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Knee Baby: 1939

Knee Baby: 1939

July 1939, Person County, North Carolina. Wife and child of tobacco sharecropper. The littlest girl comes in from outside for something to eat while Mother is doing her housework. The child next to the baby is called in this country the "knee baby." View full size. Photograph by Dorothea Lange.


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Knee baby

"Knee Baby" comes from the common occurrence that when the (infant) baby was being fed the older toddler would hang onto Mother's knee. This was usually in a bid for the attention lost when the infant kicked the toddler out of the 'baby' position and, in poor families, often actually away from the breast.

FWIW, a "hip baby" was an older infant who firmly gripped with his legs while riding Mother's hip when being carried. This made it easier for the mother to do whatever as opposed to the baby who just hung there with legs dangling. A "good hip baby" was a compliment and carried a connotation of an alert, intelligent child. (Northern rural Florida & Southern Georgia)

Knee baby

Boy is that a confusing sentence if you're not already familiar with the term. I had to think about it for a while before it sank in.

Let's see if I can offer a clearer alternative: "In this area, the second youngest child in the family is called the 'knee baby.'"

A quick Google search brings up this page.

Okay, I'll admit to being

Okay, I'll admit to being thick here. Are we talking about a doll the child is holding as the knee baby?

I was looking in the pic for

I was looking in the pic for a baby next to the child! Now I get it.


Poor but clean.

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