How Did Parents Flaunt Their Kids Before Facebook? Baby Shows.

How Did Parents Flaunt Their Kids Before Facebook? Baby Shows.

Regardless of how you feel about the Facebook friends who fill your newsfeed with photos of their babies, one thing is for certain: parents always want to show off their offspring. Always have, always will. No, really: before the advent of social media, parents took part in baby shows. The first baby show occurred at an Ohio county fair in 1854 with 127 infants competing for prizes—way before "Toddlers and Tiaras."

According to a 2008 paper by Northwestern University professor Susan Pearson, these shows became commonplace in the 18th century at "agricultural and mechanics' fairs, urban theaters, exhibition halls, and fundraising events." Atlantic City hosted an annual baby show on its boardwalk, and the trend eventually made its way overseas to a few European cities. However, most of the world considered these shows as "a distinctly American, if slightly vulgar, novelty."

But why were baby shows a thing? As one Chicago newspaper stated frankly, "Fine, fat, plump, rosy babies are agreeable objects." Your child could be awarded "cutest baby," as well as "fattest" baby, "tiniest" baby, and even the "baby with the reddest hair." According to JSTOR Daily, the judges were usually doctors, fair officials, or even bachelors, since some thought they'd be more impartial. Mothers stood alongside their prized babies, hoping to win items such as silver spoons, sewing machines, and cold hard cash. Some people, Pearson writes, view these shows as a reflection of the "changing view of motherhood in the second half of the nineteenth century. As middle-class Americans bought more of the things they needed and made fewer of them at home, the commercial outside world and domestic home became understood as separate spheres. Women's work became defined as producing children, not goods." Women's roles are still changing, but a parent's pride never will. To explore issues facing parents and kids today, watch the videos below.

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