A comprehensive investigation of how Americans have raised their children in the past two centuries.
In today’s global society, many Americans question whether there’s still an advantage to raising children in the United States, as opposed to other countries, whether immigrants still find significant advantages here, and whether parents have enough or too much control over their children. Using extensive sociological research, Fass (History, Emerita/Univ. of California; Children of a New World: Society, Culture, and Globalization, 2006, etc.) delves deeply into the evolution of the American childhood from the post–Revolutionary War era to the present day. “Children’s lives are always enmeshed in the changing cultural and political landscape of their time,” she writes, “and each generation will have a somewhat (and sometimes drastically) different set of social conditions influencing its life.” In the 1800s, children were expected to work alongside their parents in traditional roles while enjoying a sense of freedom that would be considered dangerous nowadays. They grew up rapidly, forming independent, reliable characters at an early age. After the Civil War, many children were left fatherless, forcing them to live on the streets, which birthed foundling associations and “orphan trains” that sent homeless children to the ever expanding West. Meanwhile, former slave children sought education of their own, which brought about educational reform. As America settled into the next century, scientists explored health benefits and concerns, and the emphasis shifted toward lowering the staggering numbers of infant and early childhood mortalities. Researchers applauded breast-feeding and stressed the importance of education and play. As American lives stabilized after the world wars, more attention was directed toward child abuse, extended educational opportunities, the issues of race and immigration, and the role of working mothers in the family dynamic. In each scenario, Fass provides ample historical and scientific evidence to support her findings, giving readers a methodical, meticulous accounting of childhood in America over the past 200 years.
An accessible academic analysis of the progression of American children’s lives since 1800.