March 23, 1919: Infants to practice on

Posted on March 24th, 2009 – 5:43 PM
By Ben Welter

It’s rare to find a newspaper story outlining an unusual new teaching method endorsed by a major university AND an academic paper detailing that method. Alas, neither document provides enough information to track down the homeless infants drafted for the experiment. Readers must have wondered where little Russell and Earl came from and what became of them.

We’ll start with this page one story from the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune:

Babies Serve
As Laboratory
Material at ‘U’

Home Economics Classes
Will Use Infants to
Practice on.

Babies – two real, live, flesh and blood babies to feed and bathe and dress and undress and put to sleep at the proper intervals – are to be the “laboratory material” which girls of the home economics department of the college of agriculture, University of Minnesota, are going to have, according to the announcement of Miss Mildred Weigley, chief of the division.

There’s no telling how much more than laboratory material these babies are going to be, because they aren’t going to be put away on school room shelves somewhere after class hours. No indeed! Their “laboratory” is going to be the only proper kind of baby laboratory, a real home, and the girls who will take the practical course in infant care for which the two soft pink bits are to be imported will take turns at being mother to the mites night times, day times, and all.

To Direct Mental Side, Too.

Baby clinics for practical nursing students were held at the Woman’s Christian Association Infirmary, 1714 Stevens Av. S., Minneapolis, in about 1919. So there’s got to be a baby somewhere in that pile of blankets. (Photo courtesy

And nobody is going to forget that the “moral, social and mental training” of a man begins somewhere down in his infant habits. It’s to be part of the job of the student mothers to watch out for this side of “Master Baby’s” early education.

Never before in the history of universities, Miss Weigley says, has a plan just like this been attempted. The two “home management houses,” which are among the first to be established in American universities, have made possible the extension of the practical work already given there to the every day care of a real baby. Each of the houses is under the direct supervision of a resident member or the faculty of the division, and into each of the houses, it is planned, will be taken some homeless child of about 18 months. The faculty member in charge will have supervision of the baby’s welfare.

Departments to Share Care.

Miss Elizabeth Vermilye, assistant professor of home management, is in charge of one home management house. Miss Margaret Mumford, instructor in home economics, is in charge of the other. Miss H. J. Fisher, Red Cross nurse, instructor in home nursing, will instruct the students in the physical care of the infants. Other sections of the home economics department will plan the diet and the clothing. Miss Alma Binzel, assistant profess of child training of the university’s department of education, will give instructions as to moral, social and mental training.

Expenses attached to the venture will be taken care of by the Home Economics association, made up of students and faculty members of the division. Furniture and special equipment needed are being contributed by friends of the division interested in the success of the experiment.

No announcement has been made of where the school babies are going to spend their vacation.

Here’s what the University of Minnesota’s Home Economics Building, on the St. Paul campus, looked like about 1912. (Photo courtesy

From the Journal of Home Economics, Vol. XII, 1920:


The University of Minnesota

Under the provisions of the Smith-Hughes act, universities engaged in training teachers of the vocation of homemaking are required to provide W their students “vocational contact.” That is, if these students are ultimately to teach the vocation of homemaking, it is obviously necessary that they must themselves have experience with that vocation. The value of home experience has been well demonstrated, but it is likewise well known that in too many cases girls in their mothers’ homes are never given full responsibility, so that they have not had complete contact with their vocation.

Obviously the college girl cannot be provided with the identical experience of the average homemaker. She has neither the situation nor the time. The thing which the colleges and universities can do is to put her into contact, not with the actual situation of the homemaker responsible for the welfare of her family, but with as many home problems as possible, and with those problems grouped together in such a fashion as to provide the nearest semblance to the task of the home- maker.

At the present time there are, to our knowledge, eighteen colleges and universities in the country offering laboratory work in home management. Up to this time, however, the most important work of the household, the work around which the average household centers, has been omitted—the care and training of children. The time has now come when it seems feasible to make an application in the home management house of the subject matter gained in child welfare courses.

The following is an explanation of the project undertaken in the spring and summer quarters of 1918-19 at the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota conducts two home management houses in connection with its Division of Home Economics. Under the project for adding the training of children to the course, a child was taken into each house, the entire care being placed in the hands of the students, under the supervision of the instructor.


The Object. The work was undertaken (1) to show that laboratory work in the care of children can be fitted into a college program; (2) to demonstrate methods of child care, both physical and mental, which are known to result in the well-being and development of the child; and (3) to work out some management problems involved in the care of children.

The babies. The children were two boys, Russell, aged thirteen months, and Earl, aged twenty-one months. Both had been in baby homes since birth. They were taken because they were two for whom the arrangements could be made easily. The cooperation of the home authorities was easily secured.

Cooperation of other sections and departments. Although the problem was mainly one of management, it was recognized from the beginning that the project was undertaken by the Division as a whole. Thus, the clothing section cooperated in making clothing and a clothing budget; the instructor in home nursing gave the initial demonstrations of the best methods of physical care. The Division of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine cooperated by giving the babies an examination in clinic.

Adjustment to the college program. Each girl, in rotation, carried the work of “baby manager” for one week. Toward the close of the course each girl had another period with the same responsibility. The “baby manager” assumed the entire responsibility for the care of the child during her period. She herself did the actual work of caring for him between the hours of 6.00 to 8.00 a.m. and from 4.30 to 6.00 p.m. During the day the child was in the care of three or four other students during the time they were not in class, the manager making the program for this care, giving instructions regarding food and other matters needing attention. The baby manager did the baby’s laundry work. One difficulty in the program should be noted. There were 3 periods per week when all the students in both groups were in the same class; 3 other periods when all the students and one instructor were in the same class. In the first case the instructors took care of the children; in the latter, assistance from students not in the working group was used.

Daily program

Russell Earl
Waken 6:30 Waken 6:00
Breakfast 6:30- 7:30 Breakfast 6:00- 6:00
Quiet play in crib 7:30-8:30 Quiet play in crib 6:30-7:30
Bath 8:30- 8:50 Bath 7:30- 8:00
Play 8:50-9:30 Play, ride 8:00-11:00
Sleep 9:30-12:00 Dinner 11:00-12:00
Dinner 12:00- 1:00 Sleep 12:00- 3:00
Play, ride 1:00-5:00 Play, ride 3:00- 5:00
Supper 5:00- 6:00 Supper 5:00- 6:00
Bed 6:00 Bed 6:00


Russell: age thirteen months; weight 15 pounds, 9 ounces at beginning. Special dietary needs: diet to overcome rickets and eczema; liberal in quantity to correct underweight. The following shows the kinds given daily, except as noted:
Milk (skimmed), one pint.
Toast, crackers, both white and graham.
Cereal thoroughly cooked but not strained.
Fruit juice and pulp, two kinds each day, especially orange juice and prune pulp.
Potatoes, mashed or baked, served without butter.
Vegetables other than potatoes, almost any kind, especially spinach, carrots, tomatoes.
Meat in the form of scraped beef, veal, or chicken, two or three times per week or
Eggs 2 or 3 times per week or
Custards 2 or 3 times per week.
Cod liver oil, 3 tsp. per day.

Earl: age twenty-one months; weight 19 pounds, 2 ounces at beginning. Special dietary needs: diet to overcome anaemia; liberal in quantity to correct underweight. The diet for Earl was practically the same as for Russell with a few exceptions. Not having the complication of eczema he was not so closely restricted as to fat, and a little butter was used as seasoning; emphasis was placed on iron-containing varieties of fruits and vegetables; eggs were allowed two or three times a week in addition to the allowance of meat, and simple desserts were allowed daily, such as blanc mange, fruit whip, custards, gelatine.

Play. Russell, at the age of thirteen months was very inactive and apparently took notice of nothing. He was content to be in his bed and made no effort to creep or reach for things. Gradually he came to take more interest as illustrated by his desire to find articles concealed from him, to imitate expressions and sounds, and to recognize people whom he knew. Progress was shown equally in his ability to creep and attempt to take steps. The latter was accomplished by the use of his bed and pen.

Earl, at the age of twenty-one months, could walk only a few steps at a time, and did not know how to laugh or play; his muscular coordinations generally were poorly developed. A “kiddie car” was the means of teaching him to walk easily because he was so fond of pushing it about. Climbing on stairways and furniture, and turning somersaults resulted in amazing development. After being helped to walk up and down stairs a half-dozen times, he chose to stop sitting down and propelling himself with his hands and to walk “right side up” by the banisters. Development in using his hands came more slowly. Building blocks helped; baskets or metal bowls into which he could put small, light objects, such as soap boxes and talcum cans, afforded much amusement—much more than more costly special toys. His development and pleasure came from being allowed to work with things.

Not the least important part of his progress came from being loved and played with and taught the baby games. It was necessary to see that this was not overdone, but this took care of itself as the instructor and the girls became acquainted with their problem.

Discipline. This presented no particular problem in the case of Russell, who was in the creeping stage. Of a naturally happy disposition, he was pleased with any attention he received and made few protests.

With the older child who had a more nervous disposition, and who was climbing about, discipline was one of the largest problems. The principle was adopted of giving him the greatest amount of freedom compatible with reasonable care of property and convenience for the grown people. Students and instructor together worked out the specific applications, as, for instance: Earl may play with wastebaskets but must be taught to replace anything he pulls out; he may not handle books and papers from any bookshelves; he may push about the wicker furniture, but may not handle piano nor piano stool. Whenever possible, corrections were made by diverting his attention; sometimes he had to be removed bodily from the scene of trouble.

Success in the problems of discipline was demonstrated by a considerable improvement in his nervous condition effected in the first two weeks. Uniformity in granting privileges and imposing restrictions, and the prevention of over-stimulation were probably the two most important factors.


Task management, or the adjustment of work to take the least time and energy, perhaps came first. Factors in accomplishing this were:

Equipment. Outside the simplest pieces, such as crib and high chair, no special equipment was used. Working space in the bathroom was improvised with an old drawing board and pads, fitted over the end of the tub; a paper lined grape basket held toilet articles. All of this was of great interest when being arranged.

Food planning. Much of the babies’ food was served from the amounts prepared for the family use. Only a few of the out-of-season vegetables were prepared separately.

Supervision of play. Russell could be left to play alone a considerable part of the time and seemed better for it. Attempts at leaving Earl entirely alone at his play resulted in disastrous bumps, or in damaged furniture. The method developed was to give him the toys which would keep him busiest and let him play alone while other work proceeded. All kinds of housework could be done but at a much slower rate than normally; sewing and mending could be done at a rate nearly normal, also the more mechanical kinds of desk work, such as copying and checking. Really concentrated study was impossible.

Time. Any figures given must be taken as approximate. In recording time, an attempt was made to separate the time when nothing could be done besides caring for the baby, and that in which the care of the baby overlapped other work.

Time given especially to the care of the babies was subdivided approximately as follows, and was about the same for both babies:

1. About three hours per day to giving meals. It must be remembered that the children were undernourished to begin with and in strange hands, and hence were somewhat capricious. Moreover, the babies’ meal hours did not coincide with the family schedule as in many homes, and this meant an increase in time.

2. About one half hour per day to bath.

3. An average of about one hour to laundry.

4. About one half hour to tidying rooms, bathroom, airing beds. Total: five hours of actual care of baby.

Aside from the above the babies spent not over four waking hours, and these at play. However, even during their sleep, someone had to assume responsibility. Including this, there was an average of about five hours work per day expended by the baby manager, and an average of one and one-third hours per day by the assistant housekeepers, though usually put in in groups of three or four hours twice a week.

It must be noted that these hours included many other activities of the students. From the manager’s time should be deducted the time spent in dressing, eating breakfast and dinner, cleaning her room; also time for her personal relaxation in the evening, even though not completely free from responsibility. On the other hand the draft upon an individual which comes from assuming responsibility cannot be computed in terms of hours. It is, however, an inevitable accompaniment of homemaking.

Cost. All the large pieces of equipment were donated or loaned, including cribs, carriages, high chairs, toilet chair; also some clothing. For this reason the actual figures recorded are not significant of the actual cost of initiating such a piece of work. The figures for food, also, were extremely difficult to separate accurately, since much was served from the amounts prepared for the family. A weighed dietary study was made over a one-week period. Calculations based upon this, with allowances for waste indicated $25 as the approximate cost per quarter, twelve weeks for each child.


After one quarter and one summer session of child training as a part of home management work, with the opinion of four groups of students and four instructors, the following conclusions are unanimous:

1. The work is of irreplaceable value because of the joy it brings to the house and the home spirit it creates; because of the increased range of vocational contact; and because it makes the house problems more normal in their relationships.

2. The work is of decided benefit to both students and children.* The benefit to the babies is shown by a few facts taken from their health records:

Russell—Gain in weight in seventeen weeks, 4 pounds, 12 ounces; eczema controlled; activity greatly increased, gain in height 2f inches.

Earl—Gain in weight in seventeen weeks, 3 pounds, 6 ounces; activity greatly increased; muscular coordination improved; nervous irritability greatly lessened; mental development advanced.

3. The most desirable age for the babies is open to discussion. Children of four to six months of age to start with would give a wider range of problems during the year. Undoubtedly babies who could remain in the crib a large share of the time would be easier to care for under house conditions, if in good health. On the other hand, the experience with the active, developing small boy or girl presents a field all its own.

* The examining physician at the end of seventeen weeks summed up his opinion of the results thus: ‘”The improvement in the condition of these children speaks highly for your cooperative motherhood.”

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