Meet practice babies. In the early to mid 1900s, orphaned babies were lent out to college home economics programs where they were taken care of entirely by groups of students in order to learn child-rearing skills.

The Practice Babies

Practice babies were live human babies, cared for by college seniors who were temporarily living in home ec practice houses. The babies mostly came from orphanages or child welfare agencies, and were usually adopted after their time in the program.

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12 thoughts on “Meet practice babies. In the early to mid 1900s, orphaned babies were lent out to college home economics programs where they were taken care of entirely by groups of students in order to learn child-rearing skills.”

  1. Sputnik-Cat98

    Here’s more information if you’re curious:

    In the early through mid 1900s, the were many college home economics programs for young women that used practice babies. These home economics programs aimed to teach the women all the skills necessary for keeping a home and raising a family, using information based on the best available research and practices of the time.

    It was very common for these programs to have apartments or a house that students would live in together during a portion of their education, in order to put their skills to the test. In these “practice homes”, it became common to have “practice babies” so that the students could practice their mothering skills. The students were entirely responsible for the care of the infant, typically on a rotating schedule.

    The field of home economics treated homemaking as a science and a great deal of research was devoted to the understanding and improvement of the tasks involved. Mothering was treated the same way. It was considered essential for education in home economics to include the practical application of the skills learned, including mothering. This lead to the implementation of practice houses and practice babies.

    The infants that became practice babies often came from orphanages. At the time, children were placed in orphanages for a variety of reasons and many still had living parents. The child may have been taken away due to poverty or the unmarried status of their parents, for example. The infant’s identities were kept confidential and students only knew their first names.

    It seems that this practice, however strange, was not actually detrimental to the development of the child. In fact, it is likely that these infants received better care than they would have in an orphanage. Due to the scientific approach to mothering in these programs, the standard of care for these babies was very high, the students were taught the best information available about child rearing.

    These babies would typically be adopted after their time in the program ended. As was the practice of the time, these adoptions were closed. This made following up on these children for research incredibly difficult. Contemporary research that was conducted, however, showed no ill effects on the children. These studies were small and limited but more robust research was never conducted

    By the 50s, there was a great deal of concern surrounding the impact of these programs. Eventually, public backlash, changing understanding of psychological development in infancy, and a movement towards less scientifically regimented parenting lead to the discontinuation of these programs.

    edit: clarity

  2. shitboxfesty

    Slightly uplifting yet utterly terrifying

  3. SheerDumbLuck

    I met an amazing elderly woman who was in one of these cohorts and told me a bit about this. She wanted to be a doctor, but as a woman at the time, there was no such option. She studied nutrition and all female students had to take homemaking as well. She spoke of the professors who said things like “you are taking up valuable space in the education of men.”

    All of the women stayed in the same dormitory and were responsible for raising the orphaned infant, who would then be adopted at the end of the term. They were expected to do this on top of their course load, and the (male) professors would not care if the child was sick or needed extra tending to. If they needed to, the women would rotate between who would skip class that day.

    I hope I’m not misrepresenting anything she told me. This was mostly from memory. She is still with us, but dementia is rapidly settling in.

    Talk to old people. They’re cool.

  4. SheWolf04

    This kinda happened to me when I was in medical school. A mother had brought in a baby with pretty obvious Shaken Baby Syndrome, they were able to install a shunt quickly enough so that there was no permanent brain damage. The lady told us her boyfriend did it, we called CPS, she had no relatives in the area – so the hospital had to take emergency custody of him while CPS worked out what the heck to do. So, the entire peds unit, myself included, just passed him around – you’d see people writing their notes, eating their lunch, studying, with this little dude on our hips or our laps. You got used to getting report from someone rocking him. He loved everyone and especially loved the attention.

    He went to a foster family, and the mom brought him back 3 days later – he was inconsolable and she was worried, because irritability can be a sign of many medical issues in kids. We went to the ED to see him and, the moment his favorite pediatrician showed up, he immediately hushed and reached for her. Turns out, he was used to 24/7 love and attention from an entire team of people, no 2 parents could compare! He went home and, as far as I know, did well after that. Sweet child.

  5. Im__fucked

    I (a problem girl in the mid 80s) went to high school in Central New York and was placed in a child rearing class, for some reason. They would bring in like twelve little babies and toddlers for us all to care for. LOVED that class and our little practice babies lol

  6. PM-Me-Your-TitsPlz

    One college I went to still does a form of this. A large part of the female student body are moms, so they babysit the kids in the child psychology program.

  7. mjlease94

    Don’t worry, now they take care of eggs!

  8. shmoobel

    My freshman year of high school, I took a class in which underprivileged pre-school aged kids came to the school and we taught them basic things like numbers and weather terminology (simple stuff like snow and rain) and we did arts & crafts projects. I had never been around little kids before, so it was really cool and the kids seemed to have a lot of fun.

  9. jdp081885

    Did they do any studies on these kids later in life?

  10. Bitter_Janitor

    Pretty much any Stuff You Missed In History Class is a TIL for me. Love Holly and Tracy!

  11. LennonNox

    We had the robobabies in school. One girl did not handle it well and the baby came back with it’s head detached…

  12. SmokeEater509

    I feel like this might lead to an increase in child adoption or a decrease in child birth.

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