The End of American Childhood takes a sweeping look at the history of American childhood and parenting, from the nation's founding to the present day. Renowned historian Paula Fass shows how, since the beginning of the American republic, independence, self-definition, and individual success have informed Americans' attitudes toward children. But as parents today hover over every detail of their children's lives, are the qualities that once made American childhood special still desired or possible? Placing the experiences of children and parents against the backdrop of social, political, and cultural shifts, Fass challenges Americans to reconnect with the beliefs that set the American understanding of childhood apart from the rest of the world.
Fass examines how freer relationships between American children and parents transformed the national culture, altered generational relationships among immigrants, helped create a new science of child development, and promoted a revolution in modern schooling. She looks at the childhoods of icons including Margaret Mead and Ulysses S. Grant—who, as an eleven-year-old, was in charge of his father's fields and explored his rural Ohio countryside. Fass also features less well-known children like ten-year-old Rose Cohen, who worked in the drudgery of nineteenth-century factories. Bringing readers into the present, Fass argues that current American conditions and policies have made adolescence socially irrelevant and altered children's road to maturity, while parental oversight threatens children's competence and initiative.
Showing how American parenting has been firmly linked to historical changes, The End of American Childhood considers what implications this might hold for the nation's future.
Paula S. Fass is professor of the Graduate School and the Margaret Byrne Professor of History Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. The author of Kidnapped and Children of a New World, she recently edited The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World. Fass lives in Berkeley, California.
"The material Fass provides on America in the 19th and early-20th centuries is important, and highly relevant to the really essential issues driving parenting behavior in our day. It tells a story that places the American experience of childhood and parenthood in a larger context of rising and falling levels of social concern. We see how a basic libertarian impulse--great for those with the privilege to be winners in their place and time--is intercut, periodically, with waves of communitarian conscience. Telling details remind us of how long it has been since caring for our country's most vulnerable children was seen as an integral part of our 'national welfare.'"--Judith Warner, New York Times Book Review
"Paula S. Fass, is a careful scholar who focuses here on how American childhood and parenthood have changed since the 19th century and how unique elements of the American story have differentiated child rearing here from parenthood in other places. . . . The End of American Childhood is a worthwhile and enlightening book, and [Fass] comes to some persuasively tough conclusions."--Daniel Akst, Wall Street Journal
"A wide-ranging and stimulating history of childhood and parenting in the U.S. . . . [Fass] illustrates her points with examples from the childhoods of figures both famous (Ulysses S. Grant and Margaret Mead) and obscure (Rose Cohen, a 19th-century child seamstress). She concludes by noting that with the insecurities of the global economy, adolescents put off independence, particularly financial independence, for far longer than in the past two centuries, but that independence is still their eventual goal. Her work provides an invaluable perspective on an important topic."--Publishers Weekly, starred review
Table of Contents:
Introduction: Young in America 1
1 Childhood and Parenting in the New Republic 13
Sowing the Seeds of Independence, 1800–1860
2 Children Adrift 45
Responding to Crisis, 1850–1890
3 What Mother Needs to Know 86
The New Science of Childhood, 1890–1940
4 A Wider World 127
Adolescence, Immigration, and Schooling, 1920–1960
5 All Our Children 171
Race, Rebellion, and Social Change, 1950–1990
6 What’s the Matter with Kids Today? 215
Suggestions for Further Reading 309