'Practice Babies': 1 Orphan Raised by 8 Mothers


Indeed, in a little-known case at Eastern Illinois State University in the 1950s, the state welfare department shut down a practice baby program to protect a boy named "David North" who had been raised by 12 different home economics majors.

"We sort of got it wrong at both ends of the spectrum," Pertman said. "At the orphanage, there were not enough hands, and in this program, there were too many. We didn't think it through or simply didn't understand the consequences of what was being done."

Child development experts now know that "permanence is what matters," he said. "Looking at the bright side, thank God we learned a lesson.

"As early as possible, we need to get these kids into permanent, loving homes. It sounds so cliched, but this episode puts this reality into sharp relief."

Cornell launched its practice baby program in 1919 when child development theories were so rigid they advised shaking the child's hand before bedtime.

Cornell students gathered around the "practice apartment" living room with Edna Mae Domecon at Christmastime, 1924.

But by the 1960s, enlightened pediatricians such as Dr. Benjamin Spock urged mothers to "trust yourself" in a more hands-on approach with their children.

Practice baby programs were eventually phased out as new research underscored the need for a primary bond with a single caregiver.

Cornell's practice apartments later became a day-care center for faculty children and the program was dropped from the curriculum in 1969 when women found their footing in the career world and home economics seemed old-fashioned.

But in 1952, the program was so highly regarded that Redmond, married and pregnant with her first of eight children at the time, was featured in a cover story in Life magazine, "The Making of a Home: Cornell Girls Study for Their Big Job."

"For six weeks, we were responsible 24 hours a day for the child," she said. "There was a lot of emphasis on development testing and playing with the child -- not just babysitting. The jobs were divvied up to learn practical skills.

"If you had not learned cooking when you were growing up, you had to cook. If you hadn't done much babysitting, you had to the mother or assistant mother or do the cleaning."

The program was highly supervised by the home economics faculty, Redmond said. Denny seemed well-adjusted and things seemed to run smoothly in the practice apartment, save for an occasional cake that didn't rise properly.

"He cried and we fed him and made sure he was comfortable," she said. "Maybe he just needed to cry, so we would allow him to cry a little. We didn't pick him up so quickly and cuddle him. It was very Dr. Spock."

No one ever knew how these children fared.

"The whole program never used real names because they were orphans," said Eileen Keating, archivist of the Cornell exhibit. "They didn't want us ever to find out. They were adopted and there are no records. We have baby books that the students did, but other than that, we have nothing."

Cornell Graduates Upset By 'Henry House' Book

The Cornell exhibit was the product of a 2001 centennial project on the home economics program, which was tuition-free to young women from New York State.

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