LUBBOCK, Texas (NEXSTAR/KLBK) – Barbara Munselle, the first “practice baby” to live on the campus of Texas Tech University in the mid-to-late-1930s, has died, the university announced on Wednesday.
Munselle, whose original surname was Hinsley, was born in Lubbock in the middle of the Great Depression in 1936. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father, who already had eight other children, was unable to take on the responsibilities of caring for her, according to the university.
She was instead given over to the care of Texas Tech thanks to a deal between the baby’s delivering physician and Suzanna Callan, then a professor of home economics at the university.
The baby, then just 2 weeks old, was to live in the school’s Home Management House, to be cared for by girls studying home economics, according to a Texas Tech Today blog post published in 2020.
“Motherless child of a local family, she has seven doting coeds to bathe her, warm her bottle and turn her on the other side when she cries,” the college wrote in a 1936 news release. “Diapers and baby dresses hang on the clothes-line in the back yard, visitors with colds are banned, and the best lead for conversation at the home economics building is, ‘How is the baby?’”
Barbara Ann, as the students named her, was soon nicknamed the school’s “practice baby.”
Munselle would later explain that Callan had hoped to adopt her, but her birth father didn’t approve. At the age of 3, she moved instead to a relative’s house, but Callan continued to visit and even brought the girl back to Lubbock for the summers.
Eventually, Barbara Ann moved back in with her father and siblings at the age of 13. She married and moved to California, where she resided in her later years.
“We are saddened to learn this evening of the death of Barbara Munselle,” Texas Tech University wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “Born in 1936, ‘Baby Barbara,’ as she was known then, was the very first ‘practice baby’ to live in the Texas Tech Home Management House, where female students learned how to run a household and even raise children.
“Our hearts go out to Barbara’s family,” the university added.
Speaking with Texas Tech Today in 2020, Munselle remarked that she was “very, very fortunate” to have been put into to the care of the university and its students.
“I had so much love and so much care,” she said.
Texas Tech would have other “practice babies” over the years, though none remained on-site for as long as Munselle, and some for only part of the day. The “practice baby” program ended by the 1970s.
The concept of a university “practice baby,” meanwhile, was not uncommon in the 1950s. Author and researcher Lisa Grunwald estimated that around 40 or 50 schools had such programs in place at the time, usually using babies from local orphanages, she told NPR in 2011.
“The practice houses really embraced the idea that you could learn mothering the same way you learned cooking or learned chemistry — everything was learnable, and systems were really important,” Grunwald told the outlet.