Why would people hang their babies out the windows in cages?

Baby cage
Public Domain Baby cage, London 1934

A lot of people are having a giggle at these photos of baby cages that are making the rounds of the internet, sticking out of apartment windows in London in the twenties and thirties. We have written about them before in How to Add Some Space in your Apartment for the Little Ones. The question keeps coming up: why would people do such a thing? Or as Buzzfeed titled their post, WTF Is Going On With This 1930s Baby Cage Madness?

It's not madness at all, and people were not insane. The answer goes back to a book, The Care and Feeding of Children, first published in the 1890s by Dr. Luther Emmett Holt, which became the bible for child-rearing for decades. Dr. Holt prescribed "airing" of babies and children and keeping rooms very cool, sleeping with windows open unless it is below freezing. Airing the baby meant dressing her up and opening all the windows, even in winter, starting when the child was a month old. It sounds crazy, but here is an excerpt. His book is written as a Q and A:

How early may airing indoors he commenced and how long may it be continued?
Airing in the room may be begun, even in cold weather, when the child is one month old, at first for only fifteen minutes at a time. This period may be gradually lengthened by ten or fifteen minutes each day until it is four or five hours. This airing may be continued in almost all kinds of weather.

Is there not great danger of a young baby's taking cold when aired in this manner?

Not if the period is at first short and the baby accustomed to it gradually. Instead of rendering the child liable to take cold, it is the best means of preventing colds.

How should such an airing be given?
The child should be dressed with bonnet and light coat as if for the street and placed in its crib or carriage which should stand a few feet from the window All the windows are then thrown wide open, but the doors closed to prevent draughts. Screens are unnecessary.

At what age may a child go out of doors?
In summer, when one week old; in spring and fall, usually at about one month; in winter, when about three months old, on pleasant days, being kept in, the sun and out of the wind.

Of what advantage to the child is going out?
Fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood, and this is just as necessary for health and growth as proper food.

What are the effects produced in infants by fresh air?
The appetite is improved, the digestion is better, the cheeks become red, and all signs of health are seen.

What are the objections to an infant's sleeping out of doors?
There are no real objections. It is not true that infants take cold more easily when asleep than awake, while it is almost invariably the case that those who sleep out of doors are stronger children and less prone to take cold than others.

The baby cages were not insane; they were a response to the best advice of the day, that cold air and sleeping outside makes strong healthy children.

Dr. Benjamin Spock was brought up this way, and passed it on in his book Baby and Child Care, which was published in 1946 and became the bible for bringing up baby boomers, the second most popular book ever published after the real bible. He thought babies should get outside for three hours a day.

Cool or cold air improves appetite, puts color in the cheeks, and gives more pep to humans of all ages.... I can't help but believe in the tradition.

My mom used to park me on the fire escape of our family's Chicago apartment in winter; She used to drive my sister around in a convertible with the top down when it was snowing. They were obsessed with fresh, cold air. Spock wrote:

Changes in air temperature help tone up the body's system for adapting to cold or heat. A bank clerk is much more likely to become chilled staying outdoors in winter than a lumberjack. A baby living continuously in a warm room usually has a pasty complexion and may have a sluggish appetite.

Baby cage London/Public Domain

So this winter, listen to Dr Holt and turn down the thermostat:

At what temperature should a nursery be kept during the day?
Best, 66° to 68° F., measured by a thermometer hanging three feet from the floor. Never should the temperature be allowed to go above 70° F.

At what temperature during the night?
During the first two or three months, not below 65° F. After three months the temperature may go as low as 55° F. After the first year it may be 50° or even 45° F.

Not only will your kids have rosy cheeks, but you will save a lot on fuel and significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

Tags: Bedrooms | Wayback Machine

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