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.
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.