January 29, 2011

Vintage 365: 1940s ad reminds parents not to leave their babies alone aside while they go shopping

Day 29 of Vintage 365


How often have you heard people of our grandparent's (or parents, depending on your own age) generation refer to the mid-20th century as "simpler times"? Despite the intense hardships our grandparents and great-grandparents enduring during the Great Depression, WW2, and the aftermath of rebuilding much of the globe and getting the economy back on track after the second world war, in my experience, many people that I've spoken to who were alive during these years found them to times that they looked back on with fondness and reverence.

Yes, life was complicated in many ways (hasn't it always been in one capacity or another though?), but it was also wonderful - and perhaps indeed, simpler. Back in the 30s, 40s, and 50s children were not only generally allowed to play outside sans adult supervision, they were expected to. Communities were often more tightly knit, folks knew and spent time with their neighbours, and as a whole society was a more trusting place.

However, even in these seemingly safe times, the (US) National Safety Council still felt it best to remind people periodically about certain practices that they felt were best to be avoided, such as leaving your baby outside in its stroller/pram when popping inside a shop (as the ad above, which comes via Captain Geoffrey Spaulding's Flickr stream shows). Lest your jaw drop at the mere thought, I can assure you that in talking to my grandparents and various elderly neighbours over the years, that this practise (which is still done in some parts of the world) was once very common (especially in smaller towns).

Today many would shudder at the notion of leaving their baby or young child unattended in public for even so much as one red second, and (for better or worse) that may indeed by far be the safest approach in these unpredictable times. Yet back in the 40s when this National Safety Council ad ran across America, such practises were viewed as completely normal. I think that people were more trusting of each other in those days; the unthinkable idea that someone could kidnap your baby from its stroller was simply not one that many dared to entertain.

However, as time rolled on and (whether in reality or merely perception) the world began to be viewed as a less safe, more hostile environment, mothers stopped leaving their children outside when the went into shops (the advent of shopping carts with seats for children to sit in as mother shopped was also no doubt part of the reason less babies were left outdoors), and today the idea seeing an ad such as this one would surely seem comical to most.

Yet, as my grandmother is fond of saying - and I really do believe - those were simpler, better times when men still tipped their hats to ladies, borrowing a cup of sugar from the family next door was commonplace, and babies really did wait outside stores as their mother's did the weekly shopping.


  1. The photgraph is lovely and the baby looks so bonnie. I can remember when babies were left outside iether in the back garden or even the front in their prams to get fresh air whilst taking their afternoon nap.
    Maybe it is the rose effect glassess, but I truely do think that everything was so much slower and quieter when I was a child growing up.
    Not so may cars, no super markets, local independent shop and manners.

  2. I used to leave my son outside on the patio in his pram/stroller back in 1992. My sister left her children outside in the garden too and I was certainly left outside in my pram in the garden for some fresh air.

    Such a simpler time when everyone knew everyone else - oh for the good old days.

  3. Great post, thanks for sharing this :)

  4. Sure, everyone was friendly with their neighbours, so long as those neighbours were married and white...

    I don't think it was necessarily a better time... the idea that communities were perfect and safe was self propagating, as when people tried to report crimes they were often turned away in disbelief that 'things like that could ever happen here'. In particular rape still happened, and as your husband was most likely to be the assailant, people were left hopeless and without the option to report it as it wasn't even considered a crime! To me it is really, really dangerous to start glorifying the past without accepting the reality of the situation first.

  5. Enjoyed this post and it's true...babies were left outside to play, in their prams, etc. As children, we ran wild but, generally, within ear hear of Mom's voice. At the very least, she always knew where we were playing or there would be a tanning involved...grin.

  6. Interesting! I do remember net covered baby carriages (1960's) but don't remember anyone referring to those times as simpler. The cold war, protests, Vietnam, youth culture, and rejection of traditional morality which characterised my young days, still did not inspire such remarks from my parents or grandparents, that I recall. Hmmm, maybe they just were not the type.