By Kevin Kelley
Babies haven’t changed very much since the 19th century, Lysa Stanton acknowledges.
But the items parents used to care for babies have, the Westlake Historical Society president said, if not in functionality then at least in materials and sophistication.
Dozens of items related to babies and toddlers from the society’s collection are on display through September at the Clague House Museum in an exhibit called “Vintage Baby.”
“We have items that we like to rotate into the museum,” Stanton said. “(The exhibit) is a nice way to showcase them.”
Stanton said the “Vintage Baby” exhibit was inspired by the birth of Madelyn Todd, the daughter of Jackie Todd, Mayor Dennis Clough’s administrative assistant, and her husband, Brian. The exhibit also appropriately follows the historical society’s two previous exhibits – “Love and Romance,” the 2011 display on the history of Valentine’s Day and courtship, and “Wedding Dresses Through the Decades,” last year’s display of bridal gowns from 1860 to 2003.
The exhibits follow the traditional path of romance, marriage and children, Stanton notes. A fourth exhibit, on vintage kitchens, is planned for 2014, she said.
The oldest item in the “Vintage Baby” display, a crib, dates to the Civil War era. But Stanton also included items from the second half of the 20th century.
“People want to see things they can relate to,” she said, adding that some Clague House visitors recalled seeing family members in cribs or high chairs in the exhibit.
“I have photos of me in that stroller,” some have said, according to Stanton.
Information sheets, for those taking a self-guided tour, or Stanton herself will tell visitors about the history of various baby-related items.
Carriages first became popular in the early 1900s, Stanton said. Fill-in books in which parents marked a child’s development became popular only around 1910, after public health improvements greatly reduced the infant mortality rate, she explained.
High chairs, which were constructed of wood, saw chrome sections added around the 1940s before being made entirely of metal, Stanton said.
The exhibit also addresses the messy nature of babies.
“Babies were just as messy in the 1800s as they are now,” Stanton said when addressing how parents of past centuries dealt with their biological functions.
Simple pieces of cloth eventually gave way to dedicated cloth diapers, Stanton told West Life. The first mass-marketed disposable diapers were introduced in 1948, she said. But they took off in popularity in the 1970s following the introduction of Pampers by Procter & Gamble in 1961. Disposable diapers gave young mothers more freedom by allowing them and their children to venture away from the diaper pail, Stanton said. But the popularity of disposables created environmental issues, she added.
Initially, potty chairs were simple, utilitarian items made of wood, Stanton said. But by the 1940s, beads and other toylike devices were introduced on the tray in front of the child.
“If we entertain him and make it fun, he’d get potty-trained faster,” Stanton said, explaining the thinking behind the more elaborate potty chairs.
The Clague House Museum, located at 1371 Clague Road, and “Vintage Baby” by appointment, which Stanton said works well for groups. The exhibit is free; donations are accepted. To contact the Westlake Historical Society, call Stanton at 440-808-1961.