Off the Shelf: The Irresistible Henry House
Somehow I missed this book when it came out, and just stumbled onto it on the Huffington Post archives. The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald, is historical fiction that is steeped in the most bizarre reality of the early to mid 1900s. Now, I knew they did crazy things to women in home economics classes of yore (like the widespread practice of photographing women's "posture" (shirtless) and keeping it on file), but the practice of "practice babies" came as a surprise. College age women at Cornell and other schools would practice motherhood skills in home ec classes, but instead of carrying around eggs or dolls, they would be entrusted with real live "practice babies," straight out of local orphanages. Cornell "practice mothers" would rotate on five week shifts, feeding, weighing, measuring, changing, playing – everything that a "real mother" would do. They'd document the milestones and keep communal scrapbooks so to track the development of their baby over their tenures as mom. One of the Cornell babies went by the name "Bobby Domecon" – the last name a combination of Domestic Economics.
The programs that started at Cornell in 1919 was offered at different schools across the country until the practice fell out of favor in 1954.
It's fascinating how we change over the years, with shifting tides of what's "right" and "wrong" and acceptable and not. Were the mothers better equipped when they finally had their own families? How did the kids fare? Did they think about little Bobby Domecon, or he, them? What are we doing, as moms, that will cause our children and grandchildren to shake their heads in shock and cluck in dismay?
Lisa Grunwald brings this strange past to life in The Irresistible Henry House, a fictional story about the director of one such program who couldn't let the baby (Henry House) go. A fascinating premise, it's a great one to load onto the Kindle (or on Amazon) to enjoy when baby finally takes a nap.