Here’s a story that The Oklahoman published Christmas Day 1921 that illustrates the change of thought in home economic education and baby care. In this case, a baby boy who had had a tough start in life was given the chance of a happy future.
“David, the orphan baby who was ‘adopted’ by Oklahoma A. and M. College in order to complete the ‘equipment’ of the school of home economics homemakers’ cottage, will spend his first Christmas in a home of his own.
When students left Friday, for the Christmas holidays, David was among those on out-going trains; he was to be formally adopted Saturday, into the home of a wealthy Oklahoma oil man. A younger baby will take his place in the home-makers’ cottage.”
David was 11 weeks old when he arrived at school, the orphan child of an abandoned mother who died ten 10 days after his birth. He first went into the care of the Oklahoma Children’s Home society until the college, the predecessor of Oklahoma State University, came up with the idea of borrowing a real baby for “the practice house, in order that girl students might gain practical knowledge in the feeding and care of babies.”
The idea worked in David’s favor.
“The publicity that David got at the time brought scores of letters from interested persons; the scientific care assured for the child made him attractive to babyless homes; more than a dozen definite offers were made for his adoption.
“Four groups of girls, eighteen in all, have lived in the homemakers’ cottage during the school year thus far, helping in the care of David. As a Christmas gift, when he left, they gave him a silver loving cup on whose side was inscribed, “David, Oklahoma A.& M.”
Oklahoma A&M continued the program the next school year with David II.
No other information was found about David I or David II with the exception that David II was being groomed for the 1922 State Fair baby contest. In the 1920s, the baby contest was more of how the baby was growing and meeting standards and less of a beauty contest. David II did not win.
An Internet search found that college use of “practice babies” was not unusual. In fact, Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., had a practice baby program from 1919-1969. The school stopped the program after concerns about what was best for the babies and changes that made the homemaking cottage outdated.