Ann Hulbert is the Harvard-educated, Eastern-based author of The Interior
Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford, and mother of two children. In
Raising America she describes, criticizes, and tries to capture the essence
of late 19th- and 20th-century child-care philosophies and parenting practices
popularized in America. She attributes different familial shifts back and forth
between the absolute poles of "parent-centered," authoritative, conservative, moral
approaches and "child-centered," permissive, developmental, liberal, social-emotional orientations.
The author's unstated premises for this book appear to be "look at how these experts
got their foot in the door and their message out to the public. Look how the public
accepted them hook, line, and sinker, then became frustrated, angry, and disillusioned
by the lack of practical child-raising effectiveness. Look how these same experts had
serious conflicts and problems with their parents, marriages, and parent-child relationships
and look how they all, at times, contradicted themselves. And look at how these 'experts'
were eager to sell millions of books, learned from each other how to sell popular books,
and how they, like their predecessors, exaggerated claims and, at times, used unethical
means or hypocritical methods to appease and keep up with cross-pressures impacting themselves, their home life, and their paternalistic, educational roles towards an always
needy, dependent public attempting to understand and apply these lofty experts' biased, scientifically weak, and often unfounded conclusions."
Hulbert suggests that L. Emmett Holt, one of the nation's first and finest pediatricians,
and his book, The Care and Feeding of Children (1894) generated a great deal of early
focus on nursing mother's milk, strictly measured baby formulas, and rigidly timed feeding schedules prescribed without mother's cuddling and playing with babies. Babies were to
be toilet-trained in three months. Babies' crying should be accepted as merely physical
exercise allowed up to thirty minutes before a caretaker would be expected to investigate.
Little playing was to be allowed and never before bedtime. Holt's goal for mothers was to
always stay calm, consistent, and reduce any stimulation around the baby on a consistent
basis. The illusionary promise being that precise feeding and regulated infant care would
result in healthy, happy mothers and children. Holt's model was a popular early example
of an authoritarian, parent-driven focus on what mothers (but rarely fathers) should do when raising a child by the clock.
Conversely, G. Stanley Hall, America's first Ph.D. psychologist, ushered in a competing
proto-Freudian view of development including an original stage
called "adolescence". This stage was a physical/psychological interlude wherein youth
explores emergent, exciting sexual and rebellious desires and, conflicted, conscience
versus behavioral choices. Hall's child-centered perspective suggested natural forces and
biological rhythms underlying the awareness and unfolding of behavior which he proposed
could be studied more scientifically by watchful, trained, sensitive, and permissive eyes.
The author presents biographical snapshots of popular experts whose books and lectures
followed either a quasi-Holtian or Hallian line, like the radical behaviorist, mother-centered
John B. Watson, (Behaviorism), the child-centered maturationist Dr. Arnold Gesell
(The Mental Growth of the PreSchool Child), the child-centered psychoanalyst
Erik Erickson (Childhood and Society), the ambivalent neo-Freudian pediatrician
Dr. Benjamin Spock (Baby and Child Care), the mother-centered psychiatrist Dr.
Bruno Bettelheim (Dialogues with Mothers), the child-centered pediatrician Dr. T.
Berry Brazelton (Infants and Mothers: Differences in Development) and others.
None of these experts had the benefit of rigorous scientific studies beyond close, at times
photographic observations, nominal rating scales, personal/family/patient experiences, and
anecdotal case records acquired along the way.
By implication, if they had only been able to do sophisticated social-psychological and
developmental research, they may have been better able to manage and temper their (and
the reading public's) zeal and tendency to generate sweeping generalizations and unfounded, Victorian-like parental applications. These practices were talked about and maybe accepted
by many, otherwise educated, professional, upper-class women, mothers, enlightened
feminists, and "flower children."
This reviewer found Raising America an unnecessarily long, tedious read because of the
fragmentation of details and mental jumping back and forth across decades, people, and
quotes from newspapers, magazines, and supplemental materials (c.f., sixty-three pages of over
one thousand page notes organized by chapter at the back of the book). I will leave it to the reader
to draw their own conclusions regarding the author's organization, methods, and purpose(s).
Hulbert concludes her sample of experts "aim to hide their wisdom, but that it can be found
in reading between, and across, the experts' lines." Hopefully, you will find more of what
you what you need by reading and exploring this book in a more focused, goal-oriented