Baby Books Collection


Birth Announcment Postcard (1910)


More Baby Books than You Can Shake a Rattle At

The Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library recently started building a collection of nineteenth-to-twenty-first-century baby books - that is, memory books in which parents could record a child's activities and developmental milestones and which provided a place to gather photographs, locks of hair, and other mementos.

These are books about babies, not for them like the ones found in the renowned Children's Book Collection in the Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections.  The preface of Baby's Record: A Twofold Gift for Mothers and Children, published in Cincinnati in 1889, describes the genre and how it differs from other records of personal information:

The design of this little book is to supply a want, though perhaps an unknown one to many.  Most persons regret that the little items of babyhood, so interesting, to the parents at least, pass into oblivion.  The book is not intended to be a family record, but an individul one, which will form a part of the outfit of each newcomer in the household, and which can afterward be given to the child, to be preserved asw a source of interest and entertainment for himself and his own children in after years. 

May Farini (1921)

The books were printed in huge quantities, but, like diaries and commonplace books, one rarely finds them on a public library shelf, and few survive their authors’ or subjects’ lives. Books tend to be either untouched or partially completed – often without even the name of the baby – or extensive, careful labors of love such as a 1921 copy of Baby’s Book (pictured above).

Individual collectors of baby books tend to concentrate on their illustrators. An early standout was Maud Humphrey, a very successful commercial artist who had a famous actor son by her surgeon husband, Dr. Bogart, the year after her Baby’s Record (1898) came out.

The one that got us started: A. Dunbar Walker's Parents' Medical Notebook (1884)

Credit goes to Barbara Rootenberg, a UCLA alumna and leading history of medicine antiquarian bookseller (see profile on page five), for launching our pursuit of Baby Books. She hunted for the earliest ones containing individualized medical information and found Dr. Dunbar Walker’s Parents’ Medical Notebook (1884) with its ledgers for tracking a child’s diseases and disorders (pictured above). Barbara gave us her book, which complemented our holdings in the history of pediatrics and started a new collecting area.

A small portion of annual income from the Franklin E. Murphy, MD Collection endowment is used to purchase baby books – mostly on eBay! The collection of more than three hundred titles and editions, with more than six hundred different copies, now spans 125 years.

Baby Week pin (1916)

The earliest baby book we have found so far is 1882’s The Mother’s Record of the Physical, Mental, and Moral Growth of Her Child for the First Fifteen Years. Psychologists were turning their attention to child development at that time and were beginning to make mental and behavioral development recordings in an intensive and comprehensive manner. The book feels like a new, unfamiliar phenomenon, because the author includes a “Specimen page, showing the manner in which the blanks may be filled out.”

Historians using the collection have commented on the evidence it contains about the reach of the “Better Babies” and Child Studies movement of the early twentieth century, an effort to educate parents in child care, hygiene, and sanitation. In Baby Week contests, children were weighed and measured and then judged on health and strength, not beauty.

Illinois Bankers Life Assurance Co, 1930s, cover

Our researchers have been interested in whether a book is used or blank, how much is completed or how soon the project was abandoned. What information about child growth and development did the author proscribe, and how much description and memorabilia did parents add about their babies’ physical measurements, traits, tastes, aptitudes, accomplishments, conduct, momentous events, and behaviors as they appeared and changed?

How did baby books change over time? To answer this and other questions, we continue building the collection and supporting resources.

We invite folks to donate interesting baby books they encounter, or even their own – a nurturing home is awaiting them at the UCLA Biomedical Library’s History and Special Collections!