The Library's Baby Books

Vintage baby books—whether issued by companies and hospitals or intended as heirlooms—reveal important details about their time.
Above and at bottom, some selections pulled from the four cartons of baby books, dating from the 1890s to the 1950s, recently acquired by the Schlesinger Library. Photos by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe InstituteAbove and at bottom, some selections pulled from the four cartons of baby books, dating from the 1890s to the 1950s, recently acquired by the Schlesinger Library. Photos by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute
By Kathryn Allamong Jacob, Johanna-Maria Fraenkel Curator of Manuscripts at the Schlesinger Library

Baby’s Days and Baby’s Ways, When You Were Very Small, All About Me, The New Baby’s Biography: These are just a few titles in a recently acquired collection of more than 140 baby books published from the 1890s to the 1950s. Some are slim booklets distributed by companies such as Metropolitan Life Insurance, Borden’s Eagle Brand, and Carnation; some were gifts to new parents from hospitals and Catholic congregations; some are thick tomes beautifully bound in silk with slipcases and stunning illustrations. A few are filled out in detail and include locks of hair and sweet photographs, but most are brand-new. Like the other baby books in the library’s collections—among them those of Amelia Earhart and the poet and activist June Jordan—these books reflect in their text, images, and fill-in-the-blanks what was important in the culture at the time: name, height, and weight always, but also mothers (the only adults depicted are the nurturing mothers who will write in the books), gifts, solid food, and “first short pants.” A 1926 baby book put out by the Chicago commissioner of health ends with the “Ten Commandments for the Mother.” Number 1: “Thou shalt not spoil the baby by humoring him.”

Search Year: 
2017