Oct. 27 Talk: ‘Kingdoms of Babes’: Home Nurseries in Turn-of-the-Century America

As an accompaniment to the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology’s current exhibit, Scientific Nursery, the Center will be hosting a talk by Dr. Elisabeth Yang on the history of home nurseries. The talk will be livestreamed as well.

“Kingdoms of Babes”: Home Nurseries as Medico-Moral Domains of Infants in Late 19th and Early 20th-Century America

October 27, 2022, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM. Please RSVP for the in-person event via Eventbrite, or tune in to the livestream.

Cummings Center Colloquium Series

Directions for constructing and setting up home nurseries were a common feature of child-rearing and domestic medicine manuals, during the mid-to late 19th and early 20th centuries. Physicians and other child-rearing authorities offered detailed directions on location, design, decoration, the materials, and management of nurseries. The notion that the house had both a physiological and psychological impact on the child urged mothers to design the nursery in appropriate ways under the aegis of medical experts. For the medical community and growing readership of white, middle-class mothers and mothers-to-be in Victorian and early Progressive America, domestic architecture had a prescriptive power; the configurations of the home nursery would lead to the configurations of the infant, and in turn, the “civilized” race, and nation.

In this talk, Dr. Elisabeth M. Yang will discuss how the home nursery itself was medicalized and transformed into a sanctified space of science, technology, religion, and politics, as physicians and child-rearing authorities proscribed objects as implements of “moralizing” and “normalizing” the infant. She will explore what the material world of babies—the nursery and its objects—reveals to us about their moral nature and agency, suggesting an intimate link between the physical topology of babyhood and the moral ontology of babies. The talk will address theoretical entanglements between the material and moral in the making of the idealized “healthy and happy” American baby in the home nursery which emerged as an ideological concourse of various babyhoods—mechanistic, plant-like, savage, tyrannical, innocent, and patriotic.

This is a free event open to the public. Please RSVP online via Eventbrite.

About Dr. Elisabeth M. Yang

Dr. Yang is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Kilachand Honors College of Boston University. She holds a Ph.D. in Childhood Studies from Rutgers University, an MA in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, an MA in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, and a BA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. As an interdisciplinary scholar, she draws from the history and philosophy of science and medicine, sociology, theology, childhood studies, and material culture. Previously, she worked in collaboration with the American Philosophical Society, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on an NEH-funded digital humanities project aimed to unearth and digitize the underrepresented voices of individuals and communities living in Philadelphia during the American Revolution. Currently, Dr. Yang is working on her first book, Constructing Moral Babies, concerning the historical and philosophical constructions of moral babies in American medical and pedagogical discourses during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.