The P&S Journal: Spring 1998, Vol.18, No.2
Benjamin Spock’29, the Baby Boomers’ baby doctor who mingled sound pediatrics, Freud, and common sense in his best selling handbook for the frazzled parent, “Baby and Child Care,” died March 15, 1998, at age 94.
Anti-authoritarian to the bone, Dr. Spock devoted his life to educating and empowering parents in the health and welfare of their children; later in his career he took to the barricades to keep the kids he helped raise from falling on the battlefields of southeast Asia.
Dr. Spock started medical school at Yale, where as a member of the Yale crew he won a gold medal at the Paris Olympics in 1924. He transferred to P&S for his last two years of medical school and graduated first in his class in 1929.
He trained in internal medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry at Presbyterian Hospital, Payne Whitney, and the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.
Launching a private New York practice, he applied the hands-on knowledge he gained from observing the interaction between his little patients and their parents to the book that would soon make his name a household word. A prolific author, he produced and/or collaborated on 16 other books and countless columns in popular magazines. He later taught on the faculties of the University of Pittsburgh and Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, influencing generations of pediatricians.
In the late ’60s, at the height of America’s involvement in Vietnam, Dr. Spock put his reputation on the line to speak out for peace. In 1972 he was the presidential candidate for the People’s Party, a party committed to issues of social justice. When asked by critics of his politics why he had deserted children, he promptly replied: “I’m ashamed to say that it took me so long to realize that politics is a crucial part of pediatrics. How else are we going to get better schools, health care for our children, and housing for their families, if not by political activity?”
Himself inclined to travel light, he and his second wife, Mary Morgan, lived for a time on a sail boat and in recent years occupied the mobile home in which he died. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons from his first marriage, a step-daughter, four grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, and two sisters.
The seventh edition of “Baby and Child Care” will be published in May. A May 14 forum at P&S—at the start of the 1998 Alumni Reunion Weekend—will celebrate Dr. Spock’s legacy.
Left: Dr. Spock in the photo he submitted with his 1926 application to P&S for entry in the fall of 1927 Right: Dr. Spock at home in the Virgin Islands in 1993. In a two-page autobiography submitted to the alumni office, Dr. Spock wrote, “I sail on a boat in the Virgin Islands in the winter and on a boat in Maine in the summer.” When he died he was living in a Southern California mobile home, which, his biographer says, he considered the closest thing to the boats he loved.