Dr. Benjamin Spock holds 3-month-old child at a Boston baby...

Dr. Benjamin Spock holds 3-month-old child at a Boston baby fair. (Apr. 30, 1993) Credit: AP Photo /Elise Amendola

This story was originally published in Newsday on March 17, 1988.

At a time when "spare the rod and spoil the child" was near-gospel parenting advice, Dr. Benjamin Spock broke new ground with a more moderate approach: Try love.

Spock, widely known as America's baby doctor, died Sunday in San Diego at age 94. "He died with his family at home," said Spock's longtime physician, Dr. Stephen Pauker. Recent medical problems included a heart attack, stroke and episodes of pneumonia.

Although funeral plans were not announced, Spock once said he'd like a joyous jazz funeral.

"I love to dance, and I'd love to be saying goodbye to my friends while the band is playing and they're dancing. I want them to remember I was a dancing man in my day."

He did, indeed, dance in many ways on the national scene: as an Olympic rower, as unofficial child-care adviser to the nation's parents, as a dedicated anti-war activist, as a minor-party presidential candidate and as an unwavering foe of nuclear war.

Spock's great influence began with publication of "Baby and Child Care" in 1946, in which he advised post-war parents to "trust yourself" in child rearing, and "don't be overawed by experts." The book's original title was "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care."

It was a time when American families were beginning to change; aunts, uncles and grandparents were no longer nearby as young families moved away to follow careers. So traditional support systems weren't available when new babies arrived. Spock helped fill that void.

After six editions, Spock's book is still in print; a seventh edition is scheduled for release by Pocket Books on May 2, Spock's birthday. Over the years it has been modified; references to all babies as "he" and most parents as "she," for example, have been changed.

President Bill Clinton praised Spock yesterday for giving "sage advice and gentle support" to several generations of parents, adding: "For half a century, Dr. Spock guided parents across the country and around the world in their most important job - raising their children . . . He taught all of us the importance of respecting children."

Dr. Barbara Korsch, professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, who said she knew Spock well, said, "He had a lot of charm and a lot of persuasiveness. . . . He was a very humanistic and compassionate person, a very charismatic teacher."

Dr. T. Berry Braselton, professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School, said Spock's work led to "a major turnabout in the 1940s from the didactic way parents were being treated - do it this way or else.' He gave people insight and some choices" in child rearing, "which was really a breakthrough."

Braselton, a pediatrician, said Spock's ideas "gave me the freedom to think about what children contribute to this equation. Before that, I don't think anyone had looked at that carefully."

Until Spock, Korsch said, "all of the previous ideas about discipline were based on no understanding of children. They were trying to do a lot of things that were convenient for adults. He helped people do things that are more natural and in harmony with child development.

"In the early part of this century they doctors got infatuated with science and were trying to raise babies by scientific principles. But babies had not read that book," she added. "Spock liberated parents from following ridiculous schemes."

Spock said one goal of his book was to overcome traditional rigidities in child rearing, including many long-standing and inflexible rules concerning feeding.

"I wanted to be supportive of parents rather than to scold them," Spock explained in a 1992 interview. "I emphasized the importance of great differences between individual babies, of the need for flexibility, and of the lack of necessity to worry constantly about spoiling."

His advice was often seen by traditionalists as weak, even harmful, and when the hippie movement and anti-Vietnam demonstrations arose in the 1960s and 1970s, young activists were called willful, spoiled, undisciplined, "Spock-marked." Former Vice President Spiro Agnew once accused Spock of corrupting the nation's youth. Spock's reply: "At least nobody could accuse me of having brought up Spiro Agnew."

Spock also argued, in the 1968 edition of his book, that "strictness or permissiveness is not the real issue. Good-hearted parents who aren't afraid to be firm when it is necessary can get good results with either moderate strictness or moderate permissiveness. On the other hand, a strictness that comes from harsh feelings, or a permissiveness that is timid or vacillating, can each lead to poor results."

The book has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, been translated into more than 30 languages and is still in wide use.

Born Benjamin McLane Spock in 1903, in New Haven, Conn., he was the oldest of six children, son of Benjamin Ives Spock, a lawyer, and Mildred Louise Spock. In 1927 Spock married Jane Cheney, and they had two sons, Michael, now a museum director, and John, owner of a construction company. Spock's first marriage ended in divorce in 1976, and a year later he married Mary Morgan.

Spock was educated at Yale University, where he participated in crew and helped row to an Olympic gold medal in 1924. He chose a career in medicine after working one summer at a camp for crippled children, and earned a medical degree at Columbia University in 1929. He also studied at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, and did his internship and worked for several hospitals in New York City before moving to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., in 1947. His final academic position, in 1955, was professor of child development at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland.

Spock also wrote a magazine column for almost 30 years, first for Ladies Home Journal, then for Redbook.

Spock was raised in a politically conservative household, and he was a Republican until the 1930s, when he began supporting President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs.

Spock's emergence on the national political scene was caused first by the resumption of atmospheric nuclear testing in 1962, then the Vietnam War. Along with four other men, Spock was indicted in 1968 in Boston for conspiracy to aid and abet violation of draft laws. Four of them were convicted and sentenced to 2 years in jail, and Spock and another were also fined $5,000 each. The convictions were overturned. The

Spock Reading List, The Associated Press

Books written or co-written by Benjamin Spock:

"Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care," first out in 1946. Later editions called "Baby and Child Care."

"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.

 

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