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Reinventing Childhood After World War II

Reinventing Childhood After World War II

Paula S. Fass
Michael Grossberg
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Reinventing Childhood After World War II
    Book Description:

    In the Western world, the modern view of childhood as a space protected from broader adult society first became a dominant social vision during the nineteenth century. Many of the West's sharpest portrayals of children in literature and the arts emerged at that time in both Europe and the United States and continue to organize our perceptions and sensibilities to this day. But that childhood is now being recreated. Many social and political developments since the end of the World War II have fundamentally altered the lives children lead and are now beginning to transform conceptions of childhood. Reinventing Childhood After World War II brings together seven prominent historians of modern childhood to identify precisely what has changed in children's lives and why. Topics range from youth culture to children's rights; from changing definitions of age to nontraditional families; from parenting styles to how American experiences compare with those of the rest of the Western world. Taken together, the essays argue that children's experiences have changed in such dramatic and important ways since 1945 that parents, other adults, and girls and boys themselves have had to reinvent almost every aspect of childhood. Reinventing Childhood After World War II presents a striking interpretation of the nature and status of childhood that will be essential to students and scholars of childhood, as well as policy makers, educators, parents, and all those concerned with the lives of children in the world today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0516-9
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 The Child-Centered Family? New Rules in Postwar America (pp. 1-18)
    Paula S. Fass

    “In America,” Dr. Benjamin Spock told his millions of devoted readers, “very few children are raised to believe that their principal destiny is to serve their family, their country or God. Generally we’ve given them the feeling that they are free to set their own aims and occupations in life according to their own inclinations.” This passage neatly summed up what Spock headlined as “Child-Centered America.” The clinching line came in Spock’s next paragraph: “The tendency is for American parents to consider the child at least as important as themselves—perhaps more important.”¹ In stating the American dream in this...

  5. 2 Liberation and Caretaking: Fighting over Children’s Rights in Postwar America (pp. 19-37)
    Michael Grossberg

    Children’s rights have been a critical but contentious issue in the United States since the late nineteenth century and the emergence of modern conceptions of childhood. Since then rights have assumed greater and greater importance as a primary way for Americans to determine the meaning of childhood. Nevertheless children’s rights did not develop in a consistent or a linear manner. Quite the contrary; contests over children’s rights were creations of particular periods in history. In no era was that reality more evident or consequential than in the second half of the twentieth century. Two stories illustrate how the focus of...

  6. 3 The Changing Face of Children’s Culture (pp. 38-50)
    Steven Mintz

    It’s a common schoolyard game among six-to nine-year-olds. One child announces that another has “cooties,” those imaginary contaminants with which a child—usually one of the opposite sex or one marginalized or stigmatized—is supposedly infected. Cooties can be transferred through touch (followed by the shout “You’ve got cooties”) or guarded against (by pushing one’s arms out), but the game is anything but harmless entertainment. “Cooties” is a pollution ritual, in which one child taunts friends or marks or labels outcasts. Through this game, certain children—usually unathletic or unattractive and often female—are treated as symbolically contaminating.¹

    Cooties is...

  7. 4 Ten Is the New Fourteen: Age Compression and “Real” Childhood (pp. 51-67)
    Stephen Lassonde

    In 1950 “Buck” Sledge, a locally prominent lawyer in Greensboro, Alabama, took his five-year-old son, William, to a patch of timberland beyond the town’s perimeter to fire his automatic pistol. Planting his feet firmly behind his son’s, Buck wrapped his long fingers around William’s small hands so that when they pulled the trigger, the gun’s kickback wouldn’t knock the young boy to the ground. After the gun’s first deafening round exploded, Buck calmly urged his son to try again. They fired the pistol over and over until William could hold and shoot the weapon safely without his father’s help.


  8. 5 Whose Child? Parenting and Custody in the Postwar Period (pp. 68-83)
    Mary Ann Mason

    Mark and Crispina Calvert were a married couple who desired to have a child in the last decade of the twentieth century. Crispina had undergone a hysterectomy but her ovaries remained capable of producing eggs, and the couple eventually considered a surrogate to bear the child for Crispina. Anna Johnson heard about Crispina’s plight from a coworker and offered to serve as a surrogate for the Calverts.

    They signed a contract and Anna agreed to give up all parental rights. The Calverts paid her $10,000 and promised to provide $100,000 in life insurance. Almost as soon as the embryo was...

  9. 6 Children, the State, and the American Dream (pp. 84-109)
    Kriste Lindenmeyer

    Just two days before the 2009 United States presidential inauguration, Parade Magazine published an article by president-elect Barack Obama. Entitled, “What I want for You—And Every Child in America,” the essay was an optimistic message written in the form of a letter to Obama’s daughters, ten-year-old Malia and seven-year-old Sasha. Obama recalled childhood memories of his Kansas-born grandmother reciting lines from the Declaration of Independence in order to teach him about the nation’s core values and their relationship to the American Dream. He also acknowledged, however, that his grandmother’s teachings included stories of struggle by brave individuals fighting to...

  10. 7 Children and the Swedish Welfare State: From Different to Similar (pp. 110-138)
    Bengt Sandin

    The twentieth century, it was once thought, would become “the century of the child.” This was certainly how it was described by Swedish writer Ellen Key, who had clear ideas on how it was to be accomplished.¹ Regardless of later views on “the century of the child,” it is clear that children were at the center of the Swedish welfare state’s efforts to change society directly and indirectly. The welfare state was formed in the period immediately before and following the Second World War, which raises questions about contemporary views on children’s roles and the meaning of childhood shifted, but...

  11. Notes (pp. 139-168)
  12. List of Contributors (pp. 169-170)
  13. Index (pp. 171-180)
  14. Acknowledgments (pp. 181-182)