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Benjamin Spock (1903-1998)

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, and trained as a medical doctor, Benjamin "Ben" Spock was best known for his books on child care and parenting. More copies of the many editions of his book, Baby and Child Care, were sold than any other book in the world, with the exception of the Bible.

Benjamin McLane Spock was the first of six children born to Mildred and Benjamin Ives Spock. Many of Spock's beliefs about child care originated with his own upbringing and his helping to care for his siblings. At his mother's charge, he attended progressive, private schools throughout his childhood. In Benjamin Spock's name became synonymous with child rearing and development after the publication of his 1946 book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. (Library of Congress) 1921 Spock began his first year at Yale University, followed by a summer job as a counselor for disabled children. At the home for crippled children, Spock watched an orthopedic operation, at which point he decided to become a pediatrician. He was graduated from college and remained at Yale for the first two years of medical school.

While at Yale, Spock met Jane Cheney. He and Cheney corresponded for many years and married in 1927. They moved to New York City and Spock transferred from Yale to Colombia University to complete his medical training. He graduated at the top of his class in 1929. His good grades and dedication helped Spock secure an internship at a Presbyterian hospital. In order to help with finances, Jane Spock found a job as a research assistant, exploring the relationship between psychology and illness. This was a novel concept at the time, and Jane Spock's experiences with Freudian psychoanalysis affected her husband's views on psychology and medicine.

In 1931 Spock began another internship in pediatrics, but he felt strongly that he needed training in psychology as well. After an extensive search for a program that addressed both psychology and medicine, and finding that no such program existed, Spock settled on a residency at Cornell University's Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. In the late 1930s, he opened a pediatric practice where he applied Freudian theory to his assessment of children's needs.

In 1946 Spock published the first edition of his famous book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. Although he never mentioned Freudian theories, he clearly applied them in his books. In the later editions of the book, Spock changed some of his advice in response to advancing research and theory in child development. Throughout his career, he continued to serve as a pediatrician and political activist and to write books about child care, specific points of child development, family values, disabled children, parenting practices, and politics.


Maier, Thomas. Dr. Spock: An American Life. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998.

Publications by Spock

Spock, Benjamin, and Marion O. Lerrigo. Caring for Your Disabled Child. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Spock, Benjamin, and Steven Parker. Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.

Diane B. Leach

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 7