The experiences of children in America have long been a source of scholarly fascination and general interest. In “American Childhoods,” Joseph Illick, professor of history at San Francisco State University, presents the first comprehensive cross-cultural history of childhood in America, bringing together his own extensive research and a synthesis of literature from a range of disciplines.
Beginning with American Indians, European settlers and African slaves—and their differing perceptions of how children should be raised—“American Childhoods” moves to the 19th century and the rise of industrialization to introduce the offspring of the emerging urban middle and working classes. Illick reveals that while rural and working-class children continued to toil from an early age, as they had in the colonial period, childhood among the urban middle class became recognized as a distinct phase of life, with a continuing emphasis on gender differences.
Illick then discusses how the public school system was created in the 19th century to assimilate immigrants and discipline all children.
Concluding his sweeping study, the author presents the progeny of suburban, inner-city and rural Americans in the 20th century, highlighting the growing disparity of opportunities available to children of decaying cities and the booming suburbs.
Consistently making connections between economics, psychology, commerce, sociology and anthropology, “American Childhoods” is rich with insight into the world of children. Written in lucid, accessible prose, the book demonstrates how children’s experiences have varied dramatically through time and across space, and how the idea of childhood has meant vastly different things to different groups in American society.
—University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on July 18, 2002