In a DadWagon first this post comes to us from one of our Facebook friends, Alexandria. It’s via the website, Parent Dish, and its about “practice babies.” Apparently, and shockingly, from 1919 to 1969, children from orphanages were taken to American colleges for use by young women in home economics classes.
The writer Lisa Grunwald used this item of historical–what is the right word: trivia, horror?–in her novel, “The Irresistible Henry House,” which may be fantastic, but could have come under the heading of something odd enough that it could have been true (and therefore written as nonfiction).
Here’s a passage from Parent Dish’s interview with Grunwald, which offers some detail on the practice babies, and also includes an improper use of the word “yummy”:
PD: Describe how the classes worked.
LG: At Cornell, “Practice, 126,” was a required course for a Bachelor of Science in home economics. Half a dozen or more students worked rotating shifts of five weeks each, weighing and measuring, feeding and changing, taking the baby out for walks and losing sleep when he cried at night. The babies were supplied by child welfare groups and leased on contract by the universities before they were eventually returned to the orphanages and put up for adoption. The “moms” were very proud of their role and even kept scrapbooks of the baby’s milestones.
PD: What has happened to the practice babies?
LG: Adoption records were hard to come by and there was no evidence, because the babies weren’t followed and studied as they grew up. Just a couple weeks ago, I got my first call from a woman who said her mom was one of the practice moms, but I haven’t had a chance to follow up yet. So, because I couldn’t find out what happened to them, I figured it would be better to try to imagine what happened. It makes a much yummier novel.
Alexandria, thanks very much. You learn something new every day.