Daily Archives: July 19, 2013

Oh, Baby!

Like the one they’re awaiting in Britain, it was another highly anticipated royal birth.  In 1830, Atkinson Hill Rowan wrote from Spain to his mother in Bardstown, Kentucky that Queen Maria Christina was about to “give birth to a prince and all Madrid indeed all Spain will present a scene of rejoicing and merry making, cannon are already placed in every square and open place of the city.”  He explained that it was customary to place the baby on a silver base, then carry it to an antechamber where assembled foreign ministers could attest to the birth.  If the baby was female, then the ministers’ wives joined in the ritual.

Jonnie Brown's baby book, 1919

Jonnie Brown’s baby book, 1919

As shown in the collections of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library, a birth is big news, even if most newborns don’t receive a 21-gun salute.  “We have just received intelligence that you are the happy father of a fine son,” wrote the brother of Bowling Green lawyer Robert Rodes in 1849, remembering his own fatherhood a few months earlier when “my feelings were racked in those few moments of suspense that seemed like so many years.”  A century later, cake mix king Duncan Hines sent a check from Bowling Green to a new mother with instructions that her daughter was to spend the gift from “Uncle Dunk” on anything from a teething ring to a “bucket of lemonade, or what, I wouldn’t know!”

Birth announcements like the one to which Hines was responding have evolved in style and content over the years.  Compare, for example, the gaily colored announcement from the parents of Jeffrey Daniel Ashworth in 1947 with the engraved notice of Enid Stuart Jagoe’s birth in 1918, where her first “calling card” was tied to that of her parents with a tiny silk ribbon.

Birth announcements, 1918 and 1947 (Coombs and Ferguson Collections)

Birth announcements, 1918 and 1947 (Coombs and Ferguson Collections)

Once a newborn arrived, of course, it was time to start a baby book to record the milestones that arrived in regular succession: first laugh, first tooth, first word, first shoes, favorite toy.  Whether it was little Jonnie Brown in Rosetta, Kentucky in 1919, or Kathryn Ann Duncan in Bowling Green in 1931, these small steps in their journey were lovingly noted.

Click on the links to download finding aids for these collections.  For more collections that feature babies and children, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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