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A Classic Book of Baby's First Years : Popular Publication Still Captures Childhood Memories

October 09, 1987|HERBERT G. McCANN | Associated Press

CHICAGO — For more than half a century, American parents have recorded baby's firsts--from the first day of life to the first day of school--in a book designed to capture those fleeting memories.

Some classic observations out of the mouths of babes also get logged in the book, "Our Baby's First Seven Years," which has been popular with parents since 1928.

"What do dead people eat?" Leona Lynn Simon, then 3, asked her mother in 1954.

And Doris Simon wrote it down, just as she noted the boy doll Leona received from Aunt Greenfield on her first birthday, that "Davy Crockett" was a favorite song at age 2, and the four months of ballet lessons at age 5.

"I treasure the thoughts and information recorded in the book," says Leona Simon Fleischer, now 35, who now keeps baby books for her own three children in Nashville, Tenn.

"Our Baby's First Seven Years" was created by Dr. Joseph B. DeLee. It was published by the Mothers' Aid Board of Chicago Lying-in Hospital, founded by DeLee in 1895. It was started with just $500 and the help of friends and benefactors, including Hull House founder Jane Addams. The hospital's mission was to make childbearing "free of pain and fear."

Under DeLee, the hospital became the nation's first producer of medical motion pictures. It also opened one of the nation's first premature infant nurseries and pioneered the study of disease in the mother, fetus and newborn.

Beyond Photo Albums

Since its founding, more than 250,000 babies have been delivered at the hospital. For the parents of children born at Chicago Lying-in Hospital and other places after 1928, "Our Baby's First Seven Years" became a family treasure.

It went beyond photo albums of the day, offering advice and, for the first time, a place to record special moments and early statistics.

There have been imitators, but the original remains the favorite of most parents, according to the the Mothers' Aid Board, a 700-member volunteer fund-raising group.

The board says more than 8 million copies of the book have been sold, generating more than $1.5 million for maternity research at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the University of Chicago Medical Center, of which Lying-in Hospital is a part.

And it may do even better. C. R. Gibson Co. of Norwalk, Conn., has taken over publication and distribution of the book under a 1986 agreement with the Mother's Aid Board.

"The timing was right," says Ginger Russ, chairwoman of the book committee and past board president. Board members handled distribution for years, dropping off copies at department, book and stationery stores, before turning to private distributors and now to Gibson.

The flow of royalties to maternity research will continue under the agreement, says Gibson publisher Marilyn Jensen.

One of the company's first moves was to collect a series of filled-in books--a 60-year glance at a changing world through the loving eyes of young parents.

In the 1930s, when many Americans struggled through the Depression, the entries reveal a plain, rural country. Toys were a luxury. Cod-liver oil and ultraviolet rays were recommended for rickets, a calcium deficiency then considered a major health problem.

Then came the 1940s and World War II, with photos of little boys in military uniforms and girls with Shirley Temple curls.

The 1950s brought hope and big families. Preventive measures were offered for health threats like polio, whooping cough, typhoid and scarlet fever.

With the '60s came the Space Age and a sense of adventure and discovery. Technology, especially television, became part of everyday life. One child's first complete sentence was a line from a TV commercial: "Do you want a Hawaiian Punch?" Some parents wrote, marveling, of astronauts and moon walks.

A High-Tech First

In the 1970s and early '80s, technology extended even to baby's first photo--in many cases, an ultrasound sonogram.

The years have brought four revisions of the book by a medical center committee, reflecting "the evolution of medicine, psychology and methods of child rearing," says Russ, the mother of two teen-agers. In 1928, mothers were urged to record their child's development as an "aid to medicine, educators, the physical culturist . . . and statesmen."

The book now is offered as a personal history for parents and child, a place to record baby's first word and first step, to tuck a lock of hair from the first haircut, to describe favorite foods and toys, to record medical history.

The book also shows the increasing involvement of dad in bringing up babies. Pages once set aside for "Mother Notes" are now for "Parents' Notes."

The 1928 charts on character and personal habits urge parents to correct bad habits like finger-sucking, nail-biting and nose-rubbing. Dispositions were described as phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric, or melancholic.

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