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Benjamin McLane Spock (May 2, 1903March 15, 1998) was an Americanmarker pediatrician whose book Baby and Child Care, published in 1946, is one of the biggest best-sellers of all time. Its revolutionary message to mothers was that "you know more than you think you do."

Spock was the first pediatrician to study psychoanalysis to try to understand children's needs and family dynamics. His ideas about childcare influenced several generations of parents to be more flexible and affectionate with their children, and to treat them as individuals, whereas the previous conventional wisdom had been that child rearing should focus on building discipline, and that, e.g., babies should not be "spoiled" by picking them up when they cried.

In addition to his pediatric work, Spock also won an Olympic gold medal in rowing in 1924 while attending Yale University.


Benjamin McLane Spock was born May 2, 1903, in New Haven, Connecticutmarker; his parents were Benjamin Ives Spock, a Yale graduate and long-time general counsel of the New Haven Railroad, and Mildred Stoughton Spock. As the oldest child, Spock was expected by his parents to help with the care of his five younger siblings. Spock received his undergraduate education from Yale Universitymarker, where he became a member of Scroll and Key and the Zeta Psi fraternity, and was a rower. As member of the U.S. crew, he won a gold medal at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Parismarker, rowing an all-Yale eight, along with James Stillman Rockefeller, also a member of Scroll and Key. He returned to Yale and graduated in 1925.

Spock attended medical school at Yale, transferring to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New Yorkmarker, where he graduated in 1929. He did residency training in pediatrics at the Weill Medical College of Cornell Universitymarker in Manhattanmarker and then in psychiatry at Cornell's Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic.

During the Second World War, he served as a psychiatrist in the U.S. Navy Reserve Medical Corps, ending with the rank of lieutenant commander. After service, he held professorships at the University of Minnesota Medical School, the University of Pittsburghmarker and at Case Western Reserve Universitymarker.

Spock's book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care was the most successful single-author book in the United States, with over 50 million copies sold.

Spock was an ardent sailor: he kept one sailboat, named "Carapace", in the British Virgin Islandsmarker, where he frequently visited the Peter Island Yacht Club; he kept a smaller boat in Mainemarker.
Spock with his granddaughter, Susannah, in 1967
He owned a summer home in Maine and an apartment on Madison Avenue, in Manhattanmarker.


Jane Cheney Spock married Dr. Spock in 1927 and assisted him in the research and writing of Dr. Spock's Baby & Child Care (E. P. Dutton), which was published in 1946 by Duell, Sloan & Pearce as The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. The book has sold more than 34 million copies in 31 languages.

Mrs. Spock was a civil liberties advocate and writing assistant to Dr. Benjamin M. Spock. She was born in Manchester, Conn., and attended Bryn Mawr College. She was active in Americans for Democratic Action, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. After her divorce in 1976, she organized and ran support groups for older divorced women.

In 1976, Spock married a second time, to Mary Morgan, who had formerly arranged speeches and workshops for him. They built a home near Rogers, Arkansasmarker, on a lake, where Ben would row his scull early in the morning. Mary, the ex-wife of an Arkansasmarker physician, quickly adapted to Ben's life of travel and political activism, and she was arrested with him several times for civil disobedience. She also introduced Ben to massage, yoga and a macrobiotic diet, which reportedly improved his health. Mary helped him revise Baby and Child Care in 1976, incorporating gender-neutral language and making other substantive changes.

For most of his life, Spock wore Brooks Brothers suits and shirts (with separate collars), but Mary Morgan got him to try blue jeans, at 75, for the first time in his life. She introduced him to Transactional Analysis therapists and other people in the Human Potential Movement. He adapted to her lifestyle, as she did to his.

He learned a great deal about life as a stepparent from Mary's daughter Ginger (Virginia) Councille, who was 11 when they met. Years later, he walked her down the aisle, as illustrated in biographies.

Spock died at his rented home in La Jolla, Californiamarker after a long battle with cancer. The expenses of his treatment consumed most of his wealth.


In 1946, Spock published his book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which became a bestseller. By 1998 it had sold more than 50 million copies. It has been translated into 39 languages. Later he wrote three more books about parenting.

Spock advocated ideas about parenting that were, at the time, considered out of the mainstream. Over time, his books helped to bring about a major change, if not a reversal, in the opinions of those who considered themselves to be the experts. Previously, experts had told parents that babies needed to learn to sleep on a regular schedule, and that picking them up and holding them whenever they cried would only teach them to cry more and not to sleep through the night (a notion that borrows from behaviorism). They were told to feed their children on a regular schedule, and that they should not pick them up, kiss them, or hug them, because that would not prepare them to be strong and independent individuals in a harsh world. Spock encouraged parents to see their children as individuals, and not to apply a one-size-fits all philosophy to them.

Later in life Spock wrote a book entitled "Dr. Spock on Vietnam" and co-wrote an autobiography entitled "Spock on Spock" (with Mary Morgan Spock), in which he stated his attitude toward aging: "Delay and Deny".

Other writers, such as Lynn Bloom and Thomas Maier, have written biographies of Spock.

Claims that Spock advocated permissiveness

Some have seen Spock as the leader in the move toward more permissive parenting in general and have blamed him for what they perceived as being the negative results. Norman Vincent Peale claimed in the late 1960s that "the U.S. was paying the price of two generations that followed the Dr. Spock baby plan of instant gratification of needs."

Spock's supporters believed that these criticisms betrayed an ignorance of what Spock had actually written, and/or a political bias against Spock's left-wing political activities. Spock himself, in his autobiography, pointed out that he had never advocated permissiveness; also, that the attacks and claims that he had ruined American youth only arose after his public opposition to the Vietnam war. He regarded these claims as ad hominem attacks, whose political motivation and nature were clear.

Spock addressed these accusations in the first chapter of his 1994 book, Rebuilding American Family Values: A Better World for Our Children.
The Permissive Label: A couple weeks after my indictment [for 'conspiracy to counsel, aid and abet resistance to the military draft'], I was accused by Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, a well-known New York clergyman and author who supported the Vietnam War, of corrupting an entire generation. In a sermon widely reported in the press, Reverend Peale blamed me for all the lack of patriotism, lack of responsibility, and lack of discipline of the young people who opposed the war. All these failings, he said, were due to my having told their parents to give them "instant gratification" as babies. I was showered with blame in dozens of editorials and columns from primarily conservative newspapers all over the country heartily agreeing with Peale's assertions.

Many parents have since stopped me on the street or in airports to thank me for helping them to raise fine children, and they've often added, "I don't see any instant gratification in Baby and Child Care" I answer that they're right--I've always advised parents to give their children firm, clear leadership and to ask for cooperation and politeness in return. On the other hand I've also received letters from conservative mothers saying, in effect, "Thank God I've never used your horrible book. That's why my children take baths, wear clean clothes and get good grades in school."

Since I received the first accusation twenty-two years after Baby and Child Care was originally published--and since those who write about how harmful my book is invariably assure me they've never used it--I think it's clear that the hostility is to my politics rather than my pediatric advice. And though I've been denying the accusation for twenty-five years, one of the first questions I get from many reporters and interviewers is, "Doctor Spock, are you still permissive?" You can't catch up with a false accusation.

Sleeping position and sudden infant death syndrome

Spock advocated that infants should not be placed on their back when sleeping, commenting in his 1958 edition that "if [an infant] vomits, he's more likely to choke on the vomitus." This advice was extremely influential on health-care providers, with nearly unanimous support through to the 1990s. Later empirical studies, however, found that there is a significantly increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) associated with infants sleeping on their abdomens. Advocates of evidence-based medicine have used this as an example of the importance of basing health-care recommendations on statistical evidence, with one researcher estimating that as many as 50,000 infant deaths in Europe, Australia, and the US could have been prevented had this advice been altered by 1970, when such evidence became available.

Male circumcision

In the 1940s, Spock favored circumcision of males performed within a few days of birth. Later, in 1989, he wrote an article for Redbook magazine in which he expressed his belief that "circumcision of males is traumatic, painful, and of questionable value." He received the first Human Rights Award from the International Symposium on Circumcision (ISC) in 1991 and was quoted saying "My own preference, if I had the good fortune to have another son, would be to leave his little penis alone".

Political involvement

In 1962, Spock joined The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, otherwise known as SANE. Spock was politically outspoken and active in the movement to end the Vietnam War. In 1968, he and four others (including William Sloane Coffin) were singled out for prosecution by then Attorney General Ramsey Clark on charges of conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet resistance to the draft. Spock and three of his alleged co-conspirators were convicted, although the five had never been in the same room together. His two-year prison sentence was never served; the case was appealed and in 1969 a federal court set aside his conviction.

In 1967, Spock was to be nominated as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vice-presidential running mate at the National Conference for New Politics over Labor Day weekend in Chicago. According to William F. Pepper's Orders to Kill, however, the conference was broken up by agents provocateurs working for the government.

Spock was the People's Party candidate in the 1972 United States presidential election with a platform that called for free medical care, the repeal of "victimless crime" laws, including the legalization of abortion, homosexuality, and marijuana, a guaranteed minimum income for families and the immediate withdrawal of all American troops from foreign countries. In the 1970s and 1980s, Spock demonstrated and gave lectures against nuclear weapons and cuts in social welfare programs.

In 1972, Spock, Julius Hobson (his Vice Presidential candidate), Linda Jenness (Socialist Workers Party Presidential candidate), and Socialist Workers Party Vice Presidential candidate Andrew Pulley wrote to Major General Bert A. David, commanding officer of Fort Dix, asking for permission to distribute campaign literature and to hold an election-related campaign meeting. On the basis of Fort Dix regulations 210-26 and 210-27, General David refused the request. Spock, Hobson, Jenness, Pulley, and others then filed a case that ultimately made its way to the United States Supreme Court (424 U.S. 828—Greer, Commander, Fort Dix Military Reservation, et al., v. Spock et al.), which ruled against the plaintiffs.


Spock was sentenced to two years in jail in 1968 on conspiracy of counseling young men to violate draft laws. Spock said, "I certainly have no inclination to stop fighting right now, I think we have only just begun."

Public misconceptions

Contrary to a popular rumor, Spock's son did not commit suicide. Spock had two children: Michael and John, both of them still alive. Michael was formerly the director of the Boston Children's Museum and since retired from the museum profession. John is the owner of a construction firm. However, Spock's grandson Peter did commit suicide on December 25 1983 at the age of 22 by jumping from the roof of the Boston Children's Museum. He had long suffered from schizophrenia.

It is common to see "Dr. Spock" confused with the fictional character "Mr. Spock" of Star Trek fame, particularly in references from people unfamiliar with the field of science fiction. Reportedly, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry did not intentionally name the character after Dr. Spock; this was a coincidence.

Books by Benjamin Spock

  • Baby and Child Care (1946, with revisions up to sixth edition, 1992)
  • A Baby's First Year (1954)
  • Feeding Your Baby and Child (1955)
  • Dr. Spock Talks With Mothers (1961)
  • Problems of Parents (1962)
  • Caring for Your Disabled Child (1965)
  • Dr. Spock on Vietnam (1968)
  • Decent and Indecent (1970)
  • A Teenager's Guide to Life and Love (1970)
  • Raising Children in a Difficult Time (1974)
  • Spock on Parenting (1988)
  • Spock on Spock: a Memoir of Growing Up With the Century (1989)
  • A Better World for Our Children (1994)

Further reading

  • Bloom, Lynn Z. Doctor Spock; biography of a conservative radical. The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis. 1972.
  • Maier, Thomas Doctor Spock; An American Life. Harcourt Brace, New York. 1998.
  • Interview in The Libertarian Forum, December 1972. The Libertarian is largely favorable to Spock's views as being pro-libertarian.[8751]


External links

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