Childcare in the New World

The cradleboard and loopwagen allowed Oneida and Dutch women to work while still keeping their children safe and close by. They symbolize the double duty all mothers in the early colonial period had to do.

Cradleboard—Oneida, Iroquois

Cradleboard—Oneida, Iroquois, n.d. Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.

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Oneida Family

Baroness Anne-Marguerite-Henriette Hyde de Neuville, Oneida Family, 1807. New-York Historical Society.

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Baby walker

Unidentified maker, Baby walker, 1700-1750. New-York Historical Society, purchased from Elie Nadelman.

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Ouders aanschouwen hun kind dat leert lopen met een loopwagen

Jan Luyken, Ouders aanschouwen hun kind dat leert lopen met een loopwagen, 1712. Rijks Museum, Amsterdam.

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Life in North America in the early 1600s was very challenging. Every man, woman, and child had to work to produce food, build shelters, and create the household items needed for survival. Women in these communities had the added responsibility of caring for babies and small children. They invented ways to take care of their young and still get all of the rest of their work done.

About the Object

These objects demonstrate how Oneida and Dutch women solved the problem of caring for babies while working. Oneida mothers tightly swaddled their babies and strapped them to cradleboards like the one pictured. If a mother was working in one spot, the cradleboard was propped against a wall, tree, or stone so the baby could watch everything that was happening. If a mother was travelling or working in the fields, the cradleboard could be carried on her back. Cradleboards kept babies safe and secure, and left a mother’s hands free for other work.

Dutch mothers used loopwagens to keep their babies safe. Like modern-day baby walkers, loopwagens let babies learn how to walk without monopolizing their mothers’ time. Dutch mothers could prop their babies in the small upper circle and let them push themselves around the house. The large base of the loopwagen prevented babies from getting within arm’s reach of dangerous objects. But accidents were always a possibility, so a careful mother always kept an eye on her child as they moved around the house. In large families, older children, especially girls, were responsible for watching over their younger siblings, giving mothers even more freedom. In wealthy homes, enslaved women and girls would have this responsibility.


  • Oneida: One of the five founding nations of the Haudenosaunee (also called the Iroquois Confederacy) that lived in present-day upstate New York at the time of European contact. Today the Oneida live in New York, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada.
  • swaddled: Wrapped.


  • Iroquois: IR-ah-koy
  • Haudenosaunee: Hoe-den-uh-SHOW-nee
  • Oneida: Oh-NYE-duh

Discussion Questions

  • Why did Oneida and colonist women need tools to keep their babies safe and close?
  • What does the existence of these objects tell us about the lives of women in North America in the 1600s?
  • What do these objects teach us about the lives of babies and young children in the 1600s?
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Suggested Activities

  • Ask students to compare and contrast the function of the loopwagen and cradleboard, and to determine what each reveals about the lives of women and children, and how their lives differed depending on the community they lived in. For example, the cradleboard was designed to be easily carried on long journeys, while the loopwagen could only work in a home or yard. What does this reveal about each community?
  • Invite students to write about what life would be like from the perspective of a child in either of these objects. What can they do? What limitations do they have? What are they learning about their place in the world around them?
  • Not every child born in the New World benefited from a mother’s constant presence and attention. Invite students to read about the childhoods of Hannah Holland or Lisbeth Anthonijsen to learn about what happened to children who did not have the luxury of familial security.
  • Combine the image of the cradleboard with the images of digging sticks and the Zuni pots for a lesson on the labor of women in North American Native communities.



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