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Q&A: “Citizen Science and Public Health: The Development of the Infant Incubator”

Extended answers from Susan Kattwinkel (SK), panelist from “The Promise and Pitfalls of Citizen Science,” Panel 1: The Promise of Citizen Science

Question: Your paper is situated within the Progressive Era. But of course not all citizens were equal. We know a lot about skepticism of immigrants’ abilities, for example. Could you talk a little about elitism within the communities and scholars you are studying?

SK: Incubator baby shows participated in elitist practices of the period in some ways and were
pretty egalitarian in other ways. The spectators for the shows were anyone who went to
amusement parks, world’s fair, and local carnivals, and reports indicate that people of all
classes found them interesting. The managers were almost exclusively white men, although
some were immigrants. They came from the show business world, which was largely white at
the management level. The central element of the shows – the babies themselves – was very
egalitarian, and that’s one of the things that gives them lasting significance. Unlike most
hospitals at the time, the shows accepted any infant brought in, regardless of race or the
parents’ ability to pay for care. That wasn’t a purely altruistic gesture, of course. The shows
needed infants, and non-white infants could be exploited in advertising as an extra spectacle
for a mostly-white audience. But many infants were saved in the shows who would have
otherwise died, either from the lack of a nearby incubator and specialized care, or because they
would have been turned away from hospitals.