As Texas Technological College’s first “practice baby,” she helped home economics students learn about parenting firsthand.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but at what was then Texas Technological College, it only took one house.
The Home Management House, which opened in 1928, offered a high-intensity, hands-on education for home economics students. For nine weeks, students lived in what they called the "practice house" full-time with a resident instructor. They practiced cooking, cleaning, gardening, doing household crafts, creating meal plans and serving as hostesses for organized functions – in short, all the things they would have to do to run their own households one day.
In 1936, they added mothering to that list of duties.
On Jan. 22, 1936, Lubbock's first doctor, Dr. M. C. Overton, delivered into the world a beautiful, redheaded baby girl. But her mother, Willie Hinsley, died during childbirth. Her suddenly widowed father, Sherman Hinsley, was a bricklayer barely getting by – it was the Great Depression, after all – and he already had eight other children to care for, now single-handedly. He knew he couldn't keep her, but he also wasn't willing to give the baby up for adoption. Taking pity on the family, Overton reached out to a friend for help.
Suzanna Callan, who went by "Sannie," was a professor in the College of Home Economics and the brand new, three-weeks-on-the-job director of the Home Management House. In meeting with her, Overton offered to provide free medical care for the child if the students in the Home Management House would care for her. After meeting the baby girl, Callan agreed.
"Miss Callan decided the time had come where we needed to have a baby in the Home Management House for us to have the experience of living with a baby," recalled Pauline Bean, who was a student in the house when the infant arrived. "We got the first baby that was ever brought as part of the Home Management program. This was a real eye-opener, and believe me, it was hard to go to school when it was your time to take care of the baby, but we did it."
At 2 weeks of age, the child joined the household, where the students named her Barbara Ann Hinsley. Sherman Hinsley had picked out a different name, but for whatever reason, Barbara was the one that stuck.
A college news release from February 1936 paints a vivid picture of Barbara's first weeks in the Home Management House.
"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. 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?'
"Fugue, a big silky dog belonging to Miss Sannie Callan, is dour these days, resenting the transfer of attention once paid to him. The entire household is demoralized. The students' office on the first floor has been converted into a baby's nursery. Where the telephone once stood, before it was relegated to the butler's pantry, now stand soap, baby powder, oil, brush and cotton. A cot has been moved into the nursery beside a bassinet.
"Barbara is being brought up according to modern ideas and a strict schedule. Chiefly, she sleeps and eats, and though her 'mothers' insist she is a 'good baby,' visitors can testify that she is not neglecting the development of her lung capacity."
Now 84, Barbara Munselle has fond memories of Callan and the stories she told about Barbara's early life.
"Miss Callan always took care of me, my whole growing-up life," Munselle said. "She wanted to adopt me, but my father wouldn't let her.
"She got him a job as a gardener at the college so he could walk into the practice house and see me. One day he walked in, picked me up and took me outside for a walk, and the girls all ran to Miss Callan saying, 'Somebody stole our baby!' She said, 'No, he didn't steal the baby – he's the baby's father.'"
Because she lived in the "practice house," Barbara became known as the "practice baby." She stayed in the house full time, and students were entirely responsible for her care – in sickness and health, through middle-of-the-night feedings, diaper changes, spit-ups and everything else that comes with a baby.
She learned to walk there. She learned to talk there.
For their part, the students learned what it was to be a parent: to care for a child, to watch her grow and learn, to celebrate her achievements and milestones, to kiss her bruises. Each student took a turn as the primary parent, taking charge of fulfilling her needs and recording their observations of her personality, habits and development.
For a child who almost had no mother, Barbara had 52.
"I had so much love and so much care," Munselle said. "I was very, very fortunate."
Of course, none of the student mothers could hold a candle to Miss Callan.
At age 3, Barbara left the Home Management House to stay with an aunt and uncle on their farm in Bledsoe, about 70 miles west of Lubbock. Despite the distance, Callan traveled back and forth often to see Barbara, bringing her back to Lubbock to spend time with her siblings or have her annual checkup with Dr. Overton.
"In those days, that was a long way," Munselle said.
"Miss Callan kept me a lot of times in the summer, and she only lived two blocks from where my father lived, so she made sure that I played with my brothers and sisters."
When Barbara was 13, enough of her older siblings had left home that there was finally room for her in her father's house, a small, two-bedroom adobe structure. She explained that, years earlier, he had dug an enormous hole in the ground for a basement, then used the dirt to build bricks for the rest of the structure. Her three brothers slept in the basement, while all six sisters lived upstairs.
Even after moving in with her biological family, Barbara remained close with Callan, who continued to play a mothering role.
"She kept in touch with me until I got married," Munselle said, "and she even bought my wedding dress."
Callan continued to teach in the College of Home Economics until her retirement in April 1959. She moved to California, to be closer to her sister, and lived there until her death in September 1983.
Barbara and her husband, Bill Munselle, eventually also ended up in California, taking along their son, who now runs a vineyard there, and daughter, who is now a cross-country truck driver. After Bill died in 2014, Barbara moved into a house adjacent to her son's vineyard. She's still living independently and enjoying the closeness of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"I've had a wonderful life," she said. "I've traveled to Germany and Hawaii. My husband and I took our own boat up the inside passage to Alaska, and I even learned to fly an airplane. I've had a really full, wonderful life."
Barbara Hinsley may have been the first practice baby raised in the Home Management House, but she certainly wasn't the last.
"They didn't always have one," said Barbara Davis, who lived in the Home Management House as a student in the early 1950s. "Every semester didn't have a baby, I think it just had to be if they could. Because, I mean, who would want to keep their baby with a bunch of girls that didn't know anything?"
Perhaps surprisingly, quite a few people shared their children. By 1951, 18 practice babies had gone through the program, ranging in age from 2 weeks to 1 year, and most staying in the house for a year. There were times when no child was available, but the succession of children that did come through were adored by their many "mothers" and afforded the kind of constant attention most children couldn't receive within traditional households.
For some, their parents were temporarily unable to care for them. Most were the infants of students and faculty members who were willing to share their children for a short time. At least one was an orphan.
Parents signed a contract with the College of Home Economics to ensure that the child would be properly cared for and the parents would not interfere with the baby's daily schedule, as set by the students.
Davis remembers getting in trouble with then-house mother Lola Drew after giving the practice baby a bottle in the middle of the night.
"She was a precious little baby, I didn't want her to cry," Davis recalled. "I picked her up and patted her and talked to her and she was still just squalling her eyes out. I don't know what was wrong with her, maybe she had a stomachache, but I just went downstairs and got her a bottle, heated it and gave it to her. I don't know what woke Miss Drew up, but she came in there while I was doing it, and she grabbed that baby and the bottle and she said, 'You can't give this to the baby. It's not a scheduled time for the bottle. She'll be waking up this time of night every night if you give her a bottle at this time.'
"She took the baby and the bottle, and the baby went back to sleep. I don't remember hearing any more out of her that night, anyhow. She was a good little baby."
Within its first 15 years, the program evolved. Whereas Barbara Hinsley had lived in the house full time for three years, by 1951, the practice babies returned home to their parents for weekends and official holidays. It wasn't long before the duration of each baby's daily stay varied on a case-by-case basis, depending on the child's home situation. The children of local students and faculty members, for instance, sometimes only spent part of the day in the house and then returned home for evenings and weekends with their parents.
By 1959, less than 1 percent of home economics programs nationwide were using practice babies. While other universities – including Baylor University, Sam Houston State University, Texas Wesleyan University and the University of Texas – reported having a practice baby at one time or another, only Texas Tech was able to consistently support a practice baby for such a continuous period.
By the early 1960s, however, the program had transformed into a daytime-only residency program that cared for a student's child. It was discontinued altogether by the end of the decade.