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Childhood Studies History of Childhood in America
by
Susan Miller

Introduction

The history of childhood and youth is a relatively new field in American history that has grown exponentially in size and sophistication over the past twenty years. Befitting a burgeoning field, historians are currently engaged in all areas of scholarship—compiling anthologies, creating reference works, and crafting both monographs and comprehensive synthetic overviews. Located within the larger interdisciplinary arena of childhood studies, as well as alongside complementary subfields of American social history, the history of youth attracts a range of scholars with training in a diversity of disciplines, including (but certainly not limited to) the history of education and the family, folklore, American studies, and children’s literature. Both the emerging nature of the field and the genre-challenging creative scholarship of its creators have guaranteed that key historiographical questions and assumptions about periodization are very much open to debate. Scholars grapple with how concerns familiar to social historians—race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, and sexuality—differently affect the lives of young people, even as they consider issues particular to youth, such as the coherence of an age cohort, the effects of generational influence, and the impact of accepted norms of child rearing and scientific “truths” on the realities of children’s lives. As historians write the experiences of youth into the narratives of American history, they have also identified some important methodological challenges. How to uncover children’s voices, while remaining critical of the presumed authenticity of such sources? What are the benefits and limitations of memoirs in reconstructing the experience of youth? How to balance the realities of a category of historical inquiry defined by certain biological and development distinctions with an understanding of the historical construction of childhood? How to locate the historical child within complex and evolving ideologies of childhood?

General Overviews

Two decades after the publication of Kett 1977, a seminal work on youth, and the scholarship created in its wake, both scholars and popular writers such as Thomas Hine (Hine 2000) and Grace Palladino (Palladino 1996) were ready to try their hand at synthetic overviews of the history of American childhood. All had to grapple with a problem that many historians condense into the phrase “children versus childhood”—how to be true to the diversity of real children’s lived experience while tracing the historical construction of an abstract notion of childhood and its resonance in American culture? Some scholars attempted to organize centuries of material around the character of sources, including Calvert 1992, a work on material culture that stands as a corrective to works based largely on print sources in general, and prescriptive literature in particular. Others chose to organize overviews around a central conceptual idea. Illick 2002 and Graff 1995 look to the American economic system, characterized by persistent inequalities and the ascendance of privatization and consumerism, to explain kids’ diverse experience of childhood. Yet attention to reformers’ agendas, governmental institutions, and the pervasiveness of the market economy also spawned an awareness of the multitudes of ways in which children asserted agency and created their own cultures. Mintz 2004 argues that all of these disparate trends must be synthesized to arrive at a full portrait of the historical development of American childhood.

  • Calvert, Karin. Children in the House: The Material Culture of Early Childhood, 1600–1900. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992.

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    Calvert’s text focuses on material objects from clothing to furniture. Material objects, she posits, are imbued with commonplace ideas people do not bother to write down, thus revealing agreed-upon social norms about the nature of childhood. Calvert makes broad arguments about patterns of materiality in culture while staying close to tangible sources.

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  • Graff, Harvey J. Conflicting Paths: Growing Up in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

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    The organizing conceit of Graff’s text is that children follow a series of paths to adulthood as defined by their social class, race, and gender. An analysis of one or two individuals is embedded in a series of thematic narratives, including on the privatization of the family and the rise of consumer culture.

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  • Hine, Thomas. The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager. New York: Harper Perennial, 2000.

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    A popular press history of adolescents from colonial times to the present. Hine argues that teenagers are unfairly criticized for being irresponsible by the same adults who took meaningful responsibilities away from them. His highly readable prose appeals to undergraduates, even as the coverage spanning two hundred years necessitates superficial coverage of important themes.

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  • Illick, Joseph E. American Childhoods. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

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    A synthetic history that emphasizes early America, including the diverse childhoods of European colonists, African slaves, and Native Americans. Material on the 19th century focuses on the growth of urban industrialism, while material on the 20th century details the divergent experiences of suburban and urban youth. Illick stresses the structural economic inequalities that shape the lives of youth.

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  • Kett, Joseph F. Rites of Passage: Adolescence in America, 1790 to the Present. New York: Basic Books, 1977.

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    Kett’s field-defining text can be fairly criticized for its narrow focus on white boys, yet Rites of Passage did help set the research agenda for a generation of historians. Ironically, the text now appears to be read more broadly outside the field than within it and so remains a starting point for conversations with scholars in other disciplines.

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  • Mintz, Steven. Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2004.

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    The most comprehensive single-volume history of American youth, providing coverage from colonization to the late 20th century. Mintz’s text is consistently attentive to the diversity of children’s experience while maintaining a unifying narrative voice throughout. It is an invaluable teaching aid for syllabus construction and lecture preparation, if not for actual undergraduate reading lists.

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  • Palladino, Grace. Teenagers: An American History. New York: Basic Books, 1996.

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    Teenagers is a lively, well-researched nonacademic history of adolescence from the 1930s to the 1960s. Palladino’s central argument is that, regardless of paeans to the vibrancy of youth or jeremiads about delinquency, what adults really care about most is teenagers’ role as consumers. The text is quite appealing to undergraduates.

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Twayne’s History of American Childhood Series

The stated goal of Twayne’s History of American Childhood Series is to introduce both academics and general readers to this rapidly expanding field. The series consists of four chronologically based volumes covering the history of youth from 1775 to 1940—in order, Reinier 1996, Clement 1997, Macleod 1998, and Hawes 1997—each of which details the central historiographical trends in its given time period. This comprehensive chronological coverage is complemented by four thematic volumes: Ashby 1997 on abuse and neglect, Murray 1998 on children’s literature, Berrol 1995 on immigration, and King 1993 on health. All texts have helpful bibliographic essays. Taken together, the eight volumes form a highly instructive snapshot of the state of the field in the mid- to late 1990s, and they remain an excellent starting point for scholars interested in a comprehensive introduction to the field, although they tend to be too dense for their stated audience of general readers, including all but the most studious undergraduates.

  • Ashby, LeRoy. Endangered Children: Dependency, Neglect, and Abuse in American History. New York: Twayne, 1997.

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    Traces the evolving history of institutions charged with the care of neglected children, from the indenture system and enslavement to orphanages and asylums. Underlying this institutional saga is a narrative about the changing status of children, their legal position and social identity, and ideologies about child welfare that inform cultural assumptions about the proper care of children.

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  • Berrol, Selma Cantor. Growing Up American: Immigrant Children in America, Then and Now. New York: Twayne, 1995.

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    Covers an impressive diversity of immigrant youth experience—in terms of region, religion, ethnicity, and country of origin—in a very small space. Berrol addresses labor, leisure, and family life, but the work is particularly strong on children’s school experience. Mostly historical, the text makes a brief foray into contemporary issues such as bilingual education and multicultural curricula.

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  • Clement, Priscilla Ferguson. Growing Pains: Children in the Industrial Age, 1850–1890. New York: Twayne, 1997.

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    Clement’s focus on the industrial age necessitates attention to children’s experience of social class and their access to economic mobility and opportunities. The text highlights differences among the middle class, Gilded Age elites, industrial laborers, and farm workers. Differential access to an idealized notion of sheltered childhood further distinguished kids from diverse class backgrounds.

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  • Hawes, Joseph M. Children between the Wars: American Childhood, 1920–1940. New York: Twayne, 1997.

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    Hawes traces the rising dominance of scientific experts, federal agencies, and public schools. He argues that ultimately children were granted greater freedom, but they were offered fewer protections. Children between the Wars also suggests that the period saw protracted struggles between youth bent on defining their own culture and identities and parents unwilling to cede control.

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  • King, Charles R. Children’s Health in America: A History. New York: Twayne, 1993.

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    Text examines the ascent of hospital-based medicine and the rise of medical specialties that serve youth. This recognition of children’s distinct needs, paired with public health campaigns that included vaccinations and sanitation of the milk supply, resulted in gains in children’s health. King shows, however, that these positive trends were not enjoyed equally by all children.

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  • Macleod, David I. The Age of the Child: Children in America, 1890–1920. New York: Twayne, 1998.

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    Volume focuses on the successes, and, as Macleod argues, the failures, of Progressive reformers to extend basic protections to all children. Describes the contours of a burgeoning youth culture characterized by self-consciously created peer groups and adult-organized youth organizations that, nevertheless, acted as vehicles through which young people asserted themselves.

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  • Murray, Gail Schmunk. American Children’s Literature and the Construction of Childhood. New York: Twayne, 1998.

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    Murray comes down squarely on the side of scholars who view the majority of early children’s literature as a heavily didactic genre determined to instruct youth in manners and morals. In the final chapter, Murray argues for a sense of liberation in children’s literature but there is little evidence of this throughout the text.

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  • Reinier, Jacqueline S. From Virtue to Character: American Childhood, 1775–1850. New York: Twayne, 1996.

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    The text does a nice job exploring a central paradox of early American youth. Reinier shows that the more liberating influence of Enlightenment philosophies and republican ideals were intertwined with the constraining realities of a rigid educational system and the confines of apprenticeship. There is good regional coverage and welcome attention to children’s health and welfare.

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Thematic Overviews

Because scholars came to the history of childhood through training in a wide array of disciplines, the field boasts an unusual number of rich thematic overviews in which historians view childhood through the lens of their particular expertise. Unlike the more general overviews, each of these texts covers a broad swath of time, but each is focused on either a subgroup of children or a particular aspect of children’s experience. Most, to greater or lesser degrees, also attempt to comment on the points of intersection between the lived experience of children and the cultural power of historically specific definitions of childhood. The greatest scholarly divergence between attention to children versus childhood can be found in Levander 2006 and King 2005. Levander tackles the socially constructed racial identity of children, while King presents a social history of children’s lived experience of race. Chudacoff 2007, Cross 1997, and Avery 1994 attempt to understand childhood through an analysis of children’s preferred pursuits—playing and reading—balancing an awareness of adult prescriptions (and proscriptions) with children’s own agency in shaping their leisure. Beatty 1995 and Youcha 1995 turn their attention to the youngest of children. By definition, age is an important category of analysis for historians of youth, yet very small children are particularly resistant to historical study due to their inability to create their own records and the temporal distance between this life stage and recorded memory. Both Beatty’s scholarly work and Youcha’s popular text analyze historical changes in the care of the very young with an eye for how these histories could be brought to bear on contemporary debates about the politics of early childhood education and welfare.

  • Avery, Gillian. Behold the Child: American Children and Their Books, 1621–1922. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

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    Avery argues that British and American children’s literature diverged in the 19th century due largely to diverse experiences of social class and concomitant changes in the conception of childhood. American children’s fiction came to be dominated by insouciant child heroes, including girls, who are recognizable by their freedom of mobility and their pluck.

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  • Beatty, Barbara. Preschool Education in America: The Culture of Young Children from the Colonial Era to the Present. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

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    A readable and thorough synthesis—complemented by original research with memoirs and interviews—that sketches the history of the (largely failed) efforts of Americans to school “preschool”-age children. Text examines the pedagogical and philosophical debates about the complexion of early childhood education, in general, and the establishment of public school kindergartens, in particular.

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  • Chudacoff, Howard P. Children at Play: An American History. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

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    A history of play that spans two centuries and is attentive to a diversity of children. Stresses the disjuncture between adult directives about play and the complicated ways that kids appropriated toys and enjoyed games of their own making. The chapters stand alone quite nicely and can be used for undergraduate courses.

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  • Cross, Gary. Kids’ Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

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    Although Kids’ Stuff does explore important connections among children, their playthings, and the evolving notions of childhood that help to define this interaction, for the most part, Cross’s text is a narrative of how mass-market consumption and the media have taken over a previously more wholesome and educational play experience for kids.

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  • King, Wilma. African American Childhoods: Historical Perspectives from Slavery to Civil Rights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

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    A comprehensive overview of African-American childhood, divided into two parts by the Civil War and covering kids’ experience from slavery to the 20th century. Thematic threads include children’s responses to racism, the historical construction of race, and interactions between children—slave and free-born, boys and girls, Native American and African American and white.

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  • Levander, Caroline F. Cradle of Liberty: Race, the Child, and National Belonging from Thomas Jefferson to W. E. B. Du Bois. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

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    An analysis of literary and political texts, including works by William James, Thomas Paine, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Twain. Levander argues that child subjects were used to naturalize links between race and nationalism that were fundamental to the creation of both American imperialism and a domestic ideology of white supremacy.

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  • Youcha, Geraldine. Minding the Children: Child Care in America from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1995.

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    In this popular history, Youcha tries to shed light on contemporary policy debates by examining several historically important flashpoints in Americans’ understanding of child care. This is a well-written, albeit thinly researched book that nonetheless serves as a worthwhile introduction to the topic.

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Reference Works

Several reference works in the encyclopedia format serve as valuable compendiums of topics related to children and youth. In 2001, ABC-CLIO published a particularly helpful and attractive series consisting of Honig, et al. 2001 on infancy, Lerner, et al. 2001 on adolescence, Clement and Reinier 2001 on boyhood, and Forman-Brunell 2001 on girlhood. (A set is also devoted to parenthood.) Clement and Reinier 2001 and Forman-Brunell 2001 combine both historical and contemporary content, while Honig, et al. 2001 and Lerner, et al. 2001 are based in the social sciences. All are useful for researchers interested in children’s history, contemporary scientific, and public policy developments. The entries in Fass 2004 are both comprehensive in detail and engaging in their coverage of historiographical debates. Although this is a genre that may be dismissed as archaic by undergraduates who prefer online sources, they will benefit most from these volumes as they search for research topics and reliable and precise information. Also of value to undergraduates is Bowman 2007, a research guide created more broadly for students interested in childhood studies. Scholars and more advanced students will prefer the format, focus, and bibliographic essays found in Jacobson 2007 and West 1996.

  • Bowman, Vibiana. Scholarly Resources for Children and Childhood Studies: A Research Guide and Annotated Bibliography. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2007.

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    Although this collection is not targeted exclusively to historians, undergraduates with an interest in childhood studies will find this research guide quite useful. Research librarian Julie Still’s essay on children and the Civil War provides an excellent model for students who are learning how to do independent research.

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  • Clement, Priscilla Ferguson, and Jacqueline S. Reinier, eds. Boyhood in America: An Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

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    These volumes boast more than 150 entries detailing boys’ experience from the 17th century to the present. The focus is on sports, education, and media, and material includes the experience of boys from a variety of racial, ethnic, religious, and regional backgrounds.

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  • Fass, Paula S., ed. Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society. 3 vols. New York: Macmillan Reference, 2004.

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    This three-volume reference work is international in scope, but chiefly focused on North America and western Europe. Entries are accessible and comprehensive, but the explosion of scholarship in the field has quickly rendered the bibliographic information out of date.

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  • Forman-Brunell, Miriam, ed. Girlhood in America: An Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

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    Two volumes that detail a vast array of topics related to girlhood from school life and sexuality to literature, popular culture, and history. Includes materials from the cultures of a variety of girls and stresses the ability of girls to create their own identities.

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  • Honig, Alice Sterling, Hiram E. Fitzgerald, and Holly Brophy-Herb, eds. Infancy in America: An Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

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    Volumes present clear, concise, and balanced explanations of the latest research in infant health and development.

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  • Jacobson, Lisa. Children and Consumer Culture in American Society: A Historical Handbook and Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2007.

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    A useful introduction to issues that frame scholarly understanding of children’s consumption, including the creation of a children’s market, the socialization of the child consumer, and children’s agency. The focus is largely on the 20th century, with some material included on the Gilded Age.

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  • Lerner, Jacqueline V., Richard M. Lerner, and Jordan Finkelstein, eds. Adolescence in America: An Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

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    Volumes are largely focused on health and development, including the social and behavioral sciences, although entries on education, juvenile justice, and youth activities are included.

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  • West, Elliott. Growing Up in Twentieth-Century America: A History and Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996.

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    West tackles the history of youth in the 20th century in twenty-year spans (1900–1920, 1921–1940, 1941–1961). The text is organized around thematic topics, including home, work, school, and play, as well as health, the law, and personal recollections. Includes bibliographic essays at the end of each section.

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Anthologies

The early anthologies—Hiner and Hawes 1985, Graff 1987, and West and Petrik 1992—are all animated by a dual purpose: to capture a broad temporal and thematic range of scholarship while forging a unified purpose through the examination of an important historiographical construct. Hiner and Hawes 1985 challenges the theory of the child as miniature adult, the collection in Graft 1987 argues for the explanatory power of generations, and West and Petrik 1992 strives to include children’s voices. Forman-Brunell and Paris 2011a and Forman-Brunell and Paris 2011b argue for the importance of girlhood as a rich category of historical analysis, both in its more personal manifestations and as integrated into broad structural categories of historical inquiry.

  • Forman-Brunell, Miriam, and Leslie Paris, eds. The Girls’ History and Culture Reader: The Nineteenth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011a.

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    An anthology of previously published “field-defining” articles in the history of 19th-century girls’ culture. The collection combines works on broad themes such as immigration, industrialization, and urbanization with works that focus on the play, education, and consumption habits of girls. Includes a helpful synthetic introduction and extensive notes.

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  • Forman-Brunell, Miriam, and Leslie Paris, eds. The Girls’ History and Culture Reader: The Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011b.

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    An anthology of previously published “field-defining” articles in the history of 20th-century girls’ culture. The collection combines works on broad themes such as feminism, consumerism, and civil rights with works that focus on the popular culture, friendships, and self-expression of girls. Includes a helpful synthetic introduction and extensive notes.

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  • Graff, Harvey J., ed. Growing Up in America: Historical Experiences. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987.

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    This wide-ranging collection (there are thirty-three essays) covers topics from the colonial period to contemporary times. The work is bound together by an interest in generations. It asks how young people experience passage through the life cycle, how social historians characterize historical eras, and how these two understanding of an “age” interact with each other.

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  • Hiner, Ray N., and Joseph M. Hawes, eds. Growing Up in America: Children in Historical Perspective. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

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    Collection has a particular focus on early American childhood, with essays analyzing children’s experience of foster care, apprenticeship, and religion. Overall, the collection has an enjoyably quirky feel: it contains a lengthy 1831 letter on subduing a willful child and a charming reminiscence about the centrality of the stoop to the lives of city kids.

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  • West, Elliott, and Paula Petrik. Small Worlds: Children and Adolescents in America, 1850–1950. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

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    The thirteen essays gathered in this volume were selected with the intent of highlighting children’s voices and incorporating an analysis of children’s agency into the historical record. They cover topics from doll play to the institutionalization of wayward girls. Many chapters are richly illustrated, and one takes children and photography as its subject.

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Document Collections

These document collections are invaluable for instructors. Each contains dozens of print sources dating from the colonial period to the present. Fass and Mason 2000 groups sources thematically, while the primary sources and covering essays in Jabour 2005 have both a thematic and a chronological organization. With their combination of secondary and primary materials, the chapters in Jabour 2005 teach well as a single unit, while the selections in Fass and Mason 2000 are useful as undergraduate classroom activities to complement secondary reading assignments. The classic collection in Bremner 1970 is now very helpfully available online through h-net Childhood. The Children & Youth in History, Digital History, and Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History websites are much more than document collections, offering teaching aides and lesson plans as well as good introductory essays. All contain hundreds of images, photographs, and depictions of material culture in addition to print sources.

  • Bremner, Robert H., ed. Children and Youth in America: A Documentary History. 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970.

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    First created under the auspices of the Children’s Bureau and Maternal and Child Health Service division of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. This indispensable collection of sources covers topics from the colonial period to the present. It is now available online at h-net Childhood.

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  • Children & Youth in History.

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    Website has a rich international focus, with a top-level organization by geographic area. It includes instructional materials in its teaching modules and case studies, as well as hundreds of stand-alone images and print sources. The website also has a very helpful section dedicated to reviews of other websites that contain archival materials and images.

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    • Digital History.

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      Essentially an online textbook of American history, packed with primary sources, maps, lessons plans, and resource guides. Although it is geared to secondary school students, undergraduates, particularly those interested in becoming teachers, will find much of value. Especially useful is the “Do History: Children in History,” section, although many other pages are focused on children.

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      • Fass, Paula S., and Mary Ann Mason, eds. Childhood in America. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

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        An encyclopedic collection of primary sources arranged thematically around dozens of topics from infancy and adolescence to play and child-rearing advice. The thematic organization is particularly useful in the construction of comparative exercises for undergraduates. A teacher’s guide is also available.

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      • Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

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        The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History does an admirable job bridging the divides among K–12 teachers, public historians, and the academy. Sources of interest to historians of youth are scattered throughout the site in pages devoted to slavery, war, civil rights, and immigration, among other topics. Fortunately, the site has a powerful search tool.

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      • Jabour, Anya, ed. Major Problems in the History of American Families and Children: Documents and Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

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        This volume in the Major Problems series focuses on children as one element in the history of family life, marriage, and gender relations. Each chapter pairs primary source documents with scholarly essays and an introductory overview. The collection ranges from the colonial era to the present and has broad thematic coverage.

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      Journals

      The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth is the only English-language journal specifically devoted to the history of childhood; although it is international in scope it publishes many articles and reviews with a North American focus. Scholars will now find work on the history of children and youth in many journals devoted to various time periods and themes in American history. The most consistently useful are the Journal of Social History with its strong interest in all life-cycle topics, including childhood, and the History of Education Quarterly. Several journals—Childhood, Girlhood Studies, and Thymos—with more of a social science and international focus will nonetheless be useful to historians of American youth. The Lion and the Unicorn, a journal devoted to children’s literature, publishes many articles with a historical focus. All are attentive to the historical construction of childhood, take seriously the concept of age as an important category of historical analysis, and offer interesting theoretical work that can enrich the work of historians.

      Colonial and Revolution

      Recent scholarship has moved beyond the earliest debates over children as miniature adults and whether or not Puritans loved their children. The intimate portrait of men’s life cycles in Wilson 1999 reveals the ways in which both stern discipline and tender regard were reproduced in generations of sons and fathers, who chafed under the restraints that they later learned to enforce. Duane 2010 argues that the idea of childhood, far from being an ill-defined category or a peripheral state, was, in fact, a core construct of Puritan identity, albeit one characterized by violence and vulnerability. This rhetorical construction of suffering childhood is supported in detailed depictions of children’s lives and work in Herndon and Murray 2009 and Marten 2007, which show that state-sanctioned and culturally acceptable notions of care for children were often inextricably bound up in exploitive practice, a reality that existed far beyond the New England colonies and thus calls into question its uniquely Puritan underpinnings. Even children who were valued as children lived within harsh conditions and maintained an often tenuous hold on health and basic welfare. Marten 2007 and Marten 2009 both provide important bridges between periods—colonial and revolutionary and the revolution and the early republic, respectively—that begin to challenge the utility of established periodization for the history of children and youth. Malcolm 2009 offers a tale that recognizes, even as it does not argue for, the ironic proclivity of war to create advancement in the midst of destruction.

      • Duane, Anna Mae. Suffering Childhood in Early America: Violence, Race, and the Making of the Child Victim. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010.

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        Duane examines witchcraft trials, infanticide cases, and captivity narratives to locate the figure of the suffering child at the core of early American political culture. Vulnerability and victimhood, she argues, connected children to the lives of adult women, slaves, and Native Americans in a justification for their shared domination by Puritan men.

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      • Herndon, Ruth Wallis, and John E. Murray, eds. Children Bound to Labor: The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009.

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        The text is organized around a series of power relationships that defined the social, economic, and political life of early America: master-servant, parent-child, and family-state. Chapters range geographically from Montreal to the Deep South, and temporally from the mid-17th to the mid-19th centuries.

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      • Malcolm, Joyce Lee. Peter’s War: A New England Slave Boy and the American Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

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        Malcolm uses the life of Peter Sharon, born into slavery in 1763, to tell a story of occasional and coincidental liberating effects of war on the lives of marginal groups. Scholars will appreciate reading of a child-soldier other than Joseph Plumb Martin, but they may be given pause by the text’s lack of notes.

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      • Marten, James, ed. Children in Colonial America. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

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        This collection of scholarly articles and related primary source documents is divided into broad sections focused on race and colonization, family life, health and mortality, and national identity. Individual articles stand well alone for undergraduate classroom use.

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      • Marten, James, ed. Children and Youth in a New Nation. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

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        Collection of scholarly articles primarily focused on children’s republican identity, with particular attention paid to religion, education, child welfare, and health reform. Includes several primary sources that document a diversity of experience across social class, race, and regional backgrounds.

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      • Wilson, Lisa. Ye Heart of a Man: The Domestic Life of Men in Colonial New England. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

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        Although Wilson’s text is not exclusively focused on childhood, her attention to the life cycle of men is quite thought-provoking. The text deploys generation as a key theoretical construct while analyzing Puritan men’s path through childhood and youth to maturity. The chapters on boyhood and fatherhood are of particular interest.

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      Antebellum

      Scholars of childhood in antebellum America are largely concerned with sketching out the contours of racial, cultural, and economic difference—including the institution of slavery—that affected children in the North and in the South in the wake of revolution. As Moss 2009 and Hessinger 2005 argue, visions of the nation’s future and the identity of its people—middle-class whites as well as African Americans—were often intertwined with the education of its youth. Moss argues that during this era that witnessed the birth of public education, African Americans rightly perceived, though they proved largely unable to access, the benefits of schooling for their children. Hessinger complicates a Whiggish tale of generational ascendancy in the antebellum period in his work on Philadelphia elites, while Jabour 2007 considers the ways that gender norms restricted the refined lives of a generation of white girls in the South. King 2011 and Schwartz 2000 detail the lives of children born into slavery. Both view child rearing and family life within a larger historiography of slavery that argues against the institution’s complete control of the lives of African Americans and documents their attempts to retain and create independent culture. Jacobs 1988, a text first published in 1861 as a self-conscious appeal to white mothers in the North and to shared romantic notions of maternity, reinforces the degree to which children were moving into position at the sentimental heart of family life.

      • Hessinger, Rodney. Seduced, Abandoned and Reborn: Visions of Youth in Middle-Class America, 1780–1850. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

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        Hessinger argues that far from being repositories of hopeful optimism, republican youth were often the targets of adult anxieties about an uncertain political and economic future. His study has a particular focus on the youth of Philadelphia, examining young women “served” by the Magdalene Society and young men who attended the University of Pennsylvania.

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      • Jabour, Anya. Scarlett’s Sisters: Young Women in the Old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

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        This analysis of elite white women argues that age and generation are crucial to understanding the lives of young women characterized by both privilege and subordination. Includes chapters on female adolescence, courting and engagement rituals in the South, and the potentially liberating disruptions of war.

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      • Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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        Writing as Linda Brent, Harriet Jacobs provides, in Incidents, an account of growing up in slavery and fighting to ensure that her children would not meet the same fate. First published in 1861, it is one of the few slave narratives written by a woman and in which the repercussions of slavery for children is discussed in such sustained depth.

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      • King, Wilma. Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.

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        One of the first histories to offer details on the education, family life, work, and play of slave children. The revised edition includes material on the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved children in the North, and interactions between enslaved and free children. Originally published in 1995.

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      • Moss, Hilary J. Schooling Citizens: The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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        Uses Boston and New Haven, as well as slaveholding Baltimore, as case studies to trace the fight for access by African Americans to education in the face of white resistance. Moss argues that the link between public schooling and the establishment of an American identity, not a simplistic regional narrative, best explains the history of antebellum education.

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      • Schwartz, Marie Jenkins. Born in Bondage: Growing Up Enslaved in the Antebellum South. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

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        The text is organized around pivotal moments in the life cycle of enslaved children, from birth to marriage. Jenkins highlights the dual authorities—parents versus masters—that held competing claims over children’s lives and argues that parents denied slave owners complete control over the younger generation.

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      Civil War and Reconstruction

      The website Civil War through a Child’s Eye provides excellent images of diverse children, North and South, in the first American war captured on film. In addition to these images, historians have made excellent use of the many extant diaries and memoirs to sketch portraits of children in the Civil War era. Southern children, like their parents, experienced the war more directly and at a more visceral level than their Northern counterparts. As Jabour 2010 argues, however, even this truth was further complicated by children’s race, gender, and social class. Marten 1998 concurs with this assessment while also attending to the depth of disruption and hardship that affected children in the North. Jabour 2010 and Marten 2004 both make the case for the effect of war on an entire generation, suggesting that, as important as it is to understand the diverse experience of individuals, historians must also consider the generational effects of war on an entire age cohort. The first generation of African-American children born into a nation in which slavery was illegal is beginning to capture the attention of historians of youth. As both Butchart 2010 and Mitchell 2008 argue, the (unrealized) promise of educational opportunity was as much on the minds of African Americans as was political enfranchisement and economic advancement. Mitchell, especially, moves this argument well beyond the classroom walls and explores a fervent, albeit fleeting optimism that African-American youth could be used as contested symbols of racial progress and of the future of American progress in the wake of war and the elimination of slavery.

      • Butchart, Ronald E. Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861–1876. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

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        Butchart uses data on more than 11,000 teachers in the newly emancipated South to adjust previously held notions of Reconstruction-era education. Historians of youth will wish for more direct discussion of students, but the knowledge that many teachers were themselves African Americans who were dedicated to the success of the schools is provocative.

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      • Civil War through a Child’s Eye.

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        Created with materials from the Library of Congress’s American Memory Collection (an excellent overall resource) and designed for middle-school students. This site can also be a valuable college classroom tool—particularly for undergraduates who may be interested in becoming teachers themselves.

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      • Jabour, Anya. Topsy-Turvy: How the Civil War Turned the World Upside Down for Southern Children. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2010.

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        Jabour uses journals, diaries, and records of first-person memories to document how gender, race, condition of servitude, and social class shaped Southern children’s intensely visceral experiences of war. She follows children from the antebellum period into Reconstruction in order to argue for the impact of war on an entire generation’s life course.

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      • Marten, James. The Children’s Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

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        Diaries, memoirs, letters, and child-produced “newspapers” are used to examine children’s lives on the home fronts in both the North and the South. The book highlights a few famous Americans (Jane Addams, Booker T. Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt) and many ordinary children in an effort to detail children’s experience of disruption and hardships and of politicization and patriotism.

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      • Marten, James. Children for the Union: The War Spirit on the Northern Home Front. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004.

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        Details children’s wartime mobilization in the North as farm and factory replacement laborers, volunteers on the home front, underage soldiers, and drummer boys. Marten argues that children’s lives were militarized and politicized as the war dragged on and as children became integral to the political debates and economic life of their communities.

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      • Mitchell, Mary Niall. Raising Freedom’s Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery. New York: New York University Press, 2008.

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        Mitchell analyzes an array of sources—letters and photographs as well as print media and court records—to highlight the degree to which many recently freed people pinned their hopes on the education of their children. The black child became, she argues, a complex and contested icon in the aftermath of war and emancipation.

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      19th-Century Children’s Culture

      As feminist historians have moved away from a limiting vision of 19th-century America as a culture defined by separate spheres (an active, public male sphere and a domesticated, private, female world, to characterize the argument in stark terms), so too have historians of youth. Frances Cogan (Cogan 1989) was the first to argue precisely and persuasively for the recognition of a robust, self-reliant girlhood. Nelson and Vallone 1994 accepts this vision, but the authors complicate it by stressing its contested nature and the resulting cultural fissures in an American understanding of the nature of young women. Forman-Brunell 1993argues for similar tensions surrounding the doll, that most iconic symbol of young girlhood. Hunter 2002 argues that the century’s close saw young women take advantage of the liberating potential of these diverse cultural meanings of young womanhood to create an age-segregated youthful peer culture, which included boys, within educational institutions. The sweeping narrative in Sanchez-Eppler 2005, focused on boys as well as girls, argues that a fundamentally ambiguous understanding of all children as highly dependent actors who wielded tremendous discursive power permeated 19th-century literature and lives. A collection of many of the images that inform the debates in which these scholars are engaged is found in Perry 2006.

      • Cogan, Frances B. All-American Girl: The Ideal of Real Womanhood in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1989.

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        An important corrective to earlier scholarship that stressed the Cult of True Womanhood and the doctrine of separate spheres as it applied to young women. Cogan argues for an alternative understanding of middle-class girls as physically vigorous, intermittently independent, and self-reliant participants in 19th-century culture.

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      • Forman-Brunell, Miriam. Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization of American Girlhood, 1830–1930. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.

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        Uses the popular and industry press as well as literature and evidence from material culture to trace the social meaning of dolls from antebellum rag dolls to the realistic baby dolls of the 1920s. Forman-Brunell argues that girls (and boys) had a hand in both the creation of the dolls themselves and the imaginative play that dolls engendered.

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      • Hunter, Jane H. How Young Ladies Became Girls: The Victorian Origins of American Girlhood. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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        In this compelling study, Hunter argues that a modern understanding of youth culture, here represented by girlhood, was born in the late 19th century. She builds her argument from the private cultivation of taste and opinions found in diary-keeping and reading habits and from the public creation of peer cultures in female-dominated high schools.

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      • Nelson, Claudia, and Lynne Vallone, eds. The Girl’s Own: Cultural Histories of the Anglo-American Girl, 1830–1915. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1994.

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        These eleven uniformly excellent essays stress a shared Anglo-American experience of girlhood that was beset by cultural tensions. The authors examine education, athletics, and the reading habits of girls to elucidate what one author calls the “complicated symbolic power” of girls who were seen as alternately innocent and erotic, powerful and passive.

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      • Perry, Claire. Young America: Childhood in 19th-Century Art and Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

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        Created in conjunction with the Flagler Museum’s exhibit “A Mother’s Pearls: Children in American Paintings,” and in association with the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, the text includes a variety of images of 19th-century children. There are images of a great diversity of children depicted in formal paintings and popular prints, as well as images of children from advertisements and illustrated primers.

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      • Sanchez-Eppler, Karen. Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

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        Sanchez-Eppler argues that although children were economically and politically dependent on adults, they were nonetheless often found at the center of crucial debates—on the meaning of the family, the contours of class identity, and the justification of imperial aspirations—that helped to define 19th-century American life.

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      The Western Frontier

      The history of youth on the western frontier is dominated by narratives of individuals recalling their experiences of the journey west or reflecting on their early lives growing up on the Great Plains. Hampsten 1991 does not offer much more than a presentation of such sources, and the author is unreliable as a historical commentator. More valuable to historians are Holt 2003 and West 1989, which use memoirs, and some contemporary sources, to argue for children’s particular role in westward expansion and settlement. Holt 2003 details the broadest range of experiences, including those of African Americans, immigrants arriving directly from Europe, and children who traveled west on the Overland Trail. West 1989 is particularly attentive to children’s experience as children, and thus as settlers who did not yearn for a life left behind, lament the loss of comforts, or revel in the absence of restrictions for which western living was famous. Unlike their parents, children could claim “native” status, and this profoundly altered their experience. Holmes 2008 offers primary sources that support these scholars’ conclusions.

      • Hampsten, Elizabeth. Settlers’ Children: Growing Up on the Great Plains. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.

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        A literary investigation of the diaries, letters, and oral histories of children who grew up on the northern Great Plains during the late 19th century. Long block quotes, some several pages in length, interrupt the narrative efforts, but they provide vivid personal portraits of individuals that can be used as primary sources.

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      • Holmes, Kenneth L., ed. The Best of Covered Wagon Women: Emigrant Girls on the Overland Trail. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.

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        This collection of primary sources documents the experiences of a dozen girls, ages 11 to 19, who traveled the Overland Trail during the 1850s. All sources—some are diaries, others are collections of correspondence—are uninterrupted by text and framed by the briefest of introductions.

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      • Holt, Marilyn Irvin. Children of the Western Plains: The Nineteenth-Century Experience. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003.

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        Holt’s very readable text, produced for a popular audience, examines a rich diversity of children’s experiences even as it stresses a commonality of experience across ethnic and regional differences. A good sampling of kids’ voices is included in each of the short chapters organized around themes such as family, work, and play.

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      • West, Elliott. Growing Up with the Country: Childhood on the Far Western Frontier. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989.

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        The author argues for the pivotal role of children in western labor, and stresses children’s different understanding of their migration experience. The text is narrowly focused on native-born whites, but broadens the typical story of the Great Plains and Overland Trail with its inclusion of Rocky Mountain mining towns.

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      Child Savers

      Although Platt 2009 (originally published 1969) locates the invention of delinquency and the birth of the child savers in the 1899 creation of the juvenile court system in Chicago, historians regularly include late-19th-century child welfare reformers among the child savers. The most thoroughly documented of these reform projects is Charles Loring Brace’s New York Children’s Aid Society, founded in 1853, and the orphan trains that “saved” children from urban destitution. In focusing on Brace’s biography, O’Connor 2004 attempts to historicize and humanize, rather than absolve, reformers’ impulses in creating what often turned out to be oppressive institutions for already neglected children. Holt 1992 offers a welcome connection between the allegedly wholesome rural homes held out as the perfect site for the creation of a protected, but still productive, childhood, and the urban reformers who romanticized them. Brumberg 2003 sees the failures of the Children’s Aid Society as only one of many ways in which difficult and destitute children were increasingly ill-served, even as the number of organizations devoted to their care proliferated. Schneider 1992, too, recognizes this “web” of reform in which delinquents were caught. The author’s argument that youth and their families were sometimes able to assert themselves in opposition to it suggests that reformers may have had nefarious reasons for insisting on the separation of youth from their families—a contention that Platt would certainly insist upon. In attending to foundling hospitals, Miller 2008 extends this thread of analysis to the very youngest children, underscoring the ability of child savers to insert themselves in the family at every stage of children’s growth and development.

      • Brumberg, Joan Jacob. Kansas Charley: The Story of a Nineteenth-Century Boy Murderer. New York: Viking, 2003.

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        “Kansas Charley” was the nickname of Karl Muller, a New York boy, sent west on an orphan train, who impulsively murdered two young men in a box car in Wyoming in 1890. Brumberg uses his life to explore the history of late-19th-century juvenile justice and argue against the death penalty for minors.

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      • Holt, Marilyn Irvin. The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

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        History of the mechanism by which New York City’s Children’s Aid Society, founded in 1853, shipped thousands of destitute children to farm families in the Midwest. Holt’s text has a focus on westward expansion, rural politics, and internal migration—issues that shaped the terminus of the trains and the new homes of its passengers.

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      • Miller, Julie. Abandoned: Foundlings in Nineteenth-Century New York City. New York: New York University Press, 2008.

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        Chronicles the postbellum rise of infant asylums and foundling hospitals—institutions created to remove children from poorhouses and provide them with care appropriate to their age. The creation of these institutions, Miller argues, marked a shift in reformers’ understanding of the causes of poverty, the role of parents, and the responsibility of the state.

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      • O’Connor, Stephen. Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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        Orphan Trains is a history of the New York Children’s Aid Society and a biography of its founder, Charles Loring Brace. The title refers to the society’s practice of sending destitute (although not necessarily orphaned) city children to rural homes throughout the Midwest. O’Connor includes oral histories from numerous adults who rode the trains in their youth.

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      • Platt, Anthony M. The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009.

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        Originally published in 1969 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), The Child Savers is a highly critical historical study of the Chicago juvenile justice system that stressed reformers’ punitive impulses. The reissue includes an essay by Platt in which he discusses the current state of the field as well as several valuable essays analyzing his original work and extending its reach.

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      • Schneider, Eric C. In the Web of Class: Delinquents and Reformers in Boston, 1810s–1930s. New York: New York University Press, 1992.

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        Schneider examines an array of middle-class reformers—religious, domestic, and Progressive—and argues that all were more driven by class-based moral judgments of delinquents than by a willingness to examine the structural economic inequities that may have influenced young people’s behavior. He also examines how delinquents and their families pushed back against reformers.

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      Immigration

      Historians consider immigration—along with urbanization and industrialization—as one of the powerful engines that altered the social, political, and economic texture of late-19th-century America. Klapper 2007 places children’s experience within this accepted framework, detailing the ways in which immigrant youth were affected by these large social and economic forces. Chinn 2008, however, argues that immigrant youth, in turn, molded an important aspect of American culture as they participated in the creation of adolescence as a distinct life stage, and became a recognizable force in the nascent consumer culture. Jorae 2009 also mounts a challenge to existing historiography in showing that the inclusion of children can alter previously accepted ideas about the experience of a particular subgroup of immigrants, namely, in the author’s text, that of Chinese Americans. Klapper 2005 argues that attention to the category of not only age, but also gender, can fine-tune historians’ understanding of broad conceptual terms such as “Americanization” and assimilation, that are so important to the study of immigrant groups. The collection of oral histories in Werner 2009 offers primary materials to complement the work of these scholars.

      • Chinn, Sarah E. Inventing Modern Adolescence: The Children of Immigrants in Turn-of-the-Century America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

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        Using a rich variety of popular sources as well as photographic evidence, Chinn argues that a modern notion of adolescence arose in the late 19th century as immigrant youth became “Americanized,” often over their parents’ objections. These adolescents enjoyed limited financial independence and were in hot pursuit of a sexualized consumer culture.

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      • Jorae, Wendy Rouse. The Children of Chinatown: Growing Up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850–1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

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        Jorae argues for the importance of families and children to a history that is often depicted as the story of bachelors. The text examines the creation of tourists’ ideals about Chinatowns—both inferior and exotic—at the same time that it explores the lived experience of children who faced segregation, poverty, and neighborhood violence.

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      • Klapper, Melissa R. Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860–1920. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

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        Letters and diaries, as well as memoirs, enliven Klapper’s history of Jewish adolescents, both native-born and immigrants, who struggled to honor family and faith while assimilating to American culture. Even the most accomplished girls discussed here are little known (Edna Ferber is an exception), giving the text a substantial historical recovery aspect.

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      • Klapper, Melissa R. Small Strangers: The Experiences of Immigrant Children in America, 1880–1925. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007.

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        A synthetic history of immigrant childhoods that spans an array of ethnicities, religions, and geographical areas. Small Strangers has stories from urban tenements, mill towns, and rural ethnic enclaves populated by children of immigrants from eastern Europe, Asia, and the Americas. It is a nice overview for use in the undergraduate classroom.

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      • Werner, Emmy E. Passages to America: Oral Histories of Child Immigrants from Ellis Island and Angel Island. Washington, DC: Potomac, 2009.

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        Werner’s popular book on 20th-century child immigrants who passed through New York’s Ellis Island and San Francisco’s Angel Island is largely a compilation of oral histories. It documents a wide array of children from Chinese and Filipino immigrants to California to the children of Armenian and Jewish refugees fleeing genocide and the Holocaust.

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      Experts and Agencies

      Like their colleagues in other subdisciplines, historians of children and youth have long been “in search of Progressivism”—to invoke the title of Daniel T. Rodgers’s famous 1982 essay. Marten 2005 confirms the utility of the periodization, and even suggests that there might just be more coherence in that term for historians of youth than for the discipline more broadly. However, Lindenmeyer 1997, a work on the Children’s Bureau, in many ways a quintessentially Progressive institution, shows the longevity of reformers’ influence and thus complicates established ideas about the relationship among child welfare experts, government agencies, and other Progressive reforms. Lovett 2007 focuses on pronatalism, eugenics, and populism in efforts to analyze experts’ attention to children and the family in the decades around the turn of the 20th century. Although Lindenmeyer 2005 is about much more than the New Deal agencies that served children and their families, the author argues for their importance in shaping the lives of children and reifying the ideal of a sheltered childhood.

      • Lindenmeyer, Kriste. A Right to Childhood: The US Children’s Bureau and Child Welfare, 1912–1946. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

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        Lindenmeyer explores child welfare policy in the United States through a detailed history of the Children’s Bureau. The text examines bureaucratic and institutional history as well as legislation supported by the bureau in areas of children’s health and welfare, infant mortality, and child labor reform, among other concerns.

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      • Lindenmeyer, Kriste. The Greatest Generation Grows Up: American Childhood in the 1930s. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2005.

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        Picking up journalist Tom Brokaw’s designation of this age cohort as the “Greatest Generation,” Lindenmeyer examines the actual lives of Great Depression–era kids. She argues that New Deal government programs that reinforced an ideal of a protected, dependent childhood served as a backdrop to lives characterized by both economic deprivation and a popular culture that lionized child stars.

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      • Lovett, Laura L. Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction and the Family in the United States, 1890–1938. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

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        Lovett places “nostalgic modernism”—a rosy vision of Americans’ agrarian past viewed through a lens of scientific racism—at the core of a diverse array of pronatalist cultural practices and political policies. Case studies include Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation policy, fitter family contests, and the homecroft movement.

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      • Marten, James. Childhood and Child Welfare in the Progressive Era: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005.

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        Part of Bedford’s series in History and Culture, Marten’s text offers a valuable, concise introduction summarizing Progressives’ ideas about childhood and their agenda for reforming the lives of actual children. Thirty documents are included that are grouped around thematic ideas such as urban youth, children’s rights, and “the spirit of youth.”

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      Constructing Race and Gender in the Early 20th Century

      All children appeared to be “problems” in the first decades of the 20th century. There was a “boy problem.” There was a “girl problem.” There was most certainly a “Negro Problem.” Although the girls who appear in both Odem 1995 and Alexander 1995 are really young women, middle-class reformers view them as girls in need of protection from commercial amusements, sexual exploitation, and a harsh juvenile welfare system. The authors argue that reform efforts, however, do more to police racial, ethnic, and social class boundaries, as well as middle-class gender norms, than to defend girls from harm. Macleod 1983 argues that the male reformers who attempted to shore up boys’ character were less concerned with sexual transgressions than with a pervasive, if inchoate, fear that masculinity itself was on the decline. Kidd 2004 builds on this work, setting these professional boy-workers in contradistinction to an American cultural fascination with a romantic notion of boyhood that he calls the “feral tale.” DuRocher 2011 and Ritterhouse 2006 document that while reformers in the North and West busied themselves defining and policing youth’s expression of gender and sexuality, southerners were occupied with teaching their children, black and white, to conform to the strictures of Jim Crow racism. Ritterhouse is particularly interested in the ways in which racial lessons are passed from generation to generation within families, while DuRocher 2011 looks beyond parents and children to the ways in which racism was reinforced in schoolbooks and children’s culture.

      • Alexander, Ruth M. The “Girl Problem”: Female Sexual Delinquency in New York, 1900–1930. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

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        A work that focuses on two New York State institutions—the Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills and the Western House of Refuge for Women at Albion—that incarcerated young women, many defined as “mentally defective.” Alexander uses institutional records as well as correspondence between inmates and their families to argue that poverty and racism often undergirded “delinquency.”

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      • DuRocher, Kristina. Raising Racists: The Socialization of White Children in the Jim Crow South. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2011.

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        DuRocher examines textbooks, southern parenting manuals, and advertisements for products as innocuous as baking soda to argue that a virulent racism pervaded the daily lives of children, enlisting them as future defenders of segregation and white supremacy. Includes chapters on white children’s witnessing of, and participation in, the lynching of African Americans.

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      • Kidd, Kenneth B. Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral Tale. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

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        A cultural history of American boy culture and professional “boy work” since the late 19th century. Contrasts the character-building boy work of organizations such as the Boy Scouts, 4-H, YMCA, and Father Flanagan’s Boys Town, with popular images of an idealized, sexualized “savage” child whose masculinity could be properly tamed.

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      • Macleod, David I. Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870–1920. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983.

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        A social history of the founders and leaders of boys’ organizations. Macleod is particularly attentive to the ways in which these organizations helped to define the contours of white middle-class manhood through both character-building programs for boys and the organizational structures created and inhabited by adult leaders.

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      • Odem, Mary E. Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885–1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

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        Odem chronicles middle-class reformers’ efforts to create courts, police, and reformatories all devoted to the control of “wayward” teenage girls. She argues that an early view of girls as victims to be pitied and rehabilitated was quickly transformed into a vision of them as sexual delinquents in need of control.

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      • Ritterhouse, Jennifer. Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

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        Ritterhouse makes powerful use of oral histories from both African-American and white southerners to explain how children learned the “racial etiquette” that undergirded the segregated South. She also discusses “forgotten alternatives,” her term for the interracial friendships that were possible for children before they were taught adult “truths” about race.

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      Early 20th-Century Peer Cultures

      On the heels of the recognition of adolescence as a life stage at the turn of the 20th century, the first decades of the century witnessed a proliferation of youth peer cultures formed in high schools, colleges, and voluntary youth organizations. Fass 1977 was an early effort to allow this nascent youth culture, previously subsumed under an age-indeterminate historiography of the “Roaring Twenties,” to speak for itself through student-produced newspapers and yearbooks. Bailey 1988 argues that evolving ideas about sexuality and gender relations, fueled by youth’s participation in the burgeoning consumer culture, created an important power dynamic that resided at the heart of youth peer relations. Schrum 2004 combines attention to consumer culture with a focus on the high school, an institution fast becoming the seat of youth identity as ever-greater numbers of young people attend school into their late teens. Schrum argues for the role of youth agency, especially for girls, in the creation of a teen culture that appeared to be saturated with advertising and consumption, and a virtual idolatry of the new motion picture industry. Miller 2007 and Paris 2008 turn away from school settings to argue for the importance of youth cultures defined by, and created in, summer camps. In the volunteer organizations and among the diverse legions of private individuals who created summer camps, the authors recognize both a nostalgic anxiety about what childhood had become and a celebration of the newly normative idea of a protected childhood.

      • Bailey, Beth L. From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

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        Bailey argues that by the 1920s a guardian- and girl-controlled system of courtship had given way to a male-controlled world of dating that was firmly rooted in the consumer economy and increasingly disaggregated from adult supervision—all of which powerfully shaped young people’s understanding of gender identities and assumptions about sexuality.

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      • Fass, Paula S. The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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        One of the earliest historical efforts to uncover and analyze the formation of youthful peer cultures. Fass uses college newspapers and opinion polls, among other sources, to argue that peer group pressure and a new self-conscious ethos of generational rebellion shaped college students’ attitudes toward politics and sexuality as well as leisure and education.

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      • Miller, Susan A. Growing Girls: The Natural Origins of Girls’ Organizations in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007.

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        A history of the early years of the Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls. Miller argues that a pervasive rhetoric about the salutary benefits of the “natural” world and, in particular, the workings of summer camp lie at the heart of the organizations’ efforts to define the contours of a modern American girlhood.

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      • Paris, Leslie. Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp. New York: New York University Press, 2008.

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        Children’s Nature explores the history of summer camps from their late-19th-century origins to the World War II era. Paris argues that camp—created particularly for children, and removed both spatially and temporally from the adult world—reinforced ideals of childhood as a unique life stage that could be both “protected and playful.”

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      • Schrum, Kelly. Some Wore Bobby Sox: The Emergence of Teenage Girls’ Culture, 1920–1945. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

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        Using advertisements as well as sources created by youth, such as yearbooks and school newspapers, Schrum argues for the emergence of a mass consumer culture geared toward—and enjoyed by—teenagers decades before that word was coined. This consumer market was an important site for both individual and collective identity formation.

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      20th-Century Consumer and Popular Culture

      Cook 2004, Jacobson 2004, and Sammond 2005 all identify the 1920s and 1930s as a crucial period in the development of the child consumer, tying new philosophies of parenting and the ascendant ideal of a sheltered childhood to the construction of mass marketing to kids and their families. Cook 2004 argues that the children’s clothing industry—as opposed to markets for toys and literature—is a revealing site of analysis; in it the author finds both savvy marketers willing to carefully consider children’s perspectives and children emboldened to develop individual tastes. The focus in Jacobson 2004 is less on stores and merchandise and more on the ways in which the child consumer was created within a family that was increasingly judged by how well it attended to the consumer “needs” of its children. Sammond links the development of these families to the larger political, cultural, and national anxieties in Cold War America. The relentless demands of a consumer culture focused on children both thrusts children into the marketplace and creates a popular market for images of children. Inness 1998 and Nash 2006 are interested in the ways that girls, in particular, are defined by popular culture. Nash argues that teenage girls occupy a central, if disturbing role at the heart of a popular culture that equates them with a transgressive sexuality, and then blames them for those imagined transgressions. Inness 1998 affirms the central role of the consumer and popular culture in shaping the identity of adolescent girls, but casts these forces in a brighter light, finding within them space not only for girls’ self-creation, but also for a positive cultural vision of female adolescence.

      • Cook, Daniel Thomas. The Commodification of Childhood: The Children’s Clothing Industry and the Rise of the Child Consumer. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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        Cook uses the children’s clothing industry to describe advertisers’ and manufacturers’ efforts to create a ubiquitous children’s consumer market. The text analyzes the proliferation of consumer categories—by gender and age—even as it argues for the presence of children’s agency in the development of consumer identities.

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      • Inness, Sherrie A., ed. Delinquents and Debutantes: Twentieth-Century American Girls’ Cultures. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

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        A diverse collection of essays on adolescent girls’ culture, loosely grouped around themes of socialization, consumerism, and popular culture. Essays range from explorations of delinquency and dating to the cultural context of babysitting and board games. Lively writing and modest length make virtually all of the contributions well suited to undergraduate reading lists.

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      • Jacobson, Lisa. Raising Consumers: Children and the American Mass Market in the Early Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

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        Jacobson places a particular emphasis on the rise of child consumers within the family, arguing that in the 1920s and 1930s new styles of parenting created space for children to develop consumer preferences. The text is particularly attentive to gender, detailing the rise of “boy heroes” and athletic girls.

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      • Nash, Ilana. American Sweethearts: Teenage Girls in Twentieth-Century Popular Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

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        Nash examines sources from Nancy Drew to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to construct a disturbing argument about the sexualization of teenage girls in American popular culture. Nash argues that pervasive and often insidious patriarchic familial structures created and perpetuated a vision of girlhood characterized by enduring immaturity and incompetence.

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      • Sammond, Nicholas. Babes in Tomorrowland: Walt Disney and the Making of the American Child, 1930–1960. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

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        Sammond argues that in this period a generic vision of childhood “normality” was created through a confluence of corporate media, popular advice, and scientific texts. Walt Disney Productions, in particular, became increasingly adept at the creation of an attractive and marketable path to healthy development that, not coincidentally, helped naturalize ascendant political and cultural values.

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      World War II and Postwar America

      The preservation of children’s experience on the home front during World War II relies heavily on the memoirs of adults reflecting on their experience, and both Tuttle 1993 and Ossian 2011 make extensive use of them. Tuttle is largely content to allow these memories to be read without analysis, a fraught decision for a historian, but one that does manage to convey, in this text, the texture of a childlike experience of war. Ossian 2011, though mindful of the diversity of individuals’ experiences, advances an argument about the way in which the war created a cohesive age-cohort and a generational experience of war. De Schweinitz 2009 focuses on the Civil Rights movement to mount the author’s argument for the power of a pivotal national event both to draw on images of childhood for its rhetorical construction and to shape the generational experience of child participants. Similar to Mitchell 2008 (see Civil War and Reconstruction), de Schweinitz explores the ways in which ideals of childhood developed unevenly for African-American children, even as they became powerful symbols of an (unfulfilled) American ideal of equality under the law. Forman-Brunell 2009 and Devlin 2005 bring a discussion of postwar politics into American family life. In 1963, Betty Friedman famously unveiled the “feminine mystique” that she situated at the heart of the postwar suburban marriage and home life. Devlin argues that a different, yet equally disturbing psychodynamic involving teenage girls and their fathers was produced in this crucible of family life in the 1950s. Forman-Brunell’s focus on babysitters allows her to interrogate the cultural role of teenage girls from a perspective beyond familial dynamics and to analyze their image in an increasingly pervasive popular culture. Murray 2010 argues that the experience of gay and lesbian children, and their acceptance—or exclusion—from their birth families reveals the role that children play as symbols of their parents’ adherence to postwar norms of sexuality and gender.

      • de Schweinitz, Rebecca. If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

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        Examines the participation of youth—from young adults to elementary school students—in the Civil Rights movement, and analyzes the central place of childhood in civil rights rhetoric. This first-ever history includes new readings of the Emmitt Till case and the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

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      • Devlin, Rachel. Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters, and Postwar American Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

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        Beneath the façade of the allegedly wholesome family life of the 1950s, Devlin finds a pervasive, eroticized dynamic between fathers and daughters. Evidence from the popular culture is bolstered by the author’s careful reading of psychological and scientific sources.

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      • Forman-Brunell, Miriam. Babysitter: An American History. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

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        Forman-Brunell argues that teenage babysitters have done an extraordinary amount of cultural work in addition to child care, standing in for adults’ anxieties about youth sexuality and the changing role of women. Babysitter is grounded in an array of diverse sources, from slasher movies and urban legends to union records and government documents.

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      • Murray, Heather. Not in This Family: Gays and the Meaning of Kinship in Postwar North America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

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        Generational conversations, and most often conflict, are at the heart of this history of families struggling to accommodate their gay and lesbian children. Murray uses these fractious, but not fractured, families to analyze larger cultural changes in ideals of privacy, kinship, and intimacy between children and parents.

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      • Ossian, Lisa L. The Forgotten Generation: American Children and World War II. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011.

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        Ossian details the work of mobilization—the food conservation and bond drives, gardening and scrap metal collections—that occupied children on the American home front. She is attentive to the diversity of kids’ experience related to geographic area and race, particularly in a discussion of Japanese-American internment camps.

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      • Tuttle, William M. Daddy’s Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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        Tuttle recounts the wartime experiences of children largely through a vast collection of letters written decades after the fact. The author tries to impose some thematic structure on this engaging, albeit scattershot, material by gathering it into fifteen short chapters focused on everything from children’s games to their nightmares.

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      Parenting Advice

      From Puritan times to the present day, Americans have been known for churning out volumes of often mutually exclusive recommendations, or, as all these authors would agree, virtual commandments to parents on how to raise their children. None of the authors mistake advice for actual behavior, but they differ in how much parents worry about this inevitable gap between theory and practice. Stearns 2003, which lays much of the blame for blaming parents on the commercialization of American culture, finds the highest levels of ubiquitous, if inchoate, anxiety. Grant 1998 focuses on mothers, and the largely male scientific experts who so often found them wanting, in allowing for a more historically exacting portrait of the evolving medicalization of motherhood. Hulbert 2004, written for a nonscholarly audience, seems to find the most space for parents to get it right, because they always have competing theories from which to choose.

      • Grant, Julia. Raising Baby by the Book: The Education of American Mothers. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

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        Grant makes good use of the vast array of advice literature that has been published in the United States over the course of two centuries. She critiques the ascendance of a scientific approach to parenting, its implications for public policy, and its tendency to fault parents, particularly mothers, for their “failures.”

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      • Hulbert, Ann. Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice about Children. New York: Vintage, 2004.

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        Raising America presents biographical sketches of the “hard” and “soft” practitioners—including a clever reading of the evolving career of Benjamin Spock, who dominated the parental advice market. Hulbert argues that this dialectic of “child-centered” versus “parent-centered” approaches to child rearing shaped Americans’ understanding of what constitutes good parenting in the 20th century.

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      • Stearns, Peter N. Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

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        Stearns argues that both the ceaseless demands of consumerism and the requirement for a sheltered childhood have beset modern parenthood. American individualism and a cadre of self-serving experts ensure that parents look to themselves rather than to structural inequities to explain their real and perceived failures to raise their children properly.

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      History of Minds and Bodies

      The history of medicine (and to a lesser degree, the history of science more broadly) has long presented fruitful ground for collaboration with the history of children and youth. The high differential mortality rate of infants and children has long drawn the attention of medical professionals, government agencies, and reformers, as detailed in Golden, et al. 2004. Once these rates came under control in the 20th century, experts extended their scrutiny to a more general understanding of child welfare and proper development (see Beatty, et al. 2006). Historians of medicine with an interest in childhood have also contributed to an understanding of the professionalization of pediatric and adolescent medicine. Medical practitioners and scientific experts were, as DeLuzio 2007 argues, responsible for the identification of adolescence as a distinct life stage, and beholden to the treatment of adolescences’ ills for their professional identity, as detailed in Prescott 1998. Brumberg 1989 explores the tensions at the heart of this mutually constitutive dynamic by focusing on the discovery of a specific disease, anorexia nervosa. Yet, medical authority over children’s developing minds and bodies is neither monolithic nor hegemonic. Jones 1999 argues that psychiatric professionals lost some of their authority to a new cadre of experts, while Brumberg 1997 details the ways in which advertising and mass consumption usurped previously held medical authority.

      • Beatty, Barbara, Julia Grant, and Emily D. Cahan, eds. When Science Encounters the Child: Education, Parenting, and Child Welfare in 20th-Century America. New York: Teachers College Press, 2006.

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        Anthology on the history of scientific research on children, including topics ranging from pedagogy and parenting to child welfare and child development. The volume has an excellent introduction and extensive notes that are valuable to historians interested in the scientific underpinning of the changing conception of childhood in the 20th century.

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      • Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa. New York: Penguin, 1989.

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        Although Brumberg’s social history begins with a discussion of medieval saints and moves on to an analysis of British “fasting girls,” the text focuses on the “discovery” of anorexia in the well-appointed dining rooms of the 19th-century American bourgeoisie, where young women asserted their limited familial authority by refusing food.

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      • Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. New York: Random House, 1997.

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        Brumberg historicizes adolescents’ obsession with skin care, weight control, and personal hygiene to argue that girls’ relentless scrutiny of their bodies can be psychologically damaging and eminently distracting. Written for a popular audience of high school girls, their parents, and teachers, The Body Project is a work very well suited to an undergraduate audience.

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      • DeLuzio, Crista. Female Adolescence in American Scientific Thought, 1830–1930. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

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        DeLuzio effectively challenges the accepted wisdom that locates the creation of adolescence in G. Stanley Hall’s 1904 tome. She examines literature in biology, psychology, anthropology, and medicine to find that girls, not Hall’s young men, were the central preoccupation of scientific thinkers who attempted to define this new life stage.

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      • Golden, Janet, Richard A. Meckel, and Heather Munro Prescott, eds. Children and Youth in Sickness and in Health: A Historical Handbook and Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

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        Collection includes a range of introductory essays on childhood diseases, children’s mental health, and efforts mounted by both the public and the private sectors to educate children and parents about sanitation, disease prevention, and healthy habits. Text includes primary source documents and a helpful bibliography.

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      • Jones, Kathleen W. Taming the Troublesome Child: American Families, Child Guidance, and the Limits of Psychiatric Authority. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

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        Jones argues that "troublesome children" and their problematic parents (particularly mothers) were discovered by the Child Guidance Movement, which then claimed diagnostic and therapeutic authority over them. Although Jones’s work is based on the records of Boston’s Judge Baker Guidance Center from 1920 to 1945, her story has a broader reach.

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      • Prescott, Heather Munro. A Doctor of Their Own: The History of Adolescent Medicine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

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        Using patient records, oral histories, and medical advice literature, Prescott charts the course of adolescent medicine from its origins in the 1950s to the current day. This work is far more than the history of a medical specialty; Prescott ties the rise of adolescent medicine to emerging ideologies about youth culture, family life, and popular notions of teenagers.

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      LAST MODIFIED: 03/23/2012

      DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791231-0052

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