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As It Was: Baby Contests Seek to Improve Society in 1920s

Better Baby contests were popular at county and state fairs in early 20th century Oregon, reflecting an emerging interest in eugenics, the science of genetics and how it affects social problems.

In response to the idea that good citizenship came from good breeding, Better Baby competitions replaced baby beauty contests at the fairs. 

In 1913, infant Margaret Hooper won a medal and a ribbon with a score of 98.7 out of 100 at the Josephine County Fair.  Kenneth Campbell gained a score of 99.3.  The 2-year-old children qualified to participate in the Better Baby contest at the Oregon State Fair in Salem. 

These contests, billed as promoting healthy children, were based on how close a child came to a set of standards including height, weight, and attitude.  Judges considered family background in addition to physical measurements.

At the state fair, Margaret won first prize in the class of 2-year-old country girls.  Kenneth won “distinction,” but no prize in the state contest.  The grand champion was a 3-year-old from McMinnville, the son of a professor.  Margaret’s father was a bank clerk.  Kenneth’s father farmed south of Grants Pass.

Sources: "Josephine County Boy and Girl Score High." Rogue River Courier, 10 Oct. 1913 [Grants Pass OR],
p. 1. Historical Oregon Newspapers, oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn96088281/1913-10-10/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=1846&index=8&date2=2017&words=eugenics&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&lccn=sn96088281&proxdistance=5&rows=20&ortext=eugenics&. Accessed 22 June 2017;
Lawrence, Cera R. "Oregon State Board of Eugenics." The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, National Science Foundation, Arizona State University, 22 Apr. 2013, https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/oregon-state-board-eugenics. Accessed 22 June 2017.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.