Everybody Puts Baby In The Corner
March 5, 2013 3:25 PM   Subscribe

" Initially it was thought to be something to house firewood, though it didn’t seem capable of holding much, and the slat that sits perpendicular to the box on the inside wall made little sense. It took observers a while to realize that this contraption was a device for holding children—a “baby tender.”" (via)
posted by The Whelk (56 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
In 1980s Iowa, which were more like colonial times than you might think, we called these playpens.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:37 PM on March 5, 2013 [27 favorites]


This is interesting but I'm not following how it reflects a different conception of "child" than exists today. Bouncy chairs, playpens, baby activity centers, etc. are all baby tenders, albeit more comfy than their predecessors.
posted by brain_drain at 3:40 PM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


They are now called play 'yards'. In several rooms we have decided to cage a number of our belongings instead.

I like the portable baby cage. It looks very practical.
posted by bq at 3:42 PM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like the portable baby cage. It looks very practical.

They have some nice ones at petsmart. You can even size up as it grows!
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:43 PM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, not really seeing how this is so hugely different from the bouncy saucer or jiggly chair or swing or playpen, except with improved ergonomics.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:47 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


My mom has a story about how her mother-in-law (my grandmother) offered to loan my parents a playpen to house me in when my parents visited.

My mom appreciated the offer until she saw the thing in person. it was filthy from being in the garage for years, home-made from heavy lumber and industrial screening, on stilts, and painted a depressing battle-ship gray. It resembled nothing so much as a terrifying and poorly-made rabbit hutch.

My mom was appalled and refused to put me in it, and of course my grandmother was terribly offended as this had been custom-built to house my father as a baby. And my father had turned out fine and blah blah and that's just one of the many stories about how weird my paternal grandparents were.

From the article:If you’re anything like me, feeling as though anyone could look at an infant and feel anything other than love, affection, and a strange desire to nuzzle those chubby little cheeks seems almost impossible.

Well, I guess I'm not anything like you.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:47 PM on March 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


One of my earliest memories is messing with my sister while she was in her playpen.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:50 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


But some of those playpens are suspended outside windows that are x stories high!!
posted by MoxieProxy at 3:54 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why do I suddenly have "Tears in Heaven" stuck in my head?
posted by Sys Rq at 3:55 PM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I CANNOT BELIEVE ANY OF YOU CAN LOOK AT THOSE PICTURES AND SAY "Oh yeah sure, those're just like playpens today -- what's the big deal?"
posted by incessant at 3:55 PM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Little known fact: the word playpen is shortened from the original term, playpenitentiary.
posted by scody at 3:56 PM on March 5, 2013 [68 favorites]


I'm not following how it reflects a different conception of "child" than exists today.

That's not what the article is saying. Baby cages are the first cribs, the start of a new tradition that has carried on to the present. In our tradition, babies are helpless innocents that need to be protected. They need to be babied. In the older tradition that the baby cages displaced, children were thought of as miniature adults. Their lack of common courtesy was a moral failing to be corrected, not something sweet to be coddled. There was no need for a crib because any child capable of walking around had better have the good sense not to burn itself on the stove or bump it's head down in the mines.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:00 PM on March 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


I'm sorry but that etching of the child on fire is the best thing I've seen all week.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 4:08 PM on March 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


In 1926, Li'l Andy Dufresne escaped from the Shawshank baby tender. All they found of him was a muddy set of swaddling clothes, a broken rattle, and an old rubber teething ring, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a man sixty minutes to tunnel through the wall with it. Baby Andy did it in less than twenty.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:13 PM on March 5, 2013 [14 favorites]


The etching is hilarious to me as well. But if I had an open hearth, I would have a baby cage too. And it would probably be even more cagey than they are in the linked examples. There would be a cage for the cage to go in.

One of my earliest memories is messing with my sister while she was in her playpen.

Family lore is that my younger brother became so talkative because, at 3.5, had grown so tired of my parents I would sit at his play pen or crib and just talk and talk and talk -- as if that's how knowledge was transferred, telling a baby everything that you knew -- so then my brother grew up to think one should never have a moment's silence.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:14 PM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


To put it succinctly, babies today are seen as tiny innocents to be protected by endless safety devices and regulations (have you ever read all of the safety standards for cribs today?), whereas in colonial times babies were seen as little devils you needed to lock up to keep them out of mischief.
posted by DrMew at 4:17 PM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


...or just really small, stupid and clumsy adults.
posted by gottabefunky at 4:18 PM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Marty McFly: [to Uncle Joey as a baby, playing in his playpen] So you're my Uncle Joey? Better get used to these bars, kid.
posted by mosk at 4:22 PM on March 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


The 'baby tender' is really interesting, but as to whether it reflects a changing conception of childhood... well, that's not so clear. Most modern historians of childhood disagree quite strongly with Ariès, and the ideas that children were thought of as miniature adults in the past or were loved less than they are today are generally no longer believed.

So yes, our 10-times-great-grandparents probably had some different ideas about how children should be raised, but I don't think we'd be all that shocked by some of the underlying philosophy behind it. (I've talked a bit about some of my own research on 18th-century material before on Mefi - while the customs are often very odd to us, the way people talk about their children and childrearing really doesn't sound as different as you might think.)

Honestly, and depressingly, I think one of the reasons we're still so willing to believe that our ancestors thought of childhood so totally differently is the really high rates of child mortality in the past. It's too heartbreaking to imagine parents routinely losing half their kids in infancy, unless we can tell ourselves that those kids weren't really cherished and protected anyway.
posted by Catseye at 4:32 PM on March 5, 2013 [33 favorites]


The linked article reminded me of this fascinating AskMe about Victorian parent-child relationships. Catseye has a very detailed answer about some of our modern misconceptions about parent-child relationships (based partly on Aries' research in the 1960s). My favourite part of her answer:
People loved their kids. The idea a lot of us today have, that parents weren't so attached to their offspring when they knew they'd lose a few in childhood, is as jb says a myth influenced by some outmoded research from the 1960s. Obviously there were some neglectful and abusive parents, as ever, but there's also an incredible amount of tenderness expressed from parents writing about their children. One of the most striking and recurrent things about the parent-physician letters I've read is all the ways this comes across - parents rushing to physicians because their child swallowed a coin, riding five hundred miles on horseback to see an ill child at boarding school, ending letters with "can anything more be done for my sweet lassie?", describing how many words their toddlers understood, describing their three-year-old running to see his father when he came home. I've read one letter from a grandparent who spends two pages describing how incredibly handsome and clever and talented the young child in question is, this one time he picked up a fiddle and he could play it without even being taught!, before even mentioning his illness. They loved their kids.
[On preview: Jinx, Catseye! Your ears must have been burning!]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:35 PM on March 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


I have a crate that is large enough to hold a 60 lb Husky toddler, if anyone needs to borrow it...
posted by HuronBob at 4:47 PM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ha! Well, I should also say in fairness that my research is on one subset of usually-wealthy families in a few countries at one particular point in history, but there are writers out there who've done a very comprehensive job of describing this in much broader class and chronological periods.

Also, another thought: the number of children injured or killed by open-hearth fires was probably horrific. But if you compare it to something like the number of children injured or killed by cars today, how are we going to look to our descendants? Especially if someone invents a really effective child traffic-proofer tomorrow; will our descendants see that as evidence of our gradually-developing idea that children are vulnerable creatures in need of protection?
posted by Catseye at 4:48 PM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hamster balls. Giant hamster balls, I tell you.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:58 PM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Our descendants will think we were terribly ageist. Future generations will be aghast at how large a percentage of the human population were so casually dismissed. Our grandchildren will wonder why we did not sinehelmet, neuroprefixate or auxiliary biocode baby's reaction sequences. We, as an era, had all the opportunity to do so, yet we chose not to. We chose not to set baby to work tasks on MechanicalTurk, or code in Ruby.

And they will wonder why.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:59 PM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


The problem with "baby tenders" is that they make me think of "chicken tenders," and those things are just unnatural.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:23 PM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


But it keeps the chickens from falling into the hearth.
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:28 PM on March 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Because I am an evil bad man this illustration brought pure joy to my heart.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:39 PM on March 5, 2013


Baby's on Fire.
posted by mazola at 5:46 PM on March 5, 2013


Hamster balls. Giant hamster balls, I tell you.

Offer not available in Russia.
posted by pompomtom at 5:58 PM on March 5, 2013


"Giant hamster balls..."

There are three, very different, images possible with that phrase.... I'm not sure which you meant....
posted by HuronBob at 6:11 PM on March 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


We have about four of these at the museum where I work. Two are early American, two are Chinese. One of the early American ones is like this, the other is a wooden loop on a pole that swivels, so the baby could toddle/crawl around in a circle, but not escape from the loop.

I have to underscore that Catseye is right - as far as our interpretation goes, we woudn't imagine presenting this as evidence that people were more callous about their children. Also, that would be ridiculous, since there is such abundant material culture evidence that people cherished their children - contemporaneously.

The blogger is quoting research from 1962. There's not much historical/sociological research from 1962 that you can cite as fact in a present-day explication of a historical phenomenon. I'm surprised to see that he's a professor, but everybody can't be expected to know everything about every topic that starts to interest them. Still, as Catseye noted there has been a lot of revision with regard to the history of childhood.

The car-death/injury analogy is excellent. And snother way to think about this is to note that these, and the battleship-gray playpen mentioned above, were handmade by someone. We tend to think of our children's accessories today as safer/superior because they are mass manufactured and sold as consumer goods, and when they have proven unsafe, there is someone to sue, and when someone sues, we get regulation...in other words, our idea of "children's safety" today is pretty much intertwined with capitalism/corporatism and the supposed imprimatur of a brand name assuring you that a product is safe, tested, inspected, and good. Safety is now seen as something that can be purchased, and if an unsafe thing happens, there is a ritual of accountability and recompense that we can perform. Those economic forces are as much responsible for why we think a Tyco Baby Swing is more advanced than a wooden baby minder as any other changes in our culture.
posted by Miko at 6:26 PM on March 5, 2013 [30 favorites]


I suppose these are artifacts of not having extended families around. You don't have to buy a baby tender if you have some extra cousins and in laws and unmarried aunts who can do it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:28 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was thinking this, Huron Bob (I blame a recent rewatch of Malcolm in the Middle) but I can only imagine...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:07 PM on March 5, 2013


From the article: the slat that sits perpendicular to the box on the inside wall made little sense.

Indeed. What does this even mean?
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:21 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a better picture. It creates a little seat inside the box.
posted by drlith at 7:28 PM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's 1820. You have a house with an open hearth, you have five zillion things to do, and you have a baby that's only just gotten ambulatory enough to be trouble. In that circumstance, building a small contraption to keep the child in sounds like a pretty good idea. Put it on a dining chair, you have a high chair, so you can feed yourself and the kid without anyone taking off. Take the sitting shelf out, put a pot in, you have a toilet-training device. And why pad it? Babies soil themselves, you don't want to spend extra time hand-washing cloth, and the baby is probably pretty thickly dressed anyway, considering there's just an open hearth.

(Someday I am going to find myself saying "Naw, you don't have to bring a playpen, we can put 'em in my dog's crate" and cause a fracas.)
posted by cmyk at 7:38 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


We also do have evidence of Roman cribs (if you're in London, you can see one at the British Museum now!) It has slats and rockers and is, you know, basically the same thing at two thousand years later. We have tombstone of parents mourning their dead children and regretting the earth upon them. The Romans and Greeks knew that toddlers are, you know, kind of fragile and kind of dumb and kind of wonderful. It just turns out that they're also really hard to protect, especially with open flames around...
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:02 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I love babies!!! Especially with spicy mustard!" (quote from my 12 yr old daughter, her babysitting business has yet to take off)

My mom bought me a modern, large 'playpen' for my new son in 2007.....It was a cage, it was spacious, padded and had cool stuff with to play on the mesh walls....he loved it! I loved it.....I had a 30 minute limit for leaving him in there, I could grab a shower, make a meal, etc.... Mom tried to get one for my sis in law as well and she was horrified..... How could we EVER put our children in a pen!!!! She didn't shower much in the toddler years...
posted by pearlybob at 8:03 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are the children held in place with magnets? Always gotta have magnets.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:03 PM on March 5, 2013


Looking at the photos of the baby tender, as well as the "seat" on the inside, doesn't it seem like it would be very easy to tip over if baby got rambunctious, or if she decided to crawl out?
posted by dhens at 8:08 PM on March 5, 2013


From the article: the slat that sits perpendicular to the box on the inside wall made little sense.

Indeed. What does this even mean?


It puts the buttocks on the slat or else it gets in the fire again.
posted by dhartung at 8:37 PM on March 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


doesn't it seem like it would be very easy to tip over if baby got rambunctious, or if she decided to crawl out?

The picture doesn't show this very well, but all of ours don't have straight sides. They slant in slightly so you have that solid-base triangle effect, meaning they don't tip easily.
posted by Miko at 9:00 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Honestly, and depressingly, I think one of the reasons we're still so willing to believe that our ancestors thought of childhood so totally differently is the really high rates of child mortality in the past. It's too heartbreaking to imagine parents routinely losing half their kids in infancy, unless we can tell ourselves that those kids weren't really cherished and protected anyway.

My mother, age 83, is the second youngest of her family. Her mother had 12 children, 9 of whom survived to adulthood ... she was very fortunate. My mother over the years has heard the stories from her older brothers and sisters about what happened when her siblings died.

Catherine died when she was two of whooping cough. She was one of the first children so my aunts and uncles were too young to remember what happened. Jimmy (one of the middle children) was 4 when he died. He was running after a truck bringing a load of lumber to the farm. When the truck stopped, a beam fell off the back of the truck and hit Jimmy in the head, killing him. My grandmother just happened to be standing at the front door when this happened saw the whole thing. They said that she couldn't stop screaming for her dead child.

She was also in the late 3rd trimester of one of her many pregnancies at the time of Jimmy's death. Some weeks later she went into labor. That child was stillborn. It is said that the shock and the grief caused her hair to turn white.

My grandmother had a very tough life - no indoor plumbing or electricity. The nearest potable water was about 1/4th of a mile from her house in either direction and she had to carry two full buckets home for all of the drinking and cooking water for the day. She had a baby about every 18 months for approximately 20 years of her life - all of them home births. Were every one of those children a burden to her? Yeah, I would say so, objectively speaking. But I would also say, given the stories I've been told, that she passionately loved and treasured each of them and grieved strongly for the ones that she lost.
posted by echolalia67 at 9:02 PM on March 5, 2013 [20 favorites]


Didn't these people have access to border collies?
posted by srboisvert at 9:51 PM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Janitor delivers
posted by j_curiouser at 10:06 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


What a great story about your grandmother, echollia67.

There was a deep gulch behind my great grandparent's place, and a train track in the opposite direction. The dairy bull was kept up close to the house, and they raised pigs and had several boars (and big'ol sows.) Grandma told me about her brothers being tied up with a rope to the back porch railing as toddlers, and how the older kids (4-6) wore sheep bells until they were deemed 'old enough to have sense'.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:15 PM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


When a family lost a child in those days, it was very common for them to name the next child the exact name as the child (of appropriate gender) who died. Sometimes there were three children with the same name, the first two of which had died young.

Also, I was reading some old-time newspapers online a few months ago and there was a sad story about a woman who had lost four of her five children in a two-week period, and the remaining child was sick; she hanged herself in the barn - it was too much to bear.
posted by aryma at 11:20 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to Wikipedia, prior to 1929, orphans in America were routinely shipped out west on "orphan trains". On arrival, they were free slave labor to anyone who took them in.

So, really, I guess we think of children the same way as in the past.
posted by Goofyy at 12:59 AM on March 6, 2013


We have something like this! We call it a "baby jail".
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:52 AM on March 6, 2013


On arrival, they were free slave labor to anyone who took them in.

That's a pretty one-sided view of orphan trains. Like almost all human endeavors, it was a mixed bag of good and bad. I dare say our current foster care system isn't all that much better.
posted by Orb at 5:18 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


aryma: When a family lost a child in those days, it was very common for them to name the next child the exact name as the child (of appropriate gender) who died. Sometimes there were three children with the same name, the first two of which had died young.

My great aunt had her name changed to the name of her younger sister after the sister died in an accident.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:40 AM on March 6, 2013


It's called a child tender because it works like a veal fattening pen, right?
posted by looli at 7:15 AM on March 6, 2013


Sounds like Anne of Green Gables.
posted by bq at 7:54 AM on March 6, 2013


One of the last Orphan Train babies (what Goofyy mentions above) in our area was interviewed recently: Orphan Trains Leave a Legacy
posted by jillithd at 9:33 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


incessant: I CANNOT BELIEVE ANY OF YOU CAN LOOK AT THOSE PICTURES AND SAY "Oh yeah sure, those're just like playpens today -- what's the big deal?"
Well, they're made of the available materials of the day, not modern ones; not painted, since most paint was lead-based; and they're made to take up as little precious floorspace as possible, since McMansions weren't really commonplace back then.

So, I guess you're right. They look like they were made long ago, out of care for the safety of long-since-dead babies. Not just like playpens today at all.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:45 AM on March 6, 2013


Orb: As an "ungrateful" adoptee, I only reported what was in Wikipedia. I have no knowledge of these "orphan trains" beyond that. But I do know attitudes today aren't like they were in the past.
posted by Goofyy at 3:44 AM on March 8, 2013


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