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Old Photo Highlights 1950s “Borrowed Babies” Program

Home Economics house banner

Sixty-five years ago during Homecoming, this banner billowed from the porch of the home management house along South 11th Street, near the current location of Cogswell Hall.

Home economics students spent weeks living with an instructor in the house to take turns learning the roles of hostess, cook, housekeeper—and nurse. In a practice unusual by today’s standards, the students cared full-time for a baby provided by the Rosalia Foundling Home in Westmoreland County.

In the fall of ’53, that baby was Rodger, whose likeness appears on the banner with the words, “Rodger says, ‘It’s time for a change.’ Beat California!”

Mary Verbish Lozovoy ’54 submitted the photograph and identified Sylvia Kemp Mitchell ’54 as the banner’s creator. That fall, they were Rodger’s caretakers, along with Anita Malone Shaffer ’54 and a handful of others, under the watch of faculty member Dee Stephenson Smith.

Anita recalled that Rodger arrived at the house only a few months old and with thrush, a fungal infection of the mouth, and other health problems. “He did a lot of crying, and we had to treat the thrush,” she said. “It was sort of traumatic. He was not in good shape.”

She remembers other challenges at the house as well, such as working with Donna Dodson Wolf ’54 an hour past their deadline to refinish and reupholster a chair. That delay contributed to Anita’s mother and grandmother’s getting stuck in the snow and having to spend the night in Gallitzin after dropping off Anita in Roaring Spring for her student teaching assignment. “My mother was a little disgusted with me,” she said.

Former faculty members have said the Home Economics program borrowed babies from the Rosalia Foundling Home from the 1930s until about 1965. In the 1970s, faculty members and students began providing their children for a daytime-only program.

“Borrowed Babies,” a story about the care program at the home management house, appeared in the Spring 1995 edition of IUP Magazine.