Babys Art Thou

When my kids were toddlers, they found ways to get into things they weren’t supposed to, even with door knob guards and cabinet locks and every baby contraption known to Babies ‘R Us. So what did busy parents do before Exersaucer and Safety 1st? How did they manage a brood of kids and the constant threat of open fire and bodies of water? Sure, you can wear an infant in a carrier or sling, but everyone knows that when a toddler wants to walk, they’re gonna walk.

The sad truth is that childhood was fraught with danger, and many children did fall prey to the hazards we so vigilantly guard against. (BBC History Magazine had an article about this called “Dangerous Tudor Toys” in their December 2012 issue) But parents didn’t just rely on a watchful eye and chance. They used the same kind of equipment we do.


baby learning to walk (1905)

baby learning to walk (1905)

Baby Jesus in his walker (from The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca.1440)

Baby Jesus in his walker (from The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca.1440)

Nearly 600 year old image of an inquisitive Toddler Jesus being occupied in his walker while his mother works.


Infants Don Alfonso Caro and Doaa Ana Margarita (1613)

The Infantes Don Alfonso el Caro and Ana Margarita (1613)

Little Don Alfonso appears to be confined to a throne-like high chair. It’s hard enough to get little ones to sit still long enough to snap a decent picture; can’t imagine the process of getting a baby to sit for a portrait. Which is probably why there are so few of them.


Eventually the day comes when your shaky-legged toddler becomes a master escape artist with a habit of fleeing the moment mom or dad looks the other direction. Some parents resort to those controversial teddy bear backpack harnesses to keep tabs on their little runner. Is it because they’re too distracted with their smartphones? I don’t think so. “Leading strings” have been around for a lot longer than iPhones.


Cruz: A Child in Leading Strings (ca.16th century)

Cruz: A Child in Leading Strings (ca.16th century)

Rembrandt: An Old Woman Holding a Child in Leading Strings (1645)

Rembrandt: An Old Woman Holding a Child in Leading Strings (1645)


A close-up of leading strings attached to a young girl’s dress:

Pieter de Hooch (1658)

Pieter de Hooch (1658)


Leading strings remained popular for quite some time:

leading strings Tolstoy 1790

Tolstoy Family (1790)


Meanwhile, baby walkers and their counterpart– standing stools– continued to evolve. These paintings from around 1800 (give or take) show babies learning to walk in wicker cages without wheels:

leading strings and walker The Treat by Giovanni Sandrucci 19TH C


The trendy baby of the Industrial Revolution would have to have this:

Irvine's Baby Walker (1890)

Irvine’s Baby Walker and Protector (1890)

(All that and no helmet, though?)


After the turn of the century, walkers looked more and more like the ones many of us (or our parents) grew up with.

baby walker



Today walkers are considered unsafe and have been banned in some places and replaced with stationary exercisers, but some parents still prefer the kind with wheels. This futuristic walker is a must-have for the 21st century baby:

Yanko Design

Yanko Design


This will be on my mind the next time someone looks at a baby registry and says, “people got along fine for hundreds of year before baby walkers!”


For more on baby walkers and standing stools:


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Lit lover, history aficionado, baked goods enthusiast, INTP, writer of many things, mom to three.

One Response to Babys Art Thou

  1. So, as a matter of curiosity, did your children have walkers? My children did and I, luckily, did not have any problems with them.

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