Benjamin Spock

Benjamin Spock
Benjamin Spock

Benjamin Spock at the Miami Book Fair International of 1989
Born May 2, 1903(1903-05-02)
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Died March 15, 1998(1998-03-15) (aged 94)
La Jolla, California, USA
Nationality American
Fields Pediatrics
Institutions Mayo Clinic 1947-1951
University of Pittsburgh 1951-1955
Case Western Reserve University 1955-1967
Alma mater Yale University
Columbia University MD

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 biggest 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. 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 gratifications 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.



Medal record
Olympic Games
Men's Rowing
Gold 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.[2] As the eldest of six children, Spock helped take care of his siblings in various ways.

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.[3]

First marriage

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.

Jane Cheney Spock was a civil liberties advocate and mother of 2 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.

Second marriage and private life

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 DC for praying on the White House Lawn, along with other demonstrators. When arrested, Morgan was strip searched. Spock was not. She sued the prison and the mayor of DC for sex discrimination. ACLU 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 of Baby and Child Care for the 5th, 6th ,7th, 8th, and 9th edition. She continues to publish the book with the help of co-author, Robert Needlman. Baby and Child Care still sells world wide. A new Indian edition, will be published in 2012, in English.

For most of his life, Spock wore Brooks Brothers suits and shirts detachable 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, joined him in meditation twice a day, (given to him by Harriet Levy), 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.

Spock had a 35 ft sailboat named "Carapace" which he lived aboard in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. At the age of 84, Spock came in 3rd (out of a field of 8), rowing his dingy across the Sir Frances Drake Channel between Tortola and Norman Island, a distance of four miles. It took him 2 and 1/2 hours. He credited his strength and good health to his life style and his love for life. 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.

Spock died at his home in La Jolla, California on March 15, 1998, within 6 weeks of his 95th birthday, May 2.. His ashes are buried in Rockport, Maine.


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.

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.

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.

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.[4] 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.[5]

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."[6] 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".[7]

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, 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.[8] 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.

In 1968, Spock signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

Claims against Spock's published politics

Norman Vincent Peale was a preacher who supported the Vietnam War. During the late 1960s Peale referring to the anti Vietnam War demonstrations and the perceived laxity of that era blamed these events 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." The allegations stuck.[12][13]

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.[12][13]

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.

Public misconceptions

Contrary to a popular rumor, Spock's son did not commit suicide.[14] 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.[15] He had long suffered from schizophrenia.[16]

"Dr. Spock" is sometimes confused with the fictional character "Mr. Spock" from Star Trek. Trek creator Gene Roddenberry said he did not intentionally dub the character after Dr. Spock, but rather wanted to imbue his stoic creation with a strong-sounding, monosyllabic name.[17]

Books by Benjamin Spock

  • Baby and Child Care (1946, with revisions up to eighth edition, 2004)
  • 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)[18]


  1. ^ a b Dr Spock's Baby and Child Care at 65
  2. ^ Bart Barnes, "Pediatrician Benjamin Spock Dies", The Washington Post, Tuesday, March 17, 1998; Page A01.
  3. ^ Biography of Spock at
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "Health Report", September 11, 2006. Radio program. Transcript
  6. ^ Spock, B (1989-04-01). "Circumcision - It's Not Necessary". Redbook. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ The William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Project Committee. "Once to Every Man and Nation". Retrieved 2009-12-29. 
  9. ^ “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
  10. ^ RW ONLINE:Benjamin Spock and the Unruly Generation
  11. ^ GREER V. SPOCK, 424 U. S. 828 (1976) - US Supreme Court Cases from Justia & Oyez
  12. ^ a b Reed, Roy (May 2, 1983). "Dr. Spock, At 80, Still Giving Advice". The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  13. ^ a b "Remembering Dr. Spock". The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. PBS. 1998-03-16. Retrieved on 2009-05-28.
  14. ^ "Dr. Spock Son Suicide". Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  15. ^ "Spock Grandson Dies at 22". The New York Times. December 27, 1983. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  16. ^ Dr. Spock: an American life - Google Books. 1998-11-25. ISBN 9780465043156. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  17. ^ Whitfield, Stephen E.; Roddenberry, Gene (1968). The Making of Star Trek. Ballantine Books. p. 236. ISBN 9780345276384. 
  18. ^ 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

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