Monday, December 3, 2012
Baby Incubator Exhibit (With Living Infants!) at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition
P.T. Barnum did at least inspire the exhibit. Mary Daney Smith, R.N., a senior nurse for the Society for the Lying-In Hospital in New York, stated that Barnum and his new partner James Bailey produced an incubator display during for their 1898 show in London. The two showmen even charged people to see it and made a handsome profit.
Horrified at the fact that these most vulnerable members of society were being exploited for profit, Smith and her fellow maternity nurses organized the exhibit as a way of securing long-term public funding for premature babies. Incubators designed for human use were new technology, making them very expensive. Smith (who did charge Exposition patrons to see the exhibit) estimated that it cost $15 a day to take care of one baby. She also used the exhibit to demonstrate proper care of premature babies of which mothers everywhere should be aware. The official history of the Exposition recorded that Exposition patrons frequently made multiple visits to this exhibit to check on the progress of the babies.
Nurse Smith was particularly proud of her staff's care of a child simply known as Baby Margaret. She "was born in Norfolk, Va., at the end of 24 weeks of gestation. She weighed at birth 1 lb. 1 oz., she was taken to the Baby Incubator Institution, where she was kept in the incubator at a temperature beginning at 90° Fahr., and gradually coming down to 78° Fahr. for a period of five months, after which time she stayed in the nursery for six weeks and was sent home when she was 7 months old, weighing 2 pounds and as normal as any baby could be. For the first three months in her life she was fed with a medicine dropper, after that a tiny nipple was made for her by puncturing the rubber bulb of a medicine dropper. She is now over three years old, can walk and talk as any baby her age, and is in every way a prize incubator baby."