Lisa Grunwald is the author of the novels Whatever Makes You Happy, New Year's Eve, The Theory of Everything, and Summer. Along with her husband, Stephen J. Adler, she edited the bestselling anthologies Women's Letters and Letters of the Century. Grunwald is a former contributing editor to Life and a former features editor of Esquire. She and her husband live in New York City.
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Lisa Grunwald discusses the shocking practice that inspired her novel, The Irresistible Henry House - using real, orphaned babies to teach college classes on mothering.
When you talk to people who've read The Irresistible Henry House, what's the first question they usually ask?
It's almost always whether the story was actually based on a real practice, whether people actually used real babies to teach college classes on mothering. The answer is yes, but I've sent a lot of incredulous people to the Cornell University website where I first found the photograph that helped inspire the novel.
How did that discovery come about?
In 2005, I was doing research for an anthology of American women's letters. Specifically I was hoping to find a letter from a home economics student. There was an online exhibit at the Cornell website called "What Was Home Economics?" Among other photographs was this captivating image of a baby called "Bobby Domecon" - the last name a combination of "Domestic" and "Economics." (Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg at Cornell told me that it's pronounced "Dough-me-con.") I quickly learned that at Cornell, from the 1920s through the 1960s, babies supplied by local orphanages were used to teach mothering ...
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