Philosophical Society of Washington

Minutes of the 2092nd Meeting

Speaker: Thomas Maier, Journalist and Author
Topic: “Dr. Spock's Legacy”

President Agger called the 2092nd meeting to order at 8:20 p.m. on September 18, 1998. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2090th meeting and they were approved.

The speaker for the 2092nd meeting was Thomas Maier, journalist and author. The title of his talk was, “Dr. Spock's Legacy.”

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think.” This advice came from Benjamin M. Spock who died in March of this year at the age of 94. He has been called one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th Century, and widely credited with revolutionizing child rearing in this nation and the world. His 1947 best-selling book, Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care which was subsequently shortened to, Baby and Child Care, sold tens of millions of copies and is still in print.

With ready access to Benjamin Spock and all of his private papers, Mr. Maier explained how Spock's training in Freudian psychoanalysis was weaved throughout his famous book and helped popularize many of Freud's fundamental theories on child development. Somewhat ironically, Spock did not acknowledge Freud in his book. Spock felt that Americans considered Freud to be somewhat “dirty-minded” and “perverse.” However, later he admitted that his book was pure Freud. Moreover, 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 President Johnson over the Vietnam War illustrates the trauma of that era, and also the lost opportunity that Spock saw for the government in improving the lives of children, particular among the poor.

Post-World War II Americans begot the baby boomers. Their parents wanted to make them the healthiest, smartest and best-adjusted generation in history. To accomplish this awesome task, millions of parents turned to experts for advice, information and reassurance. Many of the experts were sour souls, advising mothers to avoid displays of affection, to discourage thumb sucking, and to impose strict feeding and potty training schedules. Spock saw these issues in a different light. He advised and encouraged mothers and fathers to hug and kiss their children and to indulge in thumb sucking (within limits), to adopt flexible feeding schedules and to lighten up on rigid toilet training.

Ben 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.

A principled and courageous man, Spock was not afraid to risk his reputation and standing on causes that touched his conscience. At an age when most of us would retire to a rocking chair, he became a leader of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy; he was an early and steadfast critic of the war in Vietnam and a stalwart champion of the civil rights movement. He paid a price for this activism. Many of his early admirers now denounced his views and blamed him for spawning a generation of “Spock babies” who rebelled against authority.

In the final analyses of history however, Benjamin Spock will be remembered as the pediatrician who taught Americans to be loving and competent parents, supporters of civil rights and opponents of the Vietnam War — not a bad legacy for one man.

Mr. Maier then closed his presentation and kindly answered questions from the floor.

President Agger thereupon thanked Mr. Maier for the society, announced the next meeting and made the usual parking announcement. She then adjourned the 2092nd meeting to the Social Hour at 9:40 p.m.


Respectfully submitted,
Bill Spargo
Recording Secretary

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