Blog Archive, Great Reads

Modern Parenting from 1878

May 8, 2018


We know that being a mother is the hardest job in the world – moms are nurses, therapists, chefs, friends, and style-gurus on top of everything else. The job is certainly not for the faint of heart and deserves a lot of praise and appreciation. The Tenement Museum has you completely covered…

Rest your tired feet, moms, because we’re going to take the reins here and raise the kids using these helpful 130-year old parenting tips.

Mothers and children in a New York City park on a hot day, 1900’s. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

Don’ts for Mothers, published in London in 1878, is filled with useful tidbits and advice for how to raise a healthy, productive child. We’ll be using these hints and turning your sons or daughters into perfect gentlemen or ladies. Even if your children are already grown, it’s not too late to make a turn around.

Even before the child is born, we must already take care: “Don’t indulge in any species of excess. Endeavour to keep the mind in the greatest tranquility.” Sit quietly for nine months.

Women care for babies in a day nursery in the early 1900’s. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

Something as simple as bathing a child is filled with danger:  “Don’t bathe your new-born babe in cold water. It frequently produces stuffing of the nose and looseness of the bowels. Don’t, however, run into an opposite extreme. Hot water weakens the babe, and thus would predispose him to disease. Lukewarm rain water is the best to wash him.” No advice on the collection of rainwater, however.

We always forget this one: “Don’t feel it necessary to wash your infant’s head with brandy.” It just feels so necessary!

Babies in a field – we assume that none of these children have had their heads washed with brandy. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

The rules are also quite stern when it comes to feeding a baby: “Don’t let your wet-nurse succumb to fretting. She ought strictly to avoid crowded rooms; her mind should kept calm and unruffled. Nothing disorders the milk so much as passion and other violent emotions of the mind.” I know my mother’s wet-nurse often suffered from passion, and it disordered everything!

A woman stands beside a bassinet and holds pasteurized but not passionate milk. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

We’ll keep your children well-fed and healthy too: “Don’t neglect to be sure that a child eats salt with his dinner. Let a mother see that this advice is followed, or evil consequences will inevitably ensure.” The evil consequences of normal blood pressure.

Keeping a youngster healthy can be quite difficult, but thankfully we have tips like this to follow: “Don’t purge an infant during teething or any other time. IF WE LOCK UP THE BOWELS, WE CONFINE THE ENEMY, AND THUS PRODUCE MISCHIEF.” The capitalization is original to the publication. Sounds serious.

Getting plenty of sodium at the Children’s Aid Society in New York City. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

After a bath and a good meal, we’ll put your child down for a nap. “Don’t attempt to harden a young child by allowing him, in the winter time, to be in a bedroom without a fire, or by dipping him in cold water, or by keeping him with scant clothing on his bed. He ought to be kept comfortably warm.” It is tempting to make your baby sleep in a frigid room, but we must resist.

Women with their children in Central Park, 1909. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

Of course, the trials don’t end once the child is no longer an infant; a child must grow up in a loving and incredibly rigid environment. We will encourage your small children to develop hobbies; “Don’t neglect the educative possibilities of the stamp collecting mania. A youth might become quite an authority on geography from this pastime.” We must remember that some hobbies, such as the brass or woodwind instruments, can be dangerous; “Don’t permit a youth to play the flute, blow the bugle or play any other wind instrument. It is injurious to the health; the lungs and windpipe are brought into unnatural action by them.”

A mother and children at a lodging house in New York. Photo courtesy the Library of Congress.

This last one is just common sense; “Don’t allow the child to be with persons who stutter, or have any extraordinary sort of ugliness.”

Raising children is not an easy task – even with these clear cut directions, moms of the world need to know how much we appreciate them.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

– Posted by Lib Tietjen