An Indian Civilizational Perspective

When Practice Babies were Raised by Practice Mothers – Domecons, Norths, and Souths

practicebabies_wide1.jpg“By the time Henry House was four months old, a copy of his picture was being carried in the pocketbooks of seven different women, each of whom called him her son. . .” starts a very recent novel – “The Irresistible Henry House” written by Lisa Grunwald

There was a time in US, when young girls were given practice for motherhood. And this practice was given not with dolls or theory but actual practice. Little babies were brought in from the orphanages to the dorms of universities offering “Home Economics”. One of top ones – Cornell – had Practice apartments.

At Cornell each semester, eight women students lived with a resident advisor in the “practice apartment,” where they took turns performing a full range of homemaking activities in a scientific and cost-efficient manner.

The first baby who came to Cornell in 1919 was called Dicky Domecon. Domecon for “Domestic Economics”. These babies were called “Practice Babies”. Every baby in Cornell shared the same last name “Domecon”. In another University – Illinois State University – kids had last names as North or South – depending on which building they were raised in.

The entire practice of “mothercraft” was very carefully scheduled and programmed. Mothers cared for the babies in rotation. Either one girl would have the baby for one week to 10 days at a time and then another girl would take over. In other cases, while one girl would take care of the baby in the morning until his nap, and then the other girl would take over after the baby woke up.

From the records that people have found, it doesn’t seem that the public opinion was against that practice. In fact, in some cases, the babies had a better deal. They would come into the “Practice Apartments” malnourished and become well fed very soon and well looked after.

Although in case of these kids, they would have developed an issue of attachment to people and relationships. Since no mother had any long term relationship with any baby, the babies did not get to relate with any mother.

These babies, however, used to be most sought after for adoption, since as per the norms and wisdom of the American society of that time, they had been “Scientifically raised”. Remember, that was the society which had Gurus of management, such as Frederick Taylor, who propagated scientific measurement of actions on the shop floor

So, as unethical and lacking of basic human feelings this practice of “Practice Mothercraft, Babies and Apartments” it may seem – that Home economics of that time was, it was a win-win for most of the stakeholders. This at least gives one indication – that sometimes we evaluate a lot of things based on the mores of our times and sensibilities and at times, what may seen “bad” may actually work pretty well for most.

How would you think about the practice babies?

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