Saturday, October 2, 2010

2 October 1956 “Women’s Roles and The La Leche League”

We are often fed the stereo-type of the 1950’s woman in pearls, vacuuming or serving her husband. The modern world, for whatever reason, seems to want to relegate any woman pre-1960’s as an oppressed victim bordering on slave. I, of course, have been discovering more and more over the past two years this is far from true.
I thought I would show some women from my 1950’s magazines. These two little snippets are from a 1956 magazine. This first lady is called ‘the Frog lady’. You can read the article by simply clicking on the image.frogladyDr. Doris M. Cochrin is a scientist. Not only is she working in the professional field she even, in the 1930’s, travelled to Brazil to continue the research started by a male scientist on frogs. There is no mention of how ‘cute it is’ that she is doing ‘man’s work’. She is shown in her office with a frog. I like to compare this with the modern image my hubby wrote about a modern young starlet (She once played Winnie on the Wonder Years)hot_x There are images of her inside as well. But, why is it that a woman who is intelligent in a ‘man’s field’ today needs to be sexualized? Why does Algebra need to be “HOT X”?
Next we have Dr. Alice Richards teached at the University of Wisconsin and is here show doing her second job: Training the Milwaukee Braves in Concentration techniques. We see a married woman who is a professional and also a key role in training a major league baseball team. Rather interesting, I think.womanbaseball
Now, this is not in any way to try and downgrade our modern homemakers. For, at this time, if one were a homemaker, I doubt very highly she would be looked down upon by either of these two ladies. In fact, I am sure she met many homemakers as they are both married professors who most likely have a university level social life of parties and gatherings where many homemaker wives of professors are present. This also would be a way for any young lady to see that one could have a choice.
Although the main role considered for women was the home, we must realize in most cases women did indeed have choices. Many homemakers also worked jobs. Especially among the working class, it was not uncommon to have both parents work. And those in the middle class who could afford to send their daughters to college usually did. Although many think it was for the intent of ‘finding husbands’, once there if the girls found a career as well, I don’t think they were discouraged by it. And if so, a strong woman would ignore the convention and follow her heart, I believe. Much as we, who stay home, do today.
Speaking of Homemakers and their own place of power in the world, there was an amazing even that happened this year (1956) with seven Homemaking mother’s in gathered in Chicago’s blue collar  suburb of Franklin Park, Illinois. They were to become the La Leche League (Leche being Italian for milk).
lalecheleague These ladies were gathering to try and gain acceptance and spread the word for something that had gone out of vogue and been discouraged by the medical community: Breast Feeding.
Doctors at that time routinely told women that they didn't have enough milk to nourish their babies, or that their milk wasn't good enough. There had been an increasing level of pressure from the medical and scientific community to take the baby from the breast and put it to the bottle on very rigid feeding schedules. There was little study done on women’s breast milk at the time and what there was had been chiefly ignored. Many doctors felt  cow's milk formula was better than what nature had provided.
These ladies ‘league’ formed one summer afternoon in 1956 at a picnic in Wilder Park in Elmhurst, Illinois, USA. During the course of the picnic, two of the ladies who were to form the league had breast feeding babies. The other mothers noticed how easy it was for  these two to care for their babies, with no bottles to warm or formula to keep cool. Eventually the other women attendees approached them with this basic story: "I had so wanted to nurse my baby but...My doctor told me I didn't have enough milk...My mother-in-law said the baby must not be getting enough because he wanted to nurse so often...My baby lost interest after I started supplementing with formula...I tried to breastfeed, but I just couldn't."
The first official meeting was held on an October evening in 1956 at Mary White's house in Franklin Park. The original group consisted of these seven ladies: Marian Tompson, Edwina Froehlich, Mary White, Betty Wagner, Mary Ann Cahill, Mary Ann Kerwin, and Viola Lennon.
Another main aspect to the decline in breast feeding ties into that same element I keep running up against in the 1950’s. The growth of the Corporation. Again, I don’t want to sound political, but I also need to represent the facts. And one of the main reasons women and also doctors were encouraged to ‘take the baby from the breast’ was the increase in Nestle’s formula production.
nesltebabyformula Though Nestle had invented baby formula as early as 1860, it wasn’t until WWII that it really took off. With the men away, many women, even those with small children, went into the workforce. Though women with younger age children could be exempt from the need to help in factories and such, the emotional and patriotic need to do so had many mothers leaving their infants with older relatives or friends. So, baby formula was a good answer to this baby left at home problem.
The baby boom generation were the first generation to be mainly bottle feed. And it was silently put around that if you were intelligent, middle class etc you bottle fed. If you say someone breast feeding it was thought they were ignorant, poor etc. Much of this perception was propegated by advertising and the subsequently corporate supported ‘studies’ in the medical field.
Now one could say, well that sounds as if you are being to critical or reading too much into it. Yet, when I see such things as this going on in Africa in the 1950’s.nestleafrica Nestle had created ‘Milk Nurses’ to offer free formula to South African mothers. The downside to this was they took the free nourishment (as their country was in war and great poverty) and then as the mother’s own milk dried up and they began to depend upon it, they simply stop giving it away and then had it for sale. It is one thing to make a product and sell it for money, that is fair, but to make a market through underhand ways is what I have a problem with.
And, so, in our own country, this sort of stigma to breastfeeding was put around. And during this time the middle class really was growing. Many young mothers and couples were, for the first time in their family, actually better off than their parents. They wanted to ‘belong to the middle class’ and not be seen as ‘backward’. So, the bottle and formula grew and the stigma against breastfeeding was set.
I find it very gratifying and a rather proud moment in Women’s history to know that these mother’s came together to help other mother’s take back their personal right to breast feed their children. And, in a way, their little revolution was done with sense and decorum on their part. There was no picketing and brash screaming on ‘news programs’ but rather living accornding to common sense and their example helped to spread the real knowledge and truth behind breast milk to other mothers.
I think, today however, that many mothers most likely do still bottle feed. I can’t imagine how they couldn’t since so many are working mothers. Many women get no more than a few weeks off before returning to work and if they don’t want to mess about with breast pumps, their only option is the formula.
Again and again I find that what I am most enamored with the 1950’s are the people and particularly the women. I am also finding that the current state of subterfuge and ignorance we have allowed ourselves to be in with our own food, health, economy, and government is heavily wrapped up in the corporations starting then. What may have been a growing family business happy to become larger has turned into an almost self-entity (including the fact that a corporation is now legally accepted as an individual and with an individual's rights) that seeks profit over any other aspect including human rights AND truth.
What I don’t understand is a vast majority of people today who seem to want to ‘return to an old way’ don’t realize that by simply focusing on silly topics and being lead by politicians (all of whom are puppets of the large business) are only further removing us from the ‘good ole days’. Because the main tenants of the good ole days were common sense, hard work, and decency to one another. Today we seem to think we must ‘pick a side’ draw a line in the sand and begin shouting. When really this only causes us to be further separated from one another and the common goal and a happy and good life.
But, I digress. I thought it would be good to show some strong and intelligent actual 1950’s women to contrast with the current image of the be-pearled half-idiot we seem to think the 1950’s homemaker was. I, however, am proud of that past and hope to continue to sort out the good from the bad and implement more and more of the good through learning and practice and skills.
Happy Homemaking.


  1. This is really interesting. I studied post war women during university.

    I find it so upsetting how over sexualised everything is nowadays, and also when I see some pupils at the primary school I work at put such inane and pointless female role models down. Just women known for their big hair and shiny teeth, no aspirational women with careers or life histories that have made a difference... :(

  2. Yeah! for La Leche League. I discovered them when my first child was born in the early 90's. I do not agree with all the child rearing philosophies they have adopted, but they do a wonderful work and nodded my head at everything you said about them. Both my grandmothers and my mother-in-law(they had children in the late 40s spanning into the early 70's) nursed their babies. I think alot of it was because they didn't have money for formula. But it is a wonderful tradition to have handed down to you that "this is what we have done, and you can do it, too." A person does not have to be famous to be a wonderful role model of a "strong" woman.
    Many women to go to work and continue to pump breastmilk for their babies. My hat goes off to them.
    Amy F.

  3. I actually (bad for me) didn't know that the la leche league still existed? How funny. Very interesting. Thanks for letting me know.

  4. Your comments are right on! As an anthropologist, please allow me to comment on how the world became so screwed up in just a few words.

    Christian missionaries went to Africa and did not like what they saw. Naked people.

    The people were forced to cover up.

    Women were still breast feeding and the missionaries could still see their breasts.

    So, they introduced them to powered milk.

    Which meant that the tribal women who used the fake milk for their babies came into menses again very soon.

    Which meant that they could get pregnant sooner.

    Which meant they had more babies that contributed to the carrying rate of the land being depleted which meant more starvation of those children.

    It also meant more mouths for each woman to feed with no extra food which meant she was forced to water down that powered milk which meant more children became undernourished and died.

    Make sense?

  5. mt thyme-wow, that is horrible. I was just surprised when I was researching and found out that, though good intentions on the part of Nestle at first to make a product that could help and make them profit turned into their actually making a market by giving them the milk, they dry up, then charging them to buy the milk. It made me sad, because some people think that a 'free market' should have no 'cap' but I now believe there should be and that cap could easily be determined: when we cross the line into not treating our fellow man fairly or justly. Endless money to be made is not really the American way, and if it is so now, we need to re-think our priorities. People should be considered as well as profit. It made me feel bad.
    TWUS-Oh, so you had heard of it? everyone seems to know what the la leche league is and in my innocence I just discovered it while researching and had no idea it still existed. I was just happy to see hard working class and middle class homemakers come together in a no nonsense way to follow their hearts and not the trend.What is the group like now?

  6. How weird is it that doctors recommended mothers not to breast feed, and that cow milk should be better for the babies?!? Come on, use a little logic (like the brave milk league did), cow milk are intended for calves, not human babies!

    I don’t know how many weeks maternity leave you have in the US. In Denmark we have about 6 months (and salary is about half for those six month), thereafter you can choose to take another 6 month (and part it with the father if you like). So if you can live on almost no money or you have put aside for long, you can stay at home with the baby for about a year. Most women do so. When I gave birth to son I could only stay home for 5 month, oh, he was so small when I had to go to work. But if mothers in the US only have a few weeks at home (and it sounds horrible to me), they simply have to give up breast feeding – what a pity.

    Great post (and great research too), as always! :)

  7. LLL has been a huge influence for me. They've done a tremendous amount of good.

    Mt Th you're FOS.

    It's corporatizaion, not Christianity that changed the quality of life overseas. And don't forget, governement leaders the world over have been greedy and souless.
    Blaming America and Americans is a copout.

  8. This post is interesting, in fact I have found that it has gone a complete 180 degrees.

    I can only tell you about my experience so here goes, I have never felt the inclination to breast feed.

    So after the birth of each of my boys back in 2001 and 2005, I choose to formula feed, well if those nurses did not make me feel like I was the worst mother on earth.

    My first boy was 9 pounds 5 ounces at birth, within a day of being born he was drinking an ounce of formula every hour, by two weeks he was drinking 6-8 ounces every two hours, he was a big boy.

    I couldn't keep up with his hunger, so upon my mother's suggestion I really milked down some rice pablum and fed him a little off a baby spoon, he took right to it.

    By six weeks at his check up he was 16 pounds, the doctor had a good laugh over that one. His suction on his bottle was so strong it took all my strength just to take it out of his mouth.

    My youngest was tiny at 7 pounds , but with my heart palpitations there was no way I could handle breast feeding him.......

    Both my boys were formula fed, it was my choice to do so, I never regretted it the pros for bottle feeding was having hubby connect with the babies at a young age, thus giving me a much needed break.

    It's all about choices, and the nurses and anyone else should support a mother's choice to breast feed or formula feed......I just wish I had more support at the hospital, instead I felt that I was treated like a leper, very sad indeed.

    Mom in Canada

  9. Mom in Canada-That is the point I am always trying to make. If we can be rational and reasonable people we will address each situation and moment in time on that merit. I don't think women should HAVE to breast feed nor NOT have to. But, I think a mother should do what is best for she and her child and other's around her, especially in the medical field, should only present hard evidence to support their 'professional' opinion. Their personal opinion should stay at home for friends and family.
    That was why I was proud of those ladies in the 50's for going against the grain because they were thinking for themselves and not letting ads or the government influence their choices.
    IT is SO EASY in the modern world to have opinions, because they are simply provided for us daily. We have to belong to a group and then it is simple to just blindly agree with whatever that group tells us to believe. That is what is so bad about politics. We are told, 'you are right wing you love family' so you must then think and act this way. You are left wing and care about others so you must think and act this way. You want to have savings and better food for your family you must shop here. You want to look cool and pay less, you have to shop here. It is SO EASY, yet it is not necessarily right.
    I wonder sometimes if people even know what freedom means anymore? I think now that it is just another buzzword bandied back and forth in the political forum if we honestly do. It means to make choices based on our own set of criteria and also to look inwards and ask ourselves is it right or wrong? But, this is harder to do and there are so many distractions in the modern world. I hope all who have read this realize it is about being educated and thinking each moment through not a pro or con of breastfeeding.

  10. Mom in Canada....

    Oh man! I know where of you speak. My first son was 7 lbs 14 oz. I wasn't crazy about breastfeeding, but I got bullied into the idea by the nursing staff. Well, we now know he is autistic. That kid WAS NOT going to nurse. For two weeks I tried EVERYTHING they suggested. Consultation visits from LLL people, hot showers prior to feeding, pumping, you name it. My milk did not come in enough to satisfy him and he wouldn't eat.

    Finally, I call his pediatricians office in despair. I was a WRECK. A nurse (Angel) said tp ut him on formula. I had tried, he wouldn't cooperate so do what would work. The LLL people made me feel like I was the worst parent in the world and should give him up for adoption and be sterilzed for my shameful behavior. This nusre reminded me that a true mother does what is best for her child.

    He went on the bottle, and everything was fine afterwards. That did sour me on breastfeding, however. So all of my other 3 kids have been bottle fed. They are healthy as horses and wonderful kids.

  11. Again, as I said before, shame on anyone, especially in a professional setting or part of an organization that was formed to help mothers, to keep their opinions pertinent to their facts and not personal.
    As I said, breast feeding and bottle feeding, both seem fine to me, the only bad part is the militant way (on both sides of the fence) people seem to be. But, I am always shocked and saddened when others feel their beliefs or views are the only way and that others had better agree or they are horrible people.
    The more understanding we can have with one another on any topic the better, I feel. And, OUR revolution, I hope, can be one of rationale and kindness. To consider and even when we have our minds made up, be open to others opinions and to weigh pros and cons. I am sorry you had such a bad run in with them.
    I was innocent in that I did not even know that the LLL even still existed!
    I know I was a large baby and my mother breast feed. But, I cried and cried my first weeks and the doctor told my mother "she is just hungry, so keep breast feeding and add baby cereal to a bottle with the nipple cut larger" She did and I gobbled it up. So, she both bottle and breast feed me. I recall her telling me that story often, as I was her 'hungriest' baby. My mother was very petite as well, only 5' 3". I am almost 6' so we can see what side of the family I take after!


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