The Girl Problem: Female Sexual Delinquency in New York, 1900-1930

The Girl Problem: Female Sexual Delinquency in New York, 1900-1930

by Ruth M. Alexander
     
 

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During the Progressive Era, young working-class women were sometimes jailed for engaging in social and sexual activities that signaled their rejection of Victorian moral standards. These disadvantaged "delinquents" were subject to legal sanctions that were rarely applied to rebellious middle-class girls. As she traces the history of a social crisis that came to be… See more details below

Overview

During the Progressive Era, young working-class women were sometimes jailed for engaging in social and sexual activities that signaled their rejection of Victorian moral standards. These disadvantaged "delinquents" were subject to legal sanctions that were rarely applied to rebellious middle-class girls. As she traces the history of a social crisis that came to be known as the "girl problem," Ruth M. Alexander reconstructs the stories of individual women incarcerated in reformatories who helped redefine female adolescence in the United States. Alexander draws on the rich case files of reformatories at Bedford Hills and Albion, New York. Bringing together writings by the young inmates, letters from their parents, and institutional records, she follows the histories of a hundred girls as they run afoul of the law, are incarcerated, and struggle to reenter society. From the interplay among girls, families, courts, and penal institutions emerges a fascinating picture of class inequality and culture conflict. Alexander finds that most delinquent young women eventually accepted the idea that freedom was best won by conformity and accommodation. In showing how a new social problem was identified and tackled, Alexander also documents the emergence of the modern professions of social work and mental hygiene. Reenacting a key chapter in the transformation of adolescence, The "Girl Problem" contributes to the history of sexuality and social reform through the Progressive Era and beyond.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An absorbing analysis of delinquency among working-class adolescents. . . . This clearly written and well-researched study includes a useful bibliographical essay."—Library Journal

"The 'Girl Problem' is based in large part on the records of one hundred young women incarcerated between 1900 and 1930 in two institutions, the New York State Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills . . . and the Western House of Refuge for Women at Albion, in upstate New York. The records are rich with detail, including psychological assessments, correspondence from families and between inmates and others, and parole applications, that Alexander has used to good effect. Nearly all of those incarcerated were poor and came from immigrant or African-American homes."—Journal of Social History

"Alexander's study . . . adds an important set of characters and locales to the growing history of women's lives during the intense immigration, urbanization, and modernization of the early twentieth century. . . . This book is a powerful argument on several levels for why poverty seems to breed criminality in this country."—Women's Review of Books

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801428210
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
06/28/1995
Series:
9/28/2005
Pages:
232
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 9.33(h) x 0.82(d)

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