publications

Which Baby is the Best?

Baby show at Broken Bow. NSHS RG2608-2943

 

The photograph above, from the Solomon D. Butcher Collection, depicts a group of babies and young children in Broken Bow in 1903. Although the event at which they appeared is not identified, it was probably the Custer County Fair, held in Broken Bow, September 1-4, 1903, which included a baby show among its advertised attractions. Butcher was at the fair, where he photographed the Hygeia Creamery Company display. The structure in the upper left of the photo appears to be a fair tent. Lawyer Alph Morgan, at left, was posing one of the children when Butcher caught him in the picture.  

 

Baby shows were once a staple of state and local fairs and church festivals in Nebraska. Even private businesses hosted them to draw paying customers into their stores. Reports of such events, which often included the awarding of cash or other prizes to competing youngsters and their mothers, can be found in newspapers from both large and small towns.



The Columbus Journal on September 23, 1891, reported that a baby carriage was awarded to the winner of a baby show at the recent Platte County Fair. The McCookTribune reported on October 28, 1892, that a contest held at a St. Patrick’s Church fair awarded a silver goblet to McCook’s most beautiful baby. The Omaha Daily Bee reported other such events from around the state. An 1889 contest sponsored by Omaha’s Temple Israel used spectator voting to determine “which of two baby candidates is the most popular among the people of Temple Israel.” A baby show was planned for the 1889 Adams County Fair, and Nebraska Governor John Thayer was invited to judge. The 1893 Douglas County Fair included a baby show with forty entrants. Names of the judges were kept “a deep secret until the time of the contest, in order to keep them free from the preliminary lobbying of the ambitious mothers.” A baby show planned for the 1895 Nebraska State Fair promised prizes for the “prettiest, ugliest and brightest baby.”



A baby show on an ambitious scale, the “Grand Omaha Baby Show and Musical Festival,” sponsored by the New York Exhibition Company, was scheduled for the week of October 16, 1893, with an invitation to the ticket-buying public to attend. Admission fees were twenty-five cents for adults and fifteen cents for children under ten. Babies (under three years of age) registered for the show and their parents were admitted free. Prizes were to be awarded according to the number of coupons or votes that members of the paying public awarded the different infant contestants. The “Handsomest Mother” at the show was also to receive a prize.



The Bee said on October 17, 1893: “There’s a baby show on the boards down in the Omaha Guards’ armory on Capitol avenue. Everything points to the fact that it is bound to be a ‘howling success.’. . . The young hopefuls commenced to gather with the going down of the sun and kept up the procession for fully an hour. They arrived singly, in pairs and by threes, with a promise that quadruplets would be on hand in a day or two. There were fat babies, lean babies and medium babies; there were blonde babies, brunette babies; babies with dark hair and babies with light hair; there were babies at the breast, babies in dresses and babies in pants, . . .



“[T]hey are there from 2 until 5 o’clock in the afternoon and from 7:30 to 9:30 o’clock in the evening, and during all these hours sweet music is discoursed by either a brass band or a pianist, which music effectually drowns the infantile cries and soothes the nerves. Manager Fulton of the baby show received a telegram last evening from Postmaster Lucas of Paxton, Neb., stating that two sets of triplets and their proud mothers were enroute to Omaha to compete for prizes at the infantile exhibit.”



After the turn of the century the popular baby shows were affected by growing interest in child development and concern over high infant mortality in the United States. Contests to select “Better Babies,” such as the one held at the Nebraska State Fair in 1914, reflected these new trends in which young children were examined and scored for points according to standards of weights and measurements.

 

This baby show was held at the Custer County Fair in 1909. NSHS RG3335.PH16-45

(Published August 2012)

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society RG2955.ph).   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.