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Dr. Spock's Last Babies

The Rosenberg Twins grew up in Shaker's Moreland Neighborhood

The Moreland neighborhood of Shaker Heights, like many neighborhoods, is rich in history, tradition, and legend. One of its most persistent legends involves the late Dr. Benjamin Spock, the world-famous twentieth century pediatrician, author and social activist, and a twins study he is said to have conducted decades ago in the neighborhood. There is historical basis for the legend but, as is often the case with legends, some of the details have been distorted by the passage of time.

Benjamin McClane Spock (1903-1998) was born to an upper-class Connecticut family. He attended private schools and Ivy League colleges, along the way capturing a gold medal in rowing for his Yale team in the 1924 Olympics. He graduated first in his class at medical school, and after a series of internships and residencies in both pediatrics and psychiatry, he settled into a pediatrics practice in New York City. In his practice, he discarded the lecturing style that traditional pediatricians at the time used with new mothers, instead listening to what mothers had to say and then applying Freudian psychoanalytic concepts to help them to raise their babies and children in what he believed would be a healthier way. At the urging of a publishing company, he organized his progressive child rearing advice into a book entitled "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care," which was published in 1946. Consistent with his desire to empower new mothers, he began the book with the now famous words: "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do." Almost overnight the book became a huge success, selling millions of copies. Soon it was known as the "bible" for raising children in post-World War II America.

In 1955, after teaching stints at the Mayo Clinic and University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Spock moved to Cleveland, where he became an assistant professor at the Western Reserve University medical school, heading a newly established child development program there. In addition to teaching medical students and being a popular figure on the lecture circuit, he sought funding to conduct a study on some of the era's more controversial questions regarding child-rearing. In 1958, he received a grant to do so from the W. T. Grant Foundation. The study was conducted by a group of twelve pediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists at the medical school who followed and counselled twenty-four young families in the Cleveland area. The families were selected by obstetricians on the staff of the MacDonald House (now known as University Hospitals MacDonald Women's Hospital). For his part in the study, Dr. Spock became pediatrician to two families with ties to Shaker Heights. The first was the Diener family--James and Nathalie and their children Kenneth (b. 1959) and Linda (b. 1960). The Dieners lived in South Euclid at the time the study began, but in 1963 they moved into the Boulevard neighborhood of Shaker Heights, purchasing a house on Weymouth Avenue that had been previously owned by Mrs. Diener's parents. Later, the family moved to Larchmere Boulevard buying the house of legendary Cleveland Orchestra conductor George Szell.

The other family that Dr. Spock studied was the Rosenberg family--Marvin and Janet, and their twin girls, Miriam and Ruth (b. 1960). Janet was at the time a social worker at the Jewish Family Services Association. When she and her husband became participants in the study in 1959, she was pregnant and they were living on South Woodland Road in Shaker's Onaway neighborhood. After their daughters were born the following year, they moved into the Moreland neighborhood, a largely Jewish area that was then beginning to undergo racial transition. The Rosenbergs first rented at 3286 Milverton Road, but several years later purchased a house up the street at 3452 Milverton where they lived for nearly the next three decades. And thus the legend of a twins study by Dr. Spock in the Moreland neighborhood was born.

Growing up in Moreland, the Rosenberg twins attended Moreland Elementary School, then Woodbury Junior High, and finally Shaker Heights High School from which they graduated in 1978. Their first friends in the neighborhood were African Americans, a fact likely not lost on Dr. Benjamin Spock, who was a staunch advocate for integrated neighborhoods and schools. On May 14, 1964, a year before Miriam and Ruth Rosenberg were scheduled to begin kindergarten at Moreland Elementary School, Dr. Spock, at the invitation of the Moreland Community Association, an association formed to stabilize the neighborhood during racial transition, came to the school and gave a talk, urging parents to teach their young children not to grow up to be bigots.

When Miriam and Ruth Rosenberg were very little, they had weekly visits with Dr. Spock, with the visits becoming less frequent as they grew older. Dr. Spock typically saw the twins at his office on the campus of Western Reserve University, but he also interacted with them over the years at their home and at their schools. When the Rosenberg twins were seven years old, Dr. Spock retired from Western Reserve University, moving back to the east coast and becoming more active in the peace movement and in other social justice causes. According to his biographer Thomas Maier, the child rearing study begun in 1959 floundered after Spock left Cleveland, and no comprehensive study results were ever published.

Though he departed the area and his child rearing study suffered as a result, Dr. Spock continued to keep in touch with the Rosenberg family, making annual visits, when possible, to Cleveland to check up on them. During these years, according to one of the twins, Dr. Spock became like a grandfather to them, a sentiment that was echoed by Ken Diener, a child from the other Shaker Heights family that Spock studied. Spock's last visit with the Rosenberg twins, whom he referred to as "his last babies," was in 1996 when they were 36 years old. He told them that it would be his last visit, as he was becoming too frail for travel. Dr. Benjamin Spock died two years later in 1998, less than two months before his 95th birthday. For the Moreland neighborhood of Shaker Heights, Dr. Spock will always be remembered as more than just a famous pediatrician, author and social activist. He was the personal pediatrician to one of their families and a guiding light in the neighborhood's struggle in the 1960s to maintain stability while undergoing racial transition.

Images

Dr. Spock at nursery school In this circa 1964 photograph, Dr. Benjamin Spock interacts with one of the children in the Child Rearing Study while Miriam Rosenberg to his right watches. To Miriam's right is her twin sister Ruth. The photograph was taken at the Hannah-Perkins School, a preschool/kindergarten on the campus of Western Reserve University. Source: Miriam Rosenberg
Child Rearing Study Begins This article from the October 4, 1958 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer announces that Dr. Benjamin Spock will head a team of doctors studying the rearing of children in the Greater Cleveland Area. While the study began with much fanfare, no comprehensive results of the study, which faltered when Dr. Spock retired from Western Reserve University in 1967, were ever published. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Posing for Life Magazine In December 1962, Life Magzine ran an article about famous baby doctor and author, Dr. Benjamin Spock. The photos accompanying the article included this one of him with the Rosenberg twins, who were participants in his Child Rearing Study at Western Reserve University. That's Miriam on the desk and Ruth standing nearby. Source: Miriam Rosenberg
International Fame Dr. Benjamin Spock wasn't just popular in America in the post-World War II era. He also achieved international fame as a pediatrician and author in that era. This photo, featuring Miriam Rosenberg examining Dr. Spock's ear canal, is from a 1960s article written in Arabic for a Middle East publication. According to Miriam and her father, the article did not mention the twins' last name because it was Jewish. Source: Miriam Rosenberg
Visiting Moreland Elementary School Perhaps as a result of his relationship with the Rosenberg family, Dr. Benjamin Spock made a number of visits to Moreland Elementary School in the 1960s. This photo was taken at the school in February 1965. That same month, Dr. Spock was given an award at the Cleveland Health Museum for his contributions to promoting children's health. Source: Shaker Heights Library, Local History Collection
Marching for Social Justice It was while he was living in the Cleveland area that Dr. Benjamin Spock became an activist for social justice causes, sometimes to the dismay of his medical colleagues at Western Reserve University. Here, on September 27, 1963, he marches down East Sixth Street in front of the Cleveland Board of Education Building, protesting segregation in the Cleveland Schools. According to Marvin Rosenberg, the twins' father who was active in the anti-nuclear arms movement of the early 1960s, he believes that he significantly contributed to Spock's decision to become an activist for such causes in this period. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Photograph Collection
Calling out Racial Prejudices On May 13, 1964, Dr. Benjamin Spock was the guest of honor at a meeting of the Moreland Community Association held at Moreland Elementary School. At the meeting, he gave a fiery speech in which he condemned racial segregation in schools and neighborhoods, and the harmful effect it has upon children of all races. Source: Case Western Reserve Archives
The Twins at Moreland Elementary School On January 20, 1967, this photograph was taken of Ruth Rosenberg's first grade class at Moreland Elementary School. The population of the Moreland neighborhood by this time had become largely African-American, which is reflected in the class photo. Ruth is the fifth child from the left in the first row. Source: Ruth Rosenberg
Trips back to the Moreland Neighborhood Although Dr. Benjamin Spock retired from Western Reserve University in 1967, and moved to New York City, he returned annually to Shaker Heights, and to the Moreland neighborhood, to meet with the Rosenberg family. In this 1974 circa photograph taken in the Rosenberg's home at 3452 Milverton Road, Spock shares a couch with (from left to right), Ruth, Miriam, and Marvin Rosenberg. Source: Ruth Rosenberg
Shaker Heights High School Class of 1978 The Rosenberg twins are products of Shaker Heights' historically excellent school system. After attending Moreland Elementary School and Woodbury Junior High, they were students at Shaker Heights High School from 1974 to 1978, graduating in the latter year. These senior photos show Miriam on the left and Ruth on the right. Source: Shaker Heights Library, Local History Collection
3452 Milverton Road The Rosenberg family lived in this Tudor-style Colonial on Milverton Road in the Moreland Neighborhood from 1965 until 1992, when they downsized, selling the house and moving into a condominium on Shaker Boulevard. Regrettably, the house is no longer standing. This photo was taken in 2007. Source: Google Maps.

Location

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Dr. Spock's Last Babies,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 26, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/830.