.

  • Bloom, Lynn Z. Doctor Spock: Biography of a Conservative Radical. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written prior to his divorce and second marriage to Mary Morgan. Examination of Spock’s professional and personal life, and political activities and views.

  • Maier, Thomas. Dr. Spock: An American Life. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998.

    E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive look at the personal, professional, and political life of Benjamin Spock, from childhood to his final days. In-depth discussion of his family and personal life.

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