Benjamin Spock Additional Biography


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

Benjamin McLane Spock’s Dutch parents were very strict and expected him to achieve academic and professional success. In 1921, after two years at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Spock was sent to Yale to study architecture. He soon switched to a premedical curriculum, and after earning his baccalaureate degree in 1925, he proceeded to Columbia University Medical School where he was awarded a degree in 1929. Following several years of postgraduate study in psychiatry, he began private practice in New York City. Between 1944 and 1946, Spock served as a navy psychiatrist, and it was during this time that he wrote The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (later retitled Baby and Child Care), which when published in 1946 made him a household name in the United States. The book’s staggering success led to academic posts in the University of Minnesota (1947- 1951), the University of Pittsburgh (1951-1955), and Case Western Reserve University (1955-1967).

The 1960’s

By the late 1950’s, Spock, who was originally a Republican, began to describe himself as a New Deal Democrat and became a supporter of progressive social legislation. He was especially interested in health care initiatives, including Medicare. In 1962, he became a spokesperson for SANE (National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy). Spock strongly backed Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1964 presidential campaign, but he turned against Johnson in 1965 when he realized that the president had no intention of withdrawing from Vietnam. From that moment, Spock put his reputation and fame on the line by becoming one of the most recognizable opponents of the United States’ participation in the Vietnam conflict. In 1967, he resigned his university post to devote as much time as possible to his antiwar and antidraft activities. In 1968, the U.S. Justice Department succeeded in gaining an indictment against Spock and four others, including Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, for aiding and abetting violation of the Selective Service Act. A sensational trial resulted in convictions for four of the men, including Spock, in July, 1968. Spock was sentenced to two years in jail. However, a year later a U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, citing erroneous instructions by the trial judge.

Later Life

During the early 1970’s, Spock persisted in his vocal opposition to the war in Vietnam. He participated in every major antiwar demonstration and continued to urge young American males to avoid conscription by whatever means possible. When the Vietnam War ended, Spock shifted his interest to a variety of other social causes while producing frequent new editions of his best-selling book. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, he gradually receded, although never completely, from the...

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