Philosophical Society of Washington

Dr. Spock's Legacy

Thomas Maier
Journalist and Author

2092nd Meeting Abstract
Friday, September 18, 1998 at 8:15 PM


Benjamin M. Spock, who died in March at age 94, has been called one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century. He is widely credited with revolutionizing child rearing in this nation and the world with his best-selling manual, Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care. Thomas Maier, who had access to Spock and all of his private papers, explains how Spock's training in Freudian psychoanalysis was weaved throughout his famous book, and helped to popularize many of Freud's fundamental theories on child development. More so, Spock's “nurturing” views set the stage for the progressive liberalism of the late 20th century in America, epitomized by the Great Society programs of the 1960's. His break with Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War illustrates the trauma of that era, but also the lost opportunity that Spock saw for government in improving the lives of children, particularly among the poor. Spock remained vibrant and controversial to the end, arguing for a plant-based diet for infants as a way of reducing fat and its health hazards. His work also was re-embraced by many neuroscientists whose studies showed the importance of better parenting and environment in the “nature versus nurture” debate.

About the Author:

Thomas Maier received a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University where he studied journalism. He is a staff writer for Newsday and author of a previous book, “Newhouse”, a biography of the leader of one of America's richest media empires which owned the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and other news journals. He lives in East Northport, N.Y. with his wife and their three sons. Maier's biography, “Dr. Spock, An American Life”, is published by Harcourt, Brace & Co.

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