While the American Museum appealed to a working-class crowd during the 1840s, by the 1850s Barnum was working aggressively to attract a more respectable middle-class audience, including women, to the Museum. The phenomenally popular baby shows marked an intersection of these dual constituencies. Many middle-class observers harshly criticized the baby shows for desecrating "the sanctities of home and of life." Scholar Bluford Adams contends that Barnum, while answering his critics, also deliberately appealed to native-born, working-class contestants and audiences. But as this excerpt from the New York Herald reveals, perhaps not all working-class mothers and babies were welcome at the baby show.
INTERESTING DIALOGUE: MRS. BARNUM APPEARING ON THE SCENE.
The show was open yesterday at the Museum, but the attendance was not so good as before. The following conversation took place between a lady of this city and one of the exhibitors of fat babies at Barnum's show on Friday, on board one of the Brooklyn ferry boats:--
LADY: That is a very fine fat baby you have, madam.
EXHIBITOR: Yes, ma'am, but fine and fat as it is, it was not sufficiently so to get a prize at Barnum's show.
LADY: Have you exhibited it there?
EXHIBITOR: Yes, ma'am, for two days.
LADY: Has it not been there to-day?
EXHIBITOR: No, indeed, my baby and myself have been in that hot furnace long enough, and she has got sick in consequence. That old humbug Barnum shall not make any more money with my assistance.
LADY: How did it happen that you did not get a premium?
EXHIBITOR: Had it not been for Mrs. Barnum my baby would have got a prize. She is far superior to any Mrs. Barnum ever had, or ever will have.
LADY: What were the arrangements for awarding the premiums?
EXHIBITOR: The babies and their mothers were all placed in a hot room, where a number of questions were put to us. Mrs. Barnum asked me what country I was from. That was none of her business, as my baby was born here in New York. What difference did it make if I did come from Ireland? She asked me what kind of a looking man my husband was, and I told her she might go to him if she liked, and see for herself. Only for her I would have got a prize. She thought I was poor, because my child and myself were not dressed as fine as some who were there, and that is another reason why my baby was rejected. But I can tell Mrs. Barnum I am not as poor as she might think me. My husband owns four houses and lots up town.
LADY: Do you think your baby was surpassed by any that were there?
EXHIBITOR: No, ma'am. My baby was the finest in the exhibition; but Mrs. Barnum favored the doctors and the big bugs, and I was turned off.
LADY: That was too bad.
EXHIBITOR: Yes, ma'am, it was. And I can tell you, ma'am, that this baby show is the biggest humbug old Barnum ever got up.