A wire baby cage in use in London in 1934. Picture: Fox Photos/Getty Images
A wire baby cage in use in London in 1934. Picture: Fox Photos/Getty Images

The mind-boggling baby cage from yesteryear

Free-range parenting may be a popular antidote these days to helicopter parenting, but today's laissez-faire attitudes are tame next to the perilous practices of yesteryear.

A scan through newspaper articles and advertisements from a century ago reveal the bizarre and often dangerous child-rearing practices once regarded as normal.

In the 1920s, fathers were urged to build a "baby cage" on wheels - with wire sides and a ceiling and floor made from wooden boards - so mothers could get back to the all-important housework, free from distraction.

Baby cage on wheels promoted in The Age in April 1923.
Baby cage on wheels promoted in The Age in April 1923.

"A thick mattress on the floor of the cage means that the child can play with its toys and move about with impunity," an article in The Age's women's pages advised in April 1923.

And in the 1930s, Australian papers were full of news from England of a windowsill baby cage suspended high above the street below.

While it's unclear if the wacky idea took hold here, the contraption was proving a hit among families living in small stuffy flats in smoggy London to ensure babies got enough sunshine and "fresh" air.

The Royal Institute of British Architects even proposed a scheme for equipping English working class flats with small balconies capable of holding a "baby cage", after approval from the Home Office.

A wire baby cage in use in London in 1934. Picture: FOX PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
A wire baby cage in use in London in 1934. Picture: FOX PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

By 1940, women's right campaigner Marie Stopes was telling Australian newspaper readers babies should be outside "every day and all day".

"A revolving shelter can be placed so as to secure the sun and also shut off the wind, and in that baby can have all his 'changing' as well as his meals, so that after his morning bath and dressing, there is no need for him to be in the house again till bedtime," Dr Stopes wrote.

As for car safety, devices promoted to parents early last century included a "baby car hammock" in 1901, and a "motor bed" across the back seat in 1931.

Did you experience any of these parenting practices? Let us know here. And c heck out In Black & White in the Herald Sun newspaper Monday to Friday to see our favourite stories from readers.



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