Today, we raise a nineteenth-century child. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering presents
this series about the machines that make our civilization
run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
An odd little book emerged from
between the cracks in a bookcase at home. It's a 130-page
instruction manual for mothers of newborn babies. It was
published in Switzerland in 1844. While the German is
simple, it's written in the hard-to-read old German
typeface. This seems to've been the book that my
great-grandmother used in Zürich to raise my infant
The author is given as Dr. Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland,
born in Saxony in 1762. Hufeland is hardly known today,
but he was one of the great European doctors of his age.
He founded a noted Journal of Medicine and
Surgery, and a teaching hospital in Berlin. He was an
early student of the new practice of vaccination.
This copy of the book has been modified by an anonymous
author from a Hufeland book that'd been in print for
almost a half-century. It reflects the world before we
knew of germs -- before we even had fever thermometers.
And, what did it say about the dangerous business of
sustaining early human life, so long ago?
First, advice to the pregnant mother: lay off alcohol,
get plenty of fresh air, don't get overexcited, be
careful even about reading novels for they can be
upsetting, and eat bland food. Today, we know very well
that alcohol can endanger an unborn baby. His advocacy of
fresh air was a fairly new idea at the time. It made
sense when houses were heated by open indoor fires.
One idea, strongly stressed by Hufeland, is washing the
new baby daily with cold water, and occasionally with
lukewarm water. He also advises that a baby's crying
should not be stifled. I suspect much of this had the
effect of keeping the child clean and its lungs well
exercised. The great scourge of that age was
tuberculosis, especially scrofula (or tuberculosis
of the lymph glands.) Hufeland's medical research had
included a special interest in TB.
He warns mothers not to expect a baby to walk too soon
and to avoid the old practice of swaddling a child with
tight bindings. He provides his own recipe for a powder that heals colic. He
deplores the widespread practice of enema-giving.
Perhaps the most arresting words appear in the author's
Foreword. Good health, it says, should be available to
rich and poor alike. And this book is, indeed, one of the
new breed of inexpensive books, printed on fast presses,
bound by the printer, and sold to common folk. This
little manual is part of a social equalization process
that lay at the heart of the nineteenth century.
As to how much real good this version of Hufeland's
medicine did for a worried parent, it's hard to tell.
Hufeland himself was just a way station in a long
learning process. I suspect the book served primarily to
calm the parent coping with a first child -- just as
Benjamin Spock calmed my wife and me, so many years ago.
Holding this odd little talisman in my hand, I know that
it really is a part of the surprising fact that I even
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where
we're interested in the way inventive minds work.
Guter Rath an Mütter und Kindswärterinnen
über die physische Erziehung der Kinder in den ersten
Jahren. nach Dr. Ch. W. Hufeland. St. Gallen, Druck von
R. Unteregger, 1844. (anon.)
Michaud, J Fr Joseph, Biographie Universelle Ancienne
et Moderne. Paris: Madame C. Desplaces, 1854-.
See entry under HUFELAND (Christophe-Guillaume).
I am grateful to Jack Hall and Jeff Fadell, both with the
UH Library, for their substantial assistance with these
old foreign-language sources.
Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, 1762-1836 (the frontispiece
of his book.)
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is Copyright
© 1988-2001 by John H. Lienhard.