Baby Care in Olden Times

January 29, 1961

Dear Nephew Ray,

Have you heard? Josie's named her baby Katy Louise after ME! She and Allen stopped in on their way home from the hospital Wednesday so I could see my new namesake. After having five children of my own, fourteen grandchildren, and twentyeight other great grandchildren, I still got a thrill when Josie laid that warm little bundle in my arms.

Baby's hair is red just as mine was but I must be fair and admit Allen has red hair too. Little Katy, 6 pounds 8 ounces, was wearing a tiny white dress, sweater, bonnet, and booties, bundled in a yellow bunting and wrapped in a shawl I knit for her. Oh, she is so sweet. You must pardon an old granny's raptures.

After they'd gone I hunted out an old book Ma gave me when I first married sixty years ago this June. I'm going to send it over to Josie for her amusement but before I do, perhaps you might enjoy a few instructions for baby care that it advises.

The book is titled "Perfect Womanhood" by Mary E. Melendy, M.D., Ph.D. and was published in 1901, so you see it contained the latest ideas and methods of baby care at that time. Dr. Melendy advises daily baths for the infant and washing diapers between wearings which was an innovaton. Most people dried diapers two or three times before laundering, believeing it unhealthy to have them "too clean".

Clothing which she advised for infants, and which I followed with my babies, was: "a flannel band (for the first three months), an undergarment made of fleecy goods...Canton flannel being recommended...cut princess style, reaching from neck to ten inches (25 inches long) below the feet with sleeves to the wrists. The next garment is made of baby flannel (woolen) also cut princess and one-half inch longer, reaching from the neck to twelve or fourteen inches below the feet... The dress cut princess to match the other garments is preferable."

"A babe's clothing ought to be light, warm, loose, and free from pins. Many infant's clothes are both too long and too cumbersome." Evidentally 14 inches -below- the feet was not long. How much more comfortable babies look in their short dresses and soft corduroy overalls. In my day the time for "shortening the babe" was at the end of two or three months, depending on the weather. Then their clothes came just below the feet.

One of the ideas I did not agree with was that, "A babe ought not to sleep alone from the first, say for the first five months - he requires the warmth of another person especially in winter." My babies slept in a cradle beside my bed untill they were old enough to have a crib in another room. Dr. Melendy also suggested,"If the flies annoy him while he is asleep, let a net veil be thrown over his face, as he can readily breathe through a net but not through a handkerchief."

No food except milk should be given until the child began to cut his teeth. Then any of the following 'foods' could be offered.
Food no.1 "Boil the crumb of bread for two hours in water, taking particular care that it does not burn, then add only a little loaf sugar (or brown sugar) to make it palatable. Mix a little new milk, the milk of one cow, with it..." Everyone knew babies not being nursed should only have the milk of one cow.
Food no.2 "Take about a pound of flour, put it in a cloth, tie it up tightly, place it in a saucepanful of water, and let it boil for four or five hours; then take it out, peel off the outer rind, and the inside will be found quite dry, which grate." This, too, to be added to milk.

There are several other ways of fixing bread to feed an infant, also rice, arrowroot, and other farinaceous foods. Compare that to the lovely glass jars of baby foods available now which are given from two or three weeks on. How much stronger, healthier, and happier are babies these days, Mothers too, if they but knew it.

10)An older child should be fed on mutton or beef chopped fine and mixed with mashed potato and gravy. Potato should be the staple vegetable with cauliflower, asparagus. turnips, and lima beans given 'now and then'. All this was advanced thinking in 1901.

I thought Josie might enjoy reading some of these old notions. The rest of the book contains "helpful hints to mothers and home remedies and how to use them." It all sounds crude, ignorant and funny today but it was the best we knew at the time.

Well, the human race progresses. It looks like they'll progress themselves right off the face of the earth tho I don't expect to live to see it. Maybe tiny Katy Louise will someday walk on the moon. Wouldn't it be funny if they got up there and discovered it was made of green cheese after all?

Uncle Jos sends regards as do I,

Your Aunt Katy