Benjamin Spock

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Benjamin Spock
Benjamin McLane Spock (1976).jpg
Born Benjamin McLane Spock
(1903-05-02)May 2, 1903
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Died March 15, 1998(1998-03-15) (aged 94)
La Jolla, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Pediatrics, Psychoanalysis
Institutions Mayo Clinic 1947-1951
University of Pittsburgh 1951-1955
Case Western Reserve University 1955-1967
Alma mater Yale University
Columbia University MD
Notable awards E. Mead Johnson Award (1948)

Benjamin McLane Spock (May 2, 1903 – March 15, 1998) was an American pediatrician whose book Baby and Child Care, published in 1946, is one of the best-sellers of all time. Its message to mothers is that "you know more than you think you do."[1]

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. However, they were also widely criticized by colleagues for relying too heavily on anecdotal evidence rather than serious academic research.[2] In addition to his pediatric work, Spock was an activist in the New Left and anti Vietnam War movements during the 1960s and early 1970s. At the time his books were criticized by Vietnam War supporters for allegedly propagating permissiveness and an expectation of instant gratification that led young people to join these movements, a charge Spock denied. Spock also won an Olympic gold medal in rowing in 1924 while attending Yale University.


Benjamin Spock
Medal record
Men's rowing
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1924 Paris Eight

Benjamin McLane Spock was born May 2, 1903, in New Haven, Connecticut; his parents were Benjamin Ives Spock, a Yale graduate and long-time general counsel of the New Haven Railroad, and Mildred Louise (Stoughton) Spock.[3] His name came from Dutch ancestry; they originally spelled the name Spaak before migrating to the former colony of New Netherland.[4] As the eldest of six children, Spock helped take care of his siblings in various ways.[citation needed]

Like his father before him, Spock attended Phillips Academy and Yale University. Spock studied literature and history at Yale, and also was active in athletics, becoming a part of the Olympic rowing crew (Men's Eights) that won a gold medal at the 1924 games in Paris. At Yale, he was inducted into the senior society Scroll and Key. He attended the Yale School of Medicine for two years before shifting to Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he graduated first in his class in 1929. By that time, he had married Jane Cheney.[5]

Jane Cheney married Spock in 1927 and assisted him in the research and writing of Dr. Spock's Baby & Child Care, 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 50 million copies in 49 languages.[citation needed]

Jane Cheney Spock was a civil liberties advocate and mother of two sons. She was born in Manchester, Connecticut, 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 their divorce in 1976, she organized and ran support groups for older divorced women.[citation needed]

In 1976, Spock married Mary Morgan, who had formerly arranged speeches and workshops for him. They built a home in Esculapia Hollow, Arkansas, on Beaver lake, where Spock and Morgan would row in Olympic training rowing shells early in the morning. Mary quickly adapted to Spock's life of travel and political activism. She was arrested with him many times for civil disobedience. Once they were arrested in Washington, D.C. for praying on the White House lawn, along with other demonstrators. When arrested, Morgan was strip searched; Spock was not. She sued the jail and the mayor of Washington, D.C. for sex discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union took the case, and won. Morgan also introduced Spock to massage, yoga, and a macrobiotic diet, and meditation, which reportedly improved his health. Mary scheduled his speaking dates and handled the legal agreements for Baby and Child Care for the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th editions. She continues to publish the book with the help of co-author Robert Needlman. Baby and Child Care still sells world-wide.[citation needed]

For most of his life, Spock wore Brooks Brothers suits and shirts with detachable collars, but at age 75, for the first time in his life, Mary Morgan got him to try blue jeans. She introduced him to Transactional Analysis (TA) therapists, joined him in meditation twice a day, and cooked him a macrobiotic diet. "She gave me back my youth", Spock would tell reporters. He adapted to her lifestyle, as she did to his. There was 40 years difference in their ages, but Spock would tell reporters, when questioned about their age difference, that they were both 16.[citation needed]

Spock had a 35-ft sailboat named Carapace, on which he lived in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. At age 84, Spock came in third out of a field of eight, rowing his dinghy across the Sir Frances Drake Channel between Tortola and Norman Island, a distance of four miles. It took him 2½ hours. He credited his strength and good health to his life style and his love for life.[citation needed]

Spock had a second sailboat named Turtle, which he lived aboard and sailed in Maine in the summers. They lived only on boats, with no house, for most of 20 years. At the very end of Spock's life, he was advised to come ashore by his physician, Steve Pauker, of New England Medical Center, Boston. In 1992, Spock's friend Richie Havens presented him with the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library for his lifelong commitment to disarmament and peaceable child-rearing.[citation needed]

Spock died at his home in La Jolla, California, on March 15, 1998. His ashes are buried in Rockport, Maine.[citation needed]


In 1946, Spock published his book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which became a bestseller. Its message to mothers is that "you know more than you think you do."[1] 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.[citation needed]

According to The New York Times, Baby and Child Care was, throughout its first 52 years, the second-best-selling book, next to the Bible.[6] According to other sources, it was among best-sellers, albeit not second-best-selling.[citation needed]

Spock advocated ideas about parenting that were, at the time, considered out of the mainstream. Over time, his books helped to bring about major change. Previously, experts[citation needed] 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[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

By the late 1960s however, Spock's public opposition to the Vietnam War would prove to have a damaging effect on his career. It was reported that the 1968 revision of Baby and Child Care had sold half of what the previous edition sold.[7] 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".[citation needed]

In the seventh edition of Baby and Child Care, published a few weeks after he died, Spock advocated for a bold change in children's diets, recommending that all children switch to a vegan diet after the age of 2.[8] Spock himself had switched to an all-plant diet in 1991, after a series of illnesses that left him weak and unable to walk unaided. After making the dietary change, he lost 50 pounds, regained his ability to walk and became healthier overall. The revised edition stated children on an all-plant diet will reduce their risk of developing heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain diet-related cancers. Several studies have shown that, in general, vegetarians are leaner and at lower risk of such diseases. The approach to childhood nutrition was criticized by a number of experts, including his co-author, Dr. Steven J. Parker, as too extreme and likely to result in nutritional deficiencies unless it is very carefully planned and executed, something that would be difficult for working parents.[6]

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


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.[9] 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.[10]

Male circumcision

In the 1940s, Spock initially favored circumcision of males performed within a few days of birth. However, in 1989, in an article for Redbook magazine, he stated that "circumcision of males is traumatic, painful, and of questionable value."[11] 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".[12]

Social and political activism

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, Marcus Raskin, Mitchell Goodman, and Michael Ferber) were singled out for prosecution by then Attorney General Ramsey Clark on charges of conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet resistance to the draft.[13] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

In 1968, Spock signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[14] He was also arrested for his involvement in anti-war protests resulting from his signing of the anti-war manifesto "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority" circulated by members of the radical intellectual collective RESIST.[15] The individuals arrested during this incident came to be known as the Boston Five.[16]

In 1968, the American Humanist Association named Spock Humanist of the Year.[17]

In the 1972 United States presidential election, Spock was the People's Party candidate with a platform that called for free medical care; the repeal of "victimless crime" laws, including the legalization of abortion, homosexuality, and cannabis; 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.[citation needed]

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.[18]

Claims that Spock's books led to the anti-Vietnam War movement and "permissiveness"

Norman Vincent Peale was a popular preacher who supported the Vietnam War. During the late 1960s, Peale criticized the anti-Vietnam War movement and the perceived laxity of that era and placed the blame on Dr. Spock's books, claiming that "the U.S. was paying the price of two generations that followed the Dr. Spock baby plan of instant gratification of needs." In the 1960s and 1970s, blame was placed on Spock for the disorderliness of young people, many of whose parents had been devotees of Baby and Child Care.[19] Vice President Spiro Agnew also blamed Spock for "permissiveness".[20][21] These allegations were enthusiastically embraced by conservative adults, who viewed the rebellious youth of that era with disapproval, referring to them as "the Spock generation".[22][23][24]

Spock's supporters countered 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.[22][23]

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 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."[citation needed]

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.

The negative perceptions continued into the 21st Century.[21] As recently as 2009 a column in the WorldNetDaily accused Dr. Spock of encouraging narcissism leading to lingering high crime rates and disdain for authority.[25]

Public misconceptions

Contrary to a popular rumor, Spock's son did not commit suicide.[26] Spock had two children: Michael and John. 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 where Michael, his father, served as director.[27] He had been employed at the museum part-time [28] and had long suffered from schizophrenia.[29]

Books by Benjamin Spock

  • Baby and Child Care (1946, with revisions up to ninth edition, 2012)
  • 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)[30]
  • Dr. Spock's the School Years: The Emotional and Social Development of Children 01 Edition (2001)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dr Spock's Baby and Child Care at 65
  2. Maier, 260.
  3. Bart Barnes, "Pediatrician Benjamin Spock Dies", The Washington Post, Tuesday, March 17, 1998; Page A01.
  4. "Benjamin Spock -New Netherland Institute". New Netherland Institute. Retrieved 2013-06-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Biography of Spock at
  6. 6.0 6.1 Jane E. Brody, Final Advice From Dr. Spock: Eat Only All Your Vegetables, The New York Times, June 20, 1998, accessed May 18, 2012.
  8. Jane E. Brody, PERSONAL HEALTH; Feeding Children off the Spock Menu, The New York Times, June 30, 1998, accessed May 18, 2012.
  9. Ruth Gilbert, Georgia Salanti, Melissa Harden and Sarah See (2005). "Infant sleeping position and the sudden infant death syndrome: systematic review of observational studies and historical review of recommendations from 1940 to 2002", International Journal of Epidemiology, Oxford University Press.
  10. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "Health Report", September 11, 2006. Radio program. Transcript
  11. Spock, B (1989-04-01). "Circumcision - It's Not Necessary". Redbook. Retrieved 2009-05-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Milos, Marilyn Fayre; Donna Macris (March–April 1992). "Circumcision: A medical or a human rights issue?". Journal of Nurse-Midwifery. 37 (2 S1): S87–S96. doi:10.1016/0091-2182(92)90012-R. PMID 1573462. Retrieved 2007-04-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. The William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Project Committee. "Once to Every Man and Nation". Retrieved 2009-12-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
  15. Barsky, Robert F. Noam Chomsky: a life of dissent. 1st ed. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1998. Web. <>
  16. Kutik, William M,. "Boston Grand Jury Indicts Five For Working Against Draft Law." Harvard Crimson. 08 Jan 1968: n. page. Web. 4 Jun. 2014. <
  17. "Humanists of the Year". American Humanist Association. Retrieved 14 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. GREER V. SPOCK, 424 U. S. 828 (1976) - US Supreme Court Cases from Justia & Oyez
  20. On this Day Benjamin Spock, World's Pediatrician, Dies at 94 New York Times on the Web Learning Channel March 17, 1998
  21. 21.0 21.1 Permissiveness? Not Dr. Spock, Says Widow, Rejecting Label from Nixon's VP, Spiro Agnew. Spock So-So On Spanking, But He Wasn't a Crook! Thomas Maire author of Dr. Spock An American Life July 16, 2008
  22. 22.0 22.1 Reed, Roy (May 2, 1983). "Dr. Spock, At 80, Still Giving Advice". The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. 23.0 23.1 "Remembering Dr. Spock". The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. 1998-03-16. PBS. Retrieved 2009-05-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Spock Generation Not all bad Associated Press reprinted by the Windsor Star October 7, 1968
  25. How Dr. Spock destroyed America WorldNetDaily January 27, 2009
  26. "Dr. Spock Son Suicide". Retrieved 2010-05-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "Spock Grandson Dies at 22". The New York Times. December 27, 1983. Retrieved April 26, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Doctored Spock,, Accessed January 5, 2015
  29. Dr. Spock: an American life - Google Books. 1998-11-25. ISBN 978-0-465-04315-6. Retrieved 2010-05-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Eric Pace, "Benjamin Spock, World's Pediatrician, Dies at 94"; The New York Times, March 17, 1998.

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.

External links