Spock, Benjamin

Spock, Benjamin (McLane)

(1903–  ) pediatrician, psychiatrist, author, social activist; born in New Haven, Conn. While in medical school at Yale he rowed for the gold-medal U.S. crew team in the 1924 Olympics. Between 1931 and 1933 he served residencies in New York City hospitals and began a six-year training program with the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. While teaching pediatrics at Cornell University's Medical College in New York City (1933–43), he also maintained a private practice. During 1943 to 1945 he spent two years with the U.S. Navy as a psychiatrist. In 1946 he published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care; later retitled Baby and Child Care, it became universally known as "Doctor Spock," went through countless editions, was translated into 39 languages, and sold over 40 million copies. It made him both the hero and villain of late-20th-century American childrearing, for his flexible approach was regarded by many as wonderfully humane while others saw it as "permissiveness" and the cause of many behavioral problems. He went on to teach at the medical schools of the Universities of Minnesota and Pittsburgh before settling at Western Reserve University (1955–67), all the while retaining his reputation as the nation's friendly baby doctor through his magazine columns, articles, and various books. In the 1960s he became increasingly prominent for his positions on public issues, working for the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and opposing the Vietnam War; in 1968 he was tried and convicted for counseling draft evasion, but the conviction was overturned in 1969; he set forth his views on contemporary society in Decent and Indecent (1970); in 1972 he was the presidential candidate for the pacifist People's Party (1972). Retiring in 1967, he spent much of the next quarter-century living and sailing on boats. He astonished many when in 1992 he endorsed the claim that cows' milk was bad for children.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.