What Happened to the Home Ec Practice Babies?

Cristen Conger

This week on Stuff Mom Never Told You, Molly and I discussed the history of home economics, known today as Family and Consumer Sciences. We relied heavily on sources from Cornell University, which housed one of the nation's best home ec departments, complete with practice apartments and real, live practice babies for students' field research. Cornell began its practice baby program in 1919 with an infant named Dicky Domecon.

Get it? Domecon? As in domestic economics? Very clever, Cornell.

Cornell essentially leased babies through local child welfare associations and orphanages, and the "Domecon babies" lived in the practice apartments for a year. Multiple students cared for the children, rotating strict feeding and sleeping schedules. Down to diaper pinning, the home ec students raised the Domecon babies according to the leading childcare principles at the time.

After babies' year-long stint was up in the practice apartment, they were put up for adoption. And since the babies spent their first year under close scientific observation, Domecon babies were hot commodities. To adoptive parents, the practice babies were raised in ideal conditions, which would certainly guarantee a blissful transition into childhood. Until Cornell shut down the program in 1969, 119 Domecon babies lived in the practice apartment. Along with Cornell, at least 40 other college and universities around the country designed similar practice baby programs that were linked up with local orphanage. Then, in the 60s, child development research began to emphasize bonding with a single caregiver, and the notion of multiple students nurturing the practice babies fell out of favor.

I wanted to find out how Dicky Domecon fared out of Cornell, but my search was fairly fruitless. Author Lisa Grunwald tried to track down the practice babies as research for her novel about a fictitious Domecon child and said (via HuffPo) that any adoption records were hard to come by. Although we can't be sure what happened to little Dicky Domecon and the rest of the home ec practice babies, you can read about what might have been in Grunwald's The Irresistible Henry House.

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