Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890-1945

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Overview

During the first half of the twentieth century, out-of-wedlock pregnancy came to be seen as one of the most urgent and compelling problems of the day. The effort to define its meaning fueled a struggle among three groups of women: evangelical reformers who regarded unmarried mothers as fallen sisters to be saved, a new generation of social workers who viewed them as problem girls to be treated, and unmarried mothers themselves. Drawing on previously unexamined case records from maternity homes, Regina Kunzel explores how women negotiated the crisis of single pregnancy and analyzes the different ways they understood and represented unmarried motherhood.

Fallen Women, Problem Girls is a social and cultural history of out-of-wedlock pregnancy in the United States from 1890 to 1945. Kunzel analyzes how evangelical women drew on a long tradition of female benevolence to create maternity homes that would redeem and reclaim unmarried mothers. She shows how, by the 1910s, social workers struggling to achieve professional legitimacy tried to dissociate their own work from that earlier tradition, replacing the reform rhetoric of sisterhood with the scientific language of professionalism. By analyzing the important and unexplored transition from the conventions of nineteenth-century reform to the professional imperatives of twentieth-century social welfare, Kunzel offers a new interpretation of gender and professionalization. Kunzel places shifting constructions of out-of-wedlock pregnancy within a broad history of gender, sexuality, class, and race, and argues that the contests among evangelical women, social workers, and unmarried mothers distilled larger generational and cross-class conflicts among women in the first half of the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Traces how scientific and professional social workers wrested the discourse about unmarried mothers from the evangelical reformers of the 19th century. The reformers saw the women as fallen sisters to be saved; the social workers saw them as problem girls to be treated. Places the conflict within larger class, gender, and race tensions in the first half of the 20th century. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR booknews.com
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300065091
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/1995
  • Series: Yale Historical Publications Series
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 The Maternity Home Movement 9
2 The New Experts and the "Girl Problem" 36
3 The "Secret Sisterhood": Unmarried Mothers in Maternity Homes 65
4 "Problem Girls": Docility and Dissidence in Maternity Homes 91
5 "Case Workers Have Become Necessities" 115
6 White Neurosis, Black Pathology, and the Ironies of Professionalization: The 1940s 144
List of Abbreviations 171
Notes 173
Bibliography 233
Index 259
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