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In the Web of Class

In the Web of Class: Delinquents and Reformers in Boston, 1810s-1930s

Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    In the Web of Class
    Book Description:

    "An analytic overview of the history of social welfare and juvenile justice in Boston..[Schneider] traces cogently the origins, development, and ultimate failure of Protestant and Catholic reformers' efforts to ameliorate working-class poverty and juvenile delinquency." - Choice"Anyone who wants to understand why America's approach to juvenile justice doesn't work should read In the Web of Class." - Michael B. Katz,University of Pennsylvania

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3955-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: The Web of Class
    (pp. 1-14)

    We have never dealt successfully with our troubled children. We lock them up, put them on probation, place them in foster care, or keep them at home and utilize home visitors and social services—the limited possibilities have all been tried before and failed. Efforts to reform delinquents have faced three stumbling blocks. The first was the definition of the problem itself. Reformers repeatedly described social problems as cultural in origin and overlooked or downplayed the impact of social structure. According to this view, delinquency stemmed from character deficiencies, and reformers focused on providing delinquents with new cultural values while...

  6. Part 1. The Creation of Private and Public Charity

    • [Part 1. Introduction]
      (pp. 15-16)

      In the early nineteenth century, reformers in both the United States and England sought to redefine the relationship of the poor to society. Welfare reform in both countries reflected the ideas of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus, as reformers sought to cut subsidies to the poor and bring charity in line with the demands of the free market. Malthus, with his claim of having discovered the laws of population growth, was particularly influential. Relief, he argued, sustained the poor artificially and kept them from learning self-discipline—especially delayed marriage and reproduction—or from suffering the misery and famine that were...

    • CHAPTER 1 Moral Entrepreneurs and the Invention of the Reformable Child
      (pp. 17-31)

      The moral entrepreneurs were urban missionaries seeking to awaken the souls of the unchurched poor. They did not intend to organize welfare or to undertake the cultural transformation of the poor. But they confronted increasing destitution and the poor besieged them with requests for aid. Eventually forced into relief-giving, the missionaries organized a social welfare bureaucracy in order to prevent impostors from taking advantage of them. However, the missionaries’ efforts largely failed. Unable to distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy poor, or even to settle differences among themselves, they turned instead to the children of the poor. They hoped...

    • CHAPTER 2 Public Welfare and the Public Reformatory
      (pp. 32-50)

      Malthusian welfare reform relied upon deterrence, and deterrence was embodied in the workhouse. The workhouse magnified the fear of dependency by isolating and labeling the dependent. It reinforced the message of the moral entrepreneurs that dependency stemmed from individual moral flaws and that the poor had to learn the values of a bourgeois culture. And the philosophy of welfare that placed the workhouse at its core came inexorably to shape reform efforts for delinquents.

      Massachusetts’ first reformatory, Boston’s House of Reformation (1826), was part of Mayor Josiah Quincy’s “system” to restrain idleness, vice, and crime. Quincy envisioned a city rationalized...

  7. Part 2. Domestic Reform

    • [Part 2. Introduction]
      (pp. 51-52)

      Domestic reform was a combination of traditional moral reform, a pastoral ideal that associated independence and virtue with rural life, and an emphasis on family and maternal training, which formed the core of the Victorian approach to children. The term “domestic reform” better expresses the intentions of reformers than “romantic reform,” which is associated with anti-institutionalism and perfectionism, and which is usually thought to have disappeared by the end of the Civil War. Domestic reform continued to shape institutions for delinquents, particularly private ones, until the 1880s. These institutions rejected the discipline of the congregate asylum and demanded that delinquents...

    • CHAPTER 3 Private Alternatives to the Asylum
      (pp. 53-71)

      A short story, “The Young Forgers; or, Homes and Prisons,” published in 1859, contrasted the fates of four boys who had been arrested. Two, Frank and Mayhew, were saved from the juvenile reformatory by the intervention of a city missionary, who placed them in country homes. Eventually they returned to the city fortified by country virtue and earned their fortunes in business. The other two, A. Q. and Roland, were sentenced to the House of Reformation, where the other inmates further schooled them in crime. Upon their release they continued their criminal careers and A. Q. landed in prison for...

    • CHAPTER 4 Domestic Reform and the Delinquent Girl
      (pp. 72-90)

      Domestic reform provided a solution to the problem of moral contagion. Immediate placement promised to avoid it altogether by isolating a delinquent girl in a family under the eye of a mother/matron, who instructed her in domesticity and supervised her moral reclamation. But placement was not an accepted policy at mid-century and in 1856 reformers created instead a family-style institution, the State Industrial School for Girls (Lancaster), that trained girls prior to placement. The family-style reformatory, with its separate cottages, limited contagion by allowing reformers to classify inmates by offense, thus separating older, more delinquent girls from younger ones. Eventually...

    • CHAPTER 5 Domestic Reform and the State Reform School for Boys
      (pp. 91-108)

      Domestic reform arrived at the State Reform School for Boys (Westborough) in 1861. A devastating fire in 1859 and ensuing charges of brutality and mismanagement forced the old administration and trustees to resign. The reformatory reorganized, adding cottages for the boys working on the farm, although the remnants of the old central building were still used to confine difficult boys and the institution still housed around three hundred inmates. The most significant change was the hiring of a new superintendent, Joseph Allen, who radically reordered the reformatory according to the tenets of domestic reform. Allen was a Unitarian teacher and...

  8. Part 3. The Organization of Welfare

    • [Part 3. Introduction]
      (pp. 109-110)

      The Arlington Street Armory still stands as an eloquent reminder of bourgeois Boston’s fear of the working class. Begun after the great railroad strike of 1877 and completed in the early 1890s, the Armory sits astride one of the few streets that crossed between the workingclass South End and the Brahmin Back Bay. Jutting turrets enabled would-be defenders to catch invaders in a crossfire, while iron shutters for the windows, a moat, a drawbridge, and triply reinforced doors secured the building against assault. A cistern under the roof saved a month’s supply of rainwater in case of siege and a...

    • CHAPTER 6 Catholic Welfare: Between Separatism and Accommodation
      (pp. 111-127)

      “Brands from the Burning,” published by the Children’s Mission to the Children of the Destitute in 1856, captures the hopes of Protestants and the fears of Catholics in nineteenth-century Boston. The story is about Pat, a Catholic boy, and the Protestant city missionary who met him when breaking up a fight among some boys. The missionary took the boys home with him to be cleaned up and fed, and offered to enroll them in Sunday school. Pat Connors, who lived with his widowed mother and six siblings, returned for the Sunday school lessons, which soon paid off. Not only did...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Charity Network
      (pp. 128-144)

      A group of Methodist missionaries, touring the North End’s “by-ways to hell” in 1867, discovered flourishing brothels, dance halls, and gambling dens. From spots all along North Street, boisterous laughter, squealing fiddles, and the sounds of dancing invited passersby to enter. The missionaries discovered a world where a mission had become a dance hall, where known criminals and notorious women assembled, and where men took their sexual pleasure. Everywhere blacks and whites mingled on an equal footing, and the missionaries commented on the number of mulattoes they found—further proof, apparently, of the totally dissipated natures of the vicious poor....

  9. Part 4. Expertise and Scientific Reform

    • [Part 4. Introduction]
      (pp. 145-147)

      For the Progressives, children and reform were practically synonymous. In the national effort to enact reform measures, tenement house reformers used photographs of children and their parents crowded into single-room apartments to show the need for improved housing. Lewis Hine indicted textile mill owners with photographs of barefoot boys and girls dwarfed by the machines they tended. “Newsies” hawking papers in saloons symbolized both individual entrepreneurship and the perils of street trading. Children playing next to decaying offal emphasized the need for playgrounds and sanitary reform. States expanded outdoor relief to prevent the breakup of families by funding mothers’ pensions....

    • CHAPTER 8 The Juvenile Court: Triumph of Progressivism
      (pp. 148-169)

      The strands of Progressive era child welfare reform were woven together in the juvenile court, which promised administrative expertise and efficiency. The court unified the system of social welfare agencies and juvenile justice institutions that had evolved in the nineteenth century, and it promised a “scientific” approach to the problem of delinquency, one that by definition was removed from conflicts of class, culture, and politics. The court was the perfect structural reform: it applied ostensibly neutral expertise to a difficult social problem.¹

      Of course, the court did not work as promised. The court itself was the product of partisan politics...

    • CHAPTER 9 Child Guidance and the Court
      (pp. 170-188)

      Reviewing their work in 1935, William Healy and Augusta Bronner concluded that they had failed. Efforts to diagnose delinquents clinically and to recommend treatment plans to the juvenile court had not succeeded in curing delinquents of their deviance. The presiding justice of the Boston Juvenile Court, John J. Perkins, agreed. “The value and power of psychiatry were exaggerated to the point of magic, and like the juvenile court, psychiatry was oversold to the public.” Popularization of psychological theories of deviance encouraged the public to believe that if the court sent a maladjusted youngster to the clinic, the mental conflict causing...

  10. Conclusion: The Failure of Cultural Reform
    (pp. 189-192)

    On the eve of the Great Depression, Boston’s social welfare agencies formed a network of public and private, sectarian and secular, coercive and voluntary institutions that responded to the city’s social problems. Cases were routinely referred from one agency to another, the courts used private agencies for public purposes (such as supervising individuals on probation), private agencies initiated court cases against working-class parents accused of neglecting or abusing their children, and delinquents shuttled back and forth among schools, the mental health clinic, social welfare agencies, settlement houses, and the reformatory. However impressive this triumph of bureaucracy and rationalization may seem,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 193-250)
  12. Index
    (pp. 251-261)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 262-263)