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Inventing Modern Adolescence

Inventing Modern Adolescence: The Children of Immigrants in Turn-of-the-Century America

SARAH E. CHINN
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj258
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  • Book Info
    Inventing Modern Adolescence
    Book Description:

    The 1960s are commonly considered to be the beginning of a distinct "teenage culture" in America. But did this highly visible era of free love and rock 'n' roll really mark the start of adolescent defiance? In Inventing Modern Adolescence Sarah E. Chinn follows the roots of American teenage identity further back, to the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. She argues that the concept of the "generation gap"-a stereotypical complaint against American teens-actually originated with the division between immigrant parents and their American-born or -raised children. Melding a uniquely urban immigrant sensibility with commercialized consumer culture and a youth-oriented ethos characterized by fun, leisure, and overt sexual behavior, these young people formed a new identity that provided the framework for today's concepts of teenage lifestyle.Addressing the intersecting issues of urban life, race, gender, sexuality, and class consciousness, Inventing Modern Adolescence is an authoritative and engaging look at a pivotal point in American history and the intriguing, complicated, and still very pertinent teenage identity that emerged from it.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4595-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: “I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT’S COME OVER THE CHILDREN OF THIS GENERATION”
    (pp. 1-12)

    The 1980s, the years of my own adolescence, were the decade of the films of John Hughes and his muse, Molly Ringwald. The most celebrated movie in his oeuvre,The Breakfast Club(1985), featured five teenagers, each of whom fit a specific adolescent stereotype: the jock, the bad boy, the nerd, the weirdo, the popular girl. Forced together for an all-morning detention, the five argued, got high, formed new alliances, and, finally, came to understand that despite their superficial differences they had one crucial thing in common: they were all teenagers in an unjust adult world.

    Coming from a teen...

  5. 1 “Youth Must Have Its Fling”: THE BEGINNINGS OF MODERN ADOLESCENCE
    (pp. 13-28)

    How did adolescence begin? And who were the new adolescents? In this chapter I argue that a combination of demographic shifts in the working class, a rethinking of adolescence by social scientists and reformers, and the growth of commercial leisure brought about a new identity. In part this new cohort was the result of simple numbers—thanks to the immigration boom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were more young people in cities than ever before. Moreover, working-class identity became, in large part, inextricable from immigrant identity, as new Americans far outnumbered their U.S.-born working peers. Young...

  6. 2 Picturing Labor: LEWIS W. HINE, THE CHILD LABOR MOVEMENT, AND THE MEANINGS OF ADOLESCENT WORK
    (pp. 29-76)

    One of Progressive documentary photographer Lewis W. Hine’s most famous pictures is his so-called Italian Madonna (1905), a triumph of composition and style (fig. 2). Part of his series on immigrants at Ellis Island, the picture is almost luminous, encapsulating a mother’s tender affection for her child, and the child’s love for and dependence upon its mother. The photograph is deeply affecting: the mother and child dominate the picture in sharp focus, the child gazing up at the mother as the mother casts her eyes down at her child, creating a closed circuit of love and devotion. The woman’s hands...

  7. 3 “Irreverence and the American Spirit”: IMMIGRANT PARENTS, AMERICAN ADOLESCENTS, AND THE INVENTION OF THE GENERATION GAP
    (pp. 77-102)

    In 1899, Hilda Satt, the daughter of Jewish immigrants to Chicago, visited Jane Addams’s famous settlement house Hull-House for the first time. Her father had recently died, and although her mother “faced life with the heroism of the true American pioneer” (Polacheck 44), she was barely scraping by. Hilda hoped that Hull-House, with its low-cost cafeteria, its activities for immigrant women, men, and children, and its focus on neighborhood outreach would be able to alleviate her family’s dire financial and emotional situation. While the initial visit made some impression, it was Hilda’s second trip to Jane Addams’s settlement house that...

  8. 4 “Youth Demands Amusement”: DANCING, DANCE HALLS, AND THE EXERCISE OF ADOLESCENT FREEDOM
    (pp. 103-129)

    On a warm summer night in 1892 on the Lower East Side, twelve-year-old Rose Cohen, barely a year in New York, wandered out of her tenement apartment and “caught a few strains of music coming from the roof…. I went up and found under the sky, blue and bright with the stars and the city lights twinkling all around, a group of Irish-American girls and boys waltzing to the music of a harmonica. I sat down in the shadow near one of the chimneys and watched the stars and the dancing and listened to the song of ‘My Beautiful Irish...

  9. 5 “Youth Is Always Turbulent”: REINTERPRETATIONS OF ADOLESCENCE FROM BOHEMIA TO SAMOA
    (pp. 130-151)

    “The two generations misunderstand each other as they never did before,” declared Randolph S. Bourne in his 1913 manifestoYouth and Life(34).¹ “Youth”—a loosely defined period that for Bourne stretched from the midteens into the early twenties—had changed radically for the new generation of young people. By the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, youth had transformed into a “time of contradictions and anomalies…. The fiercest radicalisms, the most dogged conservatisms, irrepressible gayety, bitter melancholy—all these moods are equally part of that showery springtime of life” (3).

    Bourne’s analysis of youth, which is...

  10. Epilogue: SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT
    (pp. 152-156)

    By the end of the 1920s, the reorganization of adolescence was complete. While it was to go through various incarnations over the next fifty years, these differences were more in degree than in type: the threatening sexual freedom of the flappers, for example, was remapped onto subsequent generations of girls, from bobby soxers to Beatlemaniacs to hippies and so on. Similarly, the knowing sophistication George Babbitt noticed in his son Ted transformed via the merging of immigrant and African American styles into different kinds of cool (radical cool, rock and roll cool, hipster cool, back to radical cool). Over the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 157-180)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-192)
  13. Index
    (pp. 193-200)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-202)