Benjamin Spock

From Academic Kids

"Dr. Spock" redirects here. For the Star Trek character, see Mr. Spock.

Doctor Benjamin McLane Spock (May 2, 1903March 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 revolutionary message to mothers was that "you know more than you think you do." 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, whereas the previous conventional wisdom had been that child rearing should focus on building discipline, and that, e.g., babies should not be "spoiled" by picking them up when they cried.



Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Spock was expected by his parents to help with the care of his five younger siblings. Spock received his undergraduate education from Yale University, where he became a member of Scroll and Key. While studying medicine at Yale University, Spock, was a rower. As member of the American eight crew, he won a gold medal at the 1924 Summer Olympics, rowing an all-Yale eight, along with James Stillman Rockefeller, with whom he shared a Scroll and Key membership in common. He transferred to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, where he graduated first in his class in 1929.


In 1946 Spock published his book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which became a bestseller. By 1998, it had sold more than 50 million copies, more than any book besides the Bible. 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, and over time, his books helped to bring about a drastic change in the opinions of those who considered themselves to be the experts. Previously, experts 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. They were told 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.

Some have seen Spock as the leader in the move toward more permissive parenting in general, and have blamed him for what they saw as the negative results. Norman Vincent Peale claimed in the 1960's that "the U.S. was paying the price of two generations that followed the Dr. Spock baby plan of instant gratification of needs."[1] ( Spock's supporters believed that these criticisms betrayed an ignorance of what Spock had actually written, or a political bias against Spock's left-wing political activities.


Spock was politically outspoken and active in the movement to end the Vietnam War. In 1968 he was prosecuted by then Attorney General Ramsey Clark, alongside four other men, on charges of conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet resistance to the draft. 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, as the case was appealed and in 1969 a federal court set aside his conviction.

Spock was the People's Party candidate in the 1972 United States presidential election with a platform that called for free medical care, the legalization of abortion and marijuana, a guaranteed minimum income for families and the immediate withdrawal of all American troops from foreign countries. [2] ( In the 1970s and 1980s, Spock demonstrated and gave lectures against nuclear weapons and cuts in social welfare programs.

Public misconceptions

Contrary to popular rumor, Dr. Spock's son did not commit suicide. Spock has two children, Michael, a Boston's Children's museum director, and Peter, an owner of a construction company, both of them still alive. However, Spock's grandson Peter committed suicide on December 25, 1983 at the age of 22 by jumping from the roof of the Boston's Children's Museum. The reasons for suicide are unknown.

It is common to see "Dr. Spock" confused with the fictional character "Mr. Spock" of Star Trek fame, particularly in references from people unfamiliar with the science fiction franchise. Reportedly, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry did not intentionally name the character after Dr. Spock; this was a coincidence.

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