Couney’s Baby Incubators vs. the Progressive Era


(Babies under glass at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific-Exposition, Seattle, Washington. (1909))

Martin A. Couney was not your typical Progressive Era American doctor.

For one thing, Couney may not have been an officially-approved doctor.

He said that he’d studied under Dr Pierre-Constant Budin. Maybe he had. But if so, he’d have been very young when he did.

Couney revised his origin story rather often. That, changing his name at least once, and at-best-sparse documentation makes sorting out his history challenging.

Here’s what we know and can reasonably guess about his story.

Martin A. Couney was born in Poland, and named Michael Cohen.

Ideally, his name wouldn’t have been a problem.

But — I keep saying this — we don’t live in an ideal world.

A Jew with an obviously-Jewish name might know enough of European and Euro-American culture and history to desire a more conventionally gentile moniker.

Another point against Couney — by his era’s standards — was his attitude toward premature infants.

He thought keeping them alive made sense. This was in direct conflict with late Progressive Era eugenic ideals.

I think American Better Baby Contests and other efforts to standardize Americans and American life were well-intentioned. I also think that there’s more to life than efficiency.

'Lebensunwertes Leben,' Eugenics poster.And, being Lebensunwertes Leben, I’m none too keen on efforts to prevent people like me.

Which doesn’t mean that efficiency is a basically bad idea, or that curing disease and dealing with disabilities is wrong.

Then there was Christine Frederick’s quest to promote American prosperity by encouraging standardized kitchens and shoddy consumer goods.1 “Planned obsolescence” sounds so much nicer.

Designing kitchens that work makes sense to me.

So does standardization: as a general principle. In practice — I married a woman who is five-foot-nothing. I don’t think she married me because I can (usually) reach standardized kitchen cabinets, and that’s another topic.

Not Doing Today What Can be Done Tomorrow

Eugenics law historical marker, Indiana.All that, or most of it, is worth more research and writing than I’m giving myself time for.

Maybe I’ll get back to Couney’s groundbreaking notion of using egg incubator tech to keep babies from dying.

And why I don’t entirely agree with Frederick’s idea that the good old-fashioned ‘buy, break, buy and break again’ philosophy.

But if I do, I’ll be doing it during another day.

A tip of the hat, by the way, to number-one daughter — Brigid, online, mostly — for showing me this ‘sideshow baby incubator’ video:

And, finally, the usual list of related(?) stuff:


1 A little history:

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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