As you're sitting around the campfire during this holiday week, observe how the phrase “back in my day” has the effect of scattering the crowd. Whippersnappers will groan and think “here it comes.” I walked to school in snow over my head uphill both ways, our family of eight had to share one boot, a lump of coal for Christmas was considered a great present...on and on. 


Well, groaning aside, the fact of the matter is that the kids of yesteryear were tougher because they had to be. You had to be tough just to survive the advice given to your parents by the “experts” back then. 


I realized this when I came upon some articles about parenting advice from the past. For example, kids in the past could walk through the snow because their parents  were advised to “air” them out. An 1894 book postulated: “Fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood, and this is just as necessary for health and growth as proper food...this is part of a process to toughen up the babies...exposing infants to cold temperatures—both outside and through cold-water bathing.”


To accomplish this, just hang your baby out the window. A way to do this was proposed in 1922. “It is the purpose of the present invention to provide an article of manufacture for babies and young children, to be suspended upon the exterior of a building adjacent an open window, wherein the baby or young child may be placed. This article of manufacture comprises a housing or cage, wherein the baby or young child may be placed.” 


I know you may be thinking that this could give the baby frostbite, but no worries here if parents just followed the ancient practice of salting an infant's skin to harden it. You know, sort of like a cured ham. 


Over the years there have been many other expert pearls of wisdom that would tend to toughen up a kid. During the 1920s, “a psychologist recommended shaking hands with your baby as a morning greeting instead of a hug or a kiss.” Then, in the 1930s, “mothers were told to start potty training almost immediately after birth and to keep at it until the child was trained at the ripe old age of six to eight months.” This training was needed because in the 1960s “ a pediatrician endorsed feeding your baby cereal at 2-3 days old and bacon and eggs at nine weeks.” 


If this all seems a bit harsh, don't despair. There was a lot of advice in the past that was meant to make the baby's future more successful.  Every parent wants a good looking kid, right? So, “In order to have beautiful children, pregnant women in the 1920s were told to avoid thinking about ugly people.” Also, to help kids fit into society, “parents in the first half of the 20th century were told that they should retrain their left-handed kids to be right-handed.” And to ensure the health of the child, in the 1960s “leading medical textbooks decided pregnant women could safely smoke half a pack of cigarettes per day.”


These pieces of expert advice are among the thirty items at: and The whippersnappers in the campfire circle can Google it on their $1000 smartphones as they order a pizza delivery and then watch a movie on the satellite TV hookup in the air conditioned camper. 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and