The Lost Museum Archive

"The Baby-Show and Baby-Lecture," New York Tribune, June 8, 1855

When critics decried his "Grand National Baby Show" as a crass exploitation of the venerated—and private—maternal sphere, Barnum responded by presenting a lecture by Dr. Lydia Folger Fowler. Fowler was an author and lecturer, the second woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree, and the first woman professor in an American medical college. Her endorsement of the baby show conferred both medical legitimacy and the sanction of a highly educated, respectable woman. This newspaper account describes her baby-show lecture and the enthusiasm with which she was received by an overflowing Lecture Room audience.

The storm yesterday morning, although it seemed to have been got up to throw cold water on the baby-show, did not succeed in casting even a damper upon it. Again at 1 1/2 o’clock the ticket office was closed and thousands vainly strove to gain admission to the hopefuls. The crowd was no greater than on Wednesday, but as the temperature was several degrees higher, some interesting developments were observed. If the general appearance of babies, baby-showers and baby-seers was moist on Wednesday, yesterday it was decidedly oleaginous. Good temper was not so uniformly preserved, and many children who had come to see the babies, when they found themselves groping beneath overarching pantaloons or hopelessly engulphed in voluminous dry goods, lost heart and sunk beneath the burden of their woes. Every facility was afforded for learning what is mean by that often-repeated phrase—the pressure of circumstances.

The platform which on Wednesday afforded none too much room for the one-prize baby and its mother was all the room allotted to the four prize babies, their mothers and a son of Sam, though by no means a Sampson, who officiated as showman. He held up the children one after another and expatiated to the audience on the merits of the infantiles, especially on the crowning merit of their being genuine original American stock. Eloquence is decidedly of the catalogue order, and it reminds one forcibly of a Southern auction-room. One of the prize children, Frances Turner, was selected by Councilman Wild, and a prize was given her by him. The modest Councilman should be elected candy-man to all Baby-Shows.

At 3 o’clock Mrs. Lydia F. Fowler delivered an address on the Formation of Character in Children, and the Good Results which might be expected from the Baby Show. Long before the hour the lecture-room was crowded to its utmost capacity. Seats were brought in, and the aisles were filled with ladies. Our patience, however, soon began to find an outlet through juvenile whistles and adolescent heels, continuing for nearly half an hour. Mrs. Fowler then appeared and was greeted with great applause. She was dressed in a very broadly striped silk, which was anything but a bloomer.* Her hair was done up in a French twist with curls in front. Her face is pleasant, she has sunny blue eyes and a sweet mouth. She waved an elegantly embroidered handkerchief as she read her lecture. Quite a number of the little exhibited were present and contributed their full share to the festivities, at times almost drowning her voice, which is scarcely strong enough for a lecturer.

When the applause had subsided, Mrs. Fowler said that those cheers were no part of the performance, that they certainly were not down in the programme, and that Lycurgus, the lawgiver of the Spartans, used to say at their public dinners, pointing to the door, "Not one word that is spoken here goes out ‘there;’ that in this way he prevented all scandal and slander, and that she should like it if Mr. Barnum would say the same thing to those cheers. She wished also that some benevolently disposed person would invite the reporter who had said in her hearing that he intended to cut up her lecture up-stairs to visit the Happy Family so that he might come back and give a good-natured report. She then proceeded to deliver her lecture which has been already published. She was heard with the most breathless attention though her Greek derivations could scarcely have been generally interesting. . . .

*Bloomers were loose-fitting trousers advocated as an alternative female wardrobe by Amelia Jenks Bloomer and other female reformers as a relief from the inhibiting, uncomfortable, but standard corsets, petticoats, and crinoline gowns worn by women in this era.