Postscript to Incubator-Baby Side Shows

[Letter to the Editor]

William A. Silverman, M.D.
Greenbrae, California

Pediatrics  66(3):474-475, September 1980
Reproduced by permission of Pediatrics.


To the Editor. --

When my article about premature infant "shows" appeared in Pediatrics [1] it caught the eye of Felix Marx, of Bonn, Germany. He called attention [2] to an 1896 popular-magazine story [3] in which the identity of the man named "Lion" was revealed (see citation 7 in reference 1).

According to the profusely illustrated piece, Doctor Alexandre Lion, of Nice, was a philanthropic physician who established "The Baby Infant Charity" (Oeuvre Maternelle des Couveuses D'Enfants, located at 26, Boulevard Poissonière, paris) for the saving of infant life. An entrance fee of 50 centimes, which the visitors were asked to pay, went for support of prematurely born babies in incubators of Doctor Lion's design. Moreover, the Paris institution was only one of "many" established by him ("charities" in Bordeaux, Marseilles, Lyons, and Nice were mentioned).

It is not entirely clear when Doctor Lion began his "charities," but the journalist wrote that "he has been keeping [premature infants] alive ever since inventing his 'couveuse' [in Nice] in 1891." Lion is quoted as saying, "At Nice the municipality has granted us money for the support of the establishment and a large number of charitable ladies contribute money regularly. In Paris we depend upon the fee for admission to pay the nurses and other expenses."

Needless to say, the British magazine article casts a cloud of doubt over Martin Couney's account of the beginning of the side show phenomenon (Berlin, 1896). Either he did not know about Lion's activities (which seems unlikely) or he "forgot" to credit his predecessor.

Plus ça change...

William A. Silverman, M.D.
90 La Cuesta Drive
Greenbrae, CA 94904

[1] Silverman WA: Incubator-baby side shows. Pediatrics 64: 127, 1979.

[2] Marx F: Martin A. Couney der Inkubatordoktor. Neus aus Bonn. December 1979/January 1980, p. 40.

[3] Smith JW: Baby incubators. The Strand Magazine 12:770, 1896.


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