Baby Week


In the early 20th century, New York, like many other cities, sought to combat infant mortality with city-wide cultural events like Baby Week.  The Lower East Side was a focus for this mix of education, celebration, and cash prizes for healthy babies.


With original songs, parades, outdoor events, prizes, stickers, boat rides — collaborating with youth, schools,  health and faith-based organizations — New York launched massive health education efforts.


Note:  In 2014, Mike Hickey and I created ‘The News’, songs based on 100-year old articles covering events in the Lower East Side.  We couldn’t resist making a song about Baby Week.  Music and lyrics below. — Ryan Gilliam


Babies, Get Ready; This is Your Week
New York Times, June 21, 1914


I pledge to be a baby’s friend

And everybody tell

Clean air, clean clothing, and clean food

He needs to keep him well”


This will be the refrain sung this week in every public and private school in the city as part of the exercises of baby week, a seven-day educational and uplift campaign, which opened yesterday.  By this verse alone it is expected that children and parents will be impressed with the necessity of at least keeping baby clean.


Yesterday was baby Sabbath, and in every synagogue in the city a letter from Mayor Mitchelll was read.  Today the letter will be read in all the city’s churches.  These two days are really preparation days, for in the five days that follow the activities of those who are in charge of the work will be many and varied.  Besides lessons in the proper care of babies and exhibitions of what is being done to guard their health, there will be free boat rides for all who care to go, automobile rides for tired mothers and their little ones, and baby contests with prizes to go to the most perfect babies in the five boroughs.


In his letter the Mayor says: “Much as been accomplished within the next few years in the saving and protecting of child life in New York.  In order that we may progress still further in reducing infant mortality and promoting the welfare of the children of the city, we must have the active co-operation of all citizens, and especially of the religious and civic organizations which have so much concern for the city’s welfare.”


Hundreds of Boy Scouts have been through the city distributing posters and placards which are to call to the attention of everyone the need for “better babies, better mothers, and so a better city.”  The Campfire Girls are delivering to milk dealers tags, which are fastened to milk bottles, and which carry this message to parents: “Keep baby well by keeping the milk clean, covered, and cold.”


Many druggists have agreed to put a Baby Week paster on every package sold and in the department stores there are to be special sales of infants’ supplies.  (City leaders)… believe that through their combined efforts every mother in the city will be reached with the message of good health and good cheer for the children.


Dr. Goldwater, Health Commissioner:  “… In 1904 of every 1000 infants born in New York City 162 died in the first year of life.  Last year the rate was only 102.”  (Leaders) predict that if Baby Week is successful… it may bring the death rate down below 100 to the 1000.  There are on an average 134,000 babies a year born within the city limits.


Tomorrow will be Little Mothers’ Day ….  1,000,000 pieces of literature will be distributed to scholars and their parents.  Greater in importance so some, however, will be the examination of the babies who have won prizes in the last two years.  The best of these will be declared winner of the “Grand Prize of Greater New York.”  This prize will be awarded on Thursday, and will be a feature of the automobile parade of babies on Nursery and Demonstration Day. ….  Wednesday will be Hospital and Clinic Day, and those interested will be enabled to see just what is being done to care for babies and cure their ailments.


Somebody has figured out that at least 1,000,000 children will get a free outing on Friday.  On this day there will be free ferry rides and several lines have placed boats at the disposal of the committee having Outing Day in charge.  There will be special music in the parks and on the recreation piers and every playground in the city will be open from early morning until nightfall.”

LINK to pdf of NYTimes article


And… here’s the New York Times covering events in the Lower East Side…


“Olga Cohen took the first prize .. at the second annual “Better Baby Contest” at University Settlement on Eldridge Street…. The prize is $25, in a bank which she cannot touch until she is of age…. She won the prize despite many disadvantages.  She was in the throes of vaccination ills, the four teeth made her uncomfortable, and she missed her morning nap. …. It was no wonder that she wept bitterly, and Jeannette Shapiro, another of the model babies, kept her company, while the two little boys smiled amiably until their actual examination began, when four model babies wailed in chorus and tears ran down their faces.” 


BABY WEEK — Music by Michael Hickey; Lyrics by Ryan Gilliam
from ‘The News’, Downtown Art, 2014  (MP3 Recording)


WOMAN Is it Olga? Is it Olga?

WOMAN I can’t see her.

WOMAN Where is Reuben?

WOMAN Who you bet is going to…?

WOMAN Harry.  He’s so little..

WOMAN Look at Olga. Olga.

WOMAN Anna Tocci.

WOMAN What about her?

WOMAN She’s a cutie.

WOMAN Look at Olga. 



WOMAN It’s the numbers.  All statistics.

Looks don’t matter.

WOMen Look at Olga.

WOMAN Look at Reuben.

WOMAN I like Harry.

WOMAN Hush.  Hush.

They’re deciding.


WOMAN Those the judges?

WOMAN In the white coats.

WOMAN They got numbers.

WOMAN All statistics.

WOMAN She’ll be famous.

WOMAN You don’t know that.


ALL Hush.  Hush.


JUDGES Olga Cohen!

WOMEN Told you it was Olga Cohen!

JUDGES Olga Cohen 

is the winner

with a 99 point 8 (Olga Cohen)

JUDGES 9 months

20 pounds

9 ounces

and 4 white teeth

ALL 4 white teeth


Olga Cohen


WOMAN Where’s her mother?

WOMAN There’s her sister.

Little sister.

WOMAN Little mother.

Who you think takes care of baby

when the mama’s out to work?


WOMEN They’re so happy.

WOMAN I know why they’re

WOMAN Twenty five their

WOMAN prize is 

ALL WOM twenty five dollars

WOMAN Such a fortune

WOMAN Not a fortune

WOMAN well but something

for the baby

WOMAN They can’t touch it

Only Olga

WOMEN when she’s older

WOMAN it’s going in the bank for 


ALL Olga

A 99 point 8.


Baby Week (Baby Week)

This is Baby Week (Baby Week)

East side West Side

Upside down

This is Baby Week (Baby Week)

This is Baby Week


JUDGES Mothers, babies

We want you well

And some good news

Oh, we can tell you, 

infant mortality rates they fell

Oh, the milk is good now

We made sure

So keep it cold and keep it pure

We want you well

Better milk, better city, better babies


ALL Baby Week (Baby Week)

This is Baby Week (This is Baby Week)

East side West Side

Upside down

This is Baby Week (Baby Week)

This is Baby Week


WOMEN Little Olga

Olga Cohen

A 99 point eight

Close to perfect

WOMAN Wasn’t easy

there were fifty babies of the best

WOMEN better babies passed the test

WOMAN yes, but Olga was the best

WOMAN An example to us all

An example to us all

WOMAN How’s that? 

WOMAN I’ll tell you

She had a vaccination 

just the other day

she’s been fighting off infection

enough to make you weak

and her teeth – four white teeth

were causing real discomfort

WOMAN more than that

more than that

she missed her morning nap

WOMEN Olga Olga


WOMAN no wonder that she wept

WOMEN wept bitterly our Olga

WOMAN Anna Tocci did the same

Reuben, Harry, they were smiling

WOMAN til examination came

ALL doctors poking, nurses prodding

charts and weights and measures

til together

all four babies wailed and shrieked

wailed and shrieked


a chorus of resistance – tears rolled down their chubby cheeks

a chorus of resistance – tears rolled down their chubby cheeks

It’s Baby Week