Which Baby is the Best?

Baby show at Broken Bow. NSHS RG2608-2943

The photograph above, from the Solomon D. Butcher Collection at the Nebraska State Historical Society, depicts a group of babies and young children in Broken Bow in 1903. Although the event at which they appeared is not identified, it was probably the Custer County Fair, held in Broken Bow, September 1-4, 1903, which included a baby show among its advertised attractions. Butcher was at the fair, where he photographed the Hygeia Creamery Company display. The structure in the upper left of the photo appears to be a fair tent. Lawyer Alph Morgan, at left, was posing one of the children when Butcher caught him in the picture.  

Baby shows were once a staple of state and local fairs and church festivals in Nebraska. Even private businesses hosted them to draw paying customers into their stores. Reports of such events, which often included the awarding of cash or other prizes to competing youngsters and their mothers, can be found in newspapers from both large and small towns.  

The Columbus Journal on September 23, 1891, reported that a baby carriage was awarded to the winner of a baby show at the recent Platte County Fair. The McCook Tribune reported on October 28, 1892, that a contest held at a St. Patrick’s Church fair awarded a silver goblet to McCook’s most beautiful baby. The Omaha Daily Bee reported other such events from around the state, including an 1889 contest sponsored by Omaha’s Temple Israel, which used spectator voting to determine “which of two baby candidates is the most popular among the people of Temple Israel.” A baby show was planned for the 1889 Adams County Fair, and Nebraska Governor John M. Thayer was invited to judge. The 1893 Douglas County Fair included a baby show with forty entrants. Names of the judges were kept “a deep secret until the time of the contest, in order to keep them free from the preliminary lobbying of the ambitious mothers.”  - Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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