The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction

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Overview

In 1904, New York nuns brought forty Irish orphans to a remote Arizona mining camp, to be placed with Catholic families. The Catholic families were Mexican, as was the majority of the population. Soon the town's Anglos, furious at this "interracial" transgression, formed a vigilante squad that kidnapped the children and nearly lynched the nuns and the local priest. The Catholic Church sued to get its wards back, but all the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in favor of the vigilantes.

The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction tells this disturbing and dramatic tale to illuminate the creation of racial boundaries along the Mexican border. Clifton/Morenci, Arizona, was a "wild West" boomtown, where the mines and smelters pulled in thousands of Mexican immigrant workers. Racial walls hardened as the mines became big business and whiteness became a marker of superiority. These already volatile race and class relations produced passions that erupted in the "orphan incident." To the Anglos of Clifton/Morenci, placing a white child with a Mexican family was tantamount to child abuse, and they saw their kidnapping as a rescue.

Women initiated both sides of this confrontation. Mexican women agreed to take in these orphans, both serving their church and asserting a maternal prerogative; Anglo women believed they had to "save" the orphans, and they organized a vigilante squad to do it. In retelling this nearly forgotten piece of American history, Linda Gordon brilliantly recreates and dissects the tangled intersection of family and racial values, in a gripping story that resonates with today's conflicts over the "best interests of the child."

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

In her gripping book, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, Linda Gordon has written a model study of the creation and maintenance of race relations that manages to capture both the breathless sensationalism of the era's tabloids and the complexity of social status, shifting racial codes and the multiple uses of sex roles in social action...Gordon divides her story into six scenes, most of them devoted to some portion of the four days when the orphans' arrival engulfed Clifton-Morenci in a near riot followed by a mass kidnapping. Spliced between each scene is the history—long-term and proximate—of the towns' sociocultural landscape. It is an ingenious narrative device that enables her to reconstitute the distinct social structures of the area while rendering a taut journalistic account of the unfolding drama...The magnificence of her achievement [is] her masterly assembly of historical detail and acute sensitivity to the intricacies of human relations as mediated by power, prejudice and the passing of time.
— Stephen Lassonde

Boston Globe

If Gordon's book did nothing more than redeem from obscurity the story of the Arizona orphans, it would be an extraordinary contribution to social history. But Gordon has gone beyond that scanty written record, mainly from the court proceedings, to explore the motives of the Mexican and Anglo women...Gordon's achievement is that she so effectively and fair-mindedly delved into the site and unearthed this appalling and poignant story.
— Michael Kenney

Times Literary Supplement

This is an unusual and interesting work of history, whose chief strength lies in the way it lovingly recreates the spirit of a particular Arizona community and, through its insistence on micro-historical detail, gives the reader a clear sense of how racial assumptions and antagonisms operated within everyday life.
— Paul Giles

Parade Magazine
A story of racism, vigilantism, and injustice that retains its grim fascination after nearly a century...The sordid but suspenseful story is told against a background that encompasses the mining industry, labor unions and even a waffling U.S. Supreme Court.
Women's Review of Books

Gordon's extraordinary achievement in this book lies in her narrative strategy as much as in her insights as a social historian: she alternates dramatic short chapters detailing the events in the mining communities of Clifton-Morenci from the first to the fourth of October 1904 with longer, denser ones that reconstruct the conflation of class, gender, racial, religious, and economic interests that initiated the children's journey west from New York City and underlay their distribution by Father Mandin, the local priest.
— Gay Wachman

Irish Times

Linda Gordon has used [the orphan abduction's] events to explore issues of race, gender, class, economics and theories of the family in a beautifully constructed narrative and analysis of a flashpoint in American domestic history...Gordon uses her multiplicity of sources with great skill, all the time reminding us that some participants in the story have left no record of their experiences, particularly the children's birth mothers, the children themselves, and the Mexican families with whom they were to be placed. She contextualises the event superbly, giving us a well-rounded portrait of Clifton-Morenci at the time, as well as taking us through the ideological and emotional processes which moved people to act as they did.
— Catriona Crowe

Plain Dealer

Historian Linda Gordon has unearthed a small, forgotten story, and told it exceptionally well...[The] astonishing story, less than a century old, contains much to ponder. Gordon does a masterful job probing class and race, gender and religion, family and border economics to shed light on conflicts unresolved to this day...She has crafted both an exhilarating yarn and a sober morality tale.
— Karen R. Long

Lingua Franca Book Review

[A] fascinating, almost cinematic book...Gordon has brilliantly retrieved history, in the process providing a vivid, complex addition to the growing scholarship on 'whiteness.'
— JoAnn Wypijewski

The Star-Ledger

It is both fascinating and disturbing to delve into specific events of American history: Cultural biases explode, exploitation simmers, and religious identity is challenged. Linda Gordon's book confronts all these issues...Delving deeper and deeper into the American conscience, Gordon shatters layer upon layer of assumption. She has done her research, and the story she has written breathes life as a dragon breathes fire, burning sometimes accidentally, though oftentimes intentionally. As a challenge to preconceived notions of American history, as a reflection of cultural, religious and economic realities and as a how-to guide for retrieving important historical lessons, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction is fascinating, repelling and completely engrossing.
— Ian Graham

salon.com

In 1904, a group of New York nuns delivered 40 mostly Irish but entirely Catholic orphans to a remote Arizona mining town to be adopted by local Catholics. What happened next is the subject of historian Linda Gordon's compelling new book: For their act of Christian charity, the nuns were rewarded with near-lynching and public vilification of an intensity hard to fathom today. As Gordon makes clear in writing so alive it makes the reader smell sagebrush and white supremacy, the Eastern nuns didn't realize that, in turn-of-the-century Arizona, Catholic also meant Mexican, and Mexican meant inferior.
— Debra Dickerson

Choice

In this remarkable history of an obscure event, Gordon skillfully casts light on myriad important subjects...[She] has done an extraordinary amount of research and has completely contextualized the orphan abduction. One finds learned chapters on the history of the Southwest, the copper mining industry, vigilantism, Mexican women, labor relations, and Catholicism. Especially informative are Gordon's lengthy discussions of historical definitions of whiteness and how the orphan abduction was instrumental in destroying the fluidity of race relations.
— E. W. Carp

an "Editor's Choice 1999" selection Booklist
Economics, religion, and racial and sexual politics intersect in this account of the social upheaval caused when Mexicans in a small Arizona mining town in 1904 adopted 40 abandoned Irish Catholic children from New York. Gordon's compelling account of the incident traces the legal challenges by a Catholic charity group that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Booklist

Economics, religion, and racial and sexual politics intersect in this fascinating account of the social upheaval caused when Mexicans in a small Arizona mining town in 1904 adopted 40 abandoned Irish-Catholic children from New York. The children were brought West by Catholic nuns on the little-known orphan trains that transported children of poor families across the country for adoption. Gordon has rendered a well-researched analysis of the social and racial factors that aroused passions enough to send posses to 'rescue' the children and that nearly lead to the lynching of a priest. Gordon puts the incident in the context of turn-of-the-century industrialization and changing racial definitions that reclassified ethnic groups, such as the Irish as whites. Gordon uses news accounts and court transcripts to render a compelling account of the incident and the legal challenges by the Catholic charity group that went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court and ended in judgement in favor of the white vigilantes, reinforcing racial and religious attitudes of the time.
— Vanessa Bush

Bloomsbury Review

Written in the lush prose and plots of a Joseph Conrad novel, Linda Gordon's The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction is [an] extraordinary chronicle...More than an isolated case of frontier vigilantism, the affair swirled into the national headlines, fanning the flames of the caustic debate over religion and race...Peeling off the overlapping intrigues, issues, and players of the incident with the precision of a historical detective, Gordon, a leading social historian on issues of gender and family, goes far beyond the question of blatant racism in a racist epoch to examine the cultural and historical makeup that allowed the affair to happen in the first place...Her meticulously researched and reasoned chronicle is a masterwork of historical analysis that deserves to remain on bookshelves far into the future.
— Jeff Biggers

Times Higher Education Supplement

Gordon is genuinely curious and deeply thoughtful about the complex ways in which race, class and gender intersect to produce pivotal moments like this one. The book that she has written should be of interest not only to scholars of the American southwest, but to anyone curious about how ideologies make us what we are.
— Christina Thompson

Wisconsin State Journal

[Gordon] uses the plight of the children...to introduce her readers to the racial, social and cultural situation in the Arizona minds and in the country in general.
— William R. Wineke

Commonweal

Gordon's account takes place in six scenes, with historical interludes between them. Her narrative voice is enticing, and her descriptions vivid...This book provides a gripping piece of a puzzled history, not only of American racism, but of the Catholic experience of it.
— Peggy Ellsberg

Newsday

Linda Gordon's The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction is a spellbinding narrative history—the kind of rigorous but engaging work that other academics dream of writing. Gordon here unearths a long forgotten story about abandoned Irish-Catholic children in turn-of-the-century New York who were sent out to Arizona to be adopted by good Catholic families. The hitch was that those families turned out to be dark-skinned Mexicans. What ensued was a custody battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The astonishing story Gordon has recovered considers vexed intellectual questions about race, class and gender in a dramatic, accessible fashion.
— Maureen Corrigan

Catholic Herald

Linda Gordon has written an astonishing book...This is not just a story about orphan children: it is a story of America at a time of transition, when the railroads were opening up the land and men went west from the cities of the eastern seaboard to seek their fortune. It details religious prejudice, but also compassion.
— Christina White

Journal of the West

Linda Gordon…has produced a brilliant foray into social history that explores issues of race, class, gender, law enforcement, and labor relations in the American Southwest at the dawn of the 20th century.
— Gregory J. W. Urwin

American Historical Review

Gordon demonstrates the continuing vitality of the issues social historians have brought to the table – class, race, gender, family – in the context of a new commitment to a synthesizing narrative…Gordon's invocations of the many issues that have concerned social historians deeply enhances her examination of a particular time and place in this richly re-imagined history…Gordon has gone to such pains to guard the integrity of her historical subjects and to invest then with genuine depth and individuality.
— Paula S. Fass

New York Times Book Review - Stephen Lassonde
In her gripping book, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, Linda Gordon has written a model study of the creation and maintenance of race relations that manages to capture both the breathless sensationalism of the era's tabloids and the complexity of social status, shifting racial codes and the multiple uses of sex roles in social action...Gordon divides her story into six scenes, most of them devoted to some portion of the four days when the orphans' arrival engulfed Clifton-Morenci in a near riot followed by a mass kidnapping. Spliced between each scene is the history--long-term and proximate--of the towns' sociocultural landscape. It is an ingenious narrative device that enables her to reconstitute the distinct social structures of the area while rendering a taut journalistic account of the unfolding drama...The magnificence of her achievement [is] her masterly assembly of historical detail and acute sensitivity to the intricacies of human relations as mediated by power, prejudice and the passing of time.
Boston Globe - Michael Kenney
If Gordon's book did nothing more than redeem from obscurity the story of the Arizona orphans, it would be an extraordinary contribution to social history. But Gordon has gone beyond that scanty written record, mainly from the court proceedings, to explore the motives of the Mexican and Anglo women...Gordon's achievement is that she so effectively and fair-mindedly delved into the site and unearthed this appalling and poignant story.
Times Literary Supplement - Paul Giles
This is an unusual and interesting work of history, whose chief strength lies in the way it lovingly recreates the spirit of a particular Arizona community and, through its insistence on micro-historical detail, gives the reader a clear sense of how racial assumptions and antagonisms operated within everyday life.
Women's Review of Books - Gay Wachman
Gordon's extraordinary achievement in this book lies in her narrative strategy as much as in her insights as a social historian: she alternates dramatic short chapters detailing the events in the mining communities of Clifton-Morenci from the first to the fourth of October 1904 with longer, denser ones that reconstruct the conflation of class, gender, racial, religious, and economic interests that initiated the children's journey west from New York City and underlay their distribution by Father Mandin, the local priest.
Irish Times - Catriona Crowe
Linda Gordon has used [the orphan abduction's] events to explore issues of race, gender, class, economics and theories of the family in a beautifully constructed narrative and analysis of a flashpoint in American domestic history...Gordon uses her multiplicity of sources with great skill, all the time reminding us that some participants in the story have left no record of their experiences, particularly the children's birth mothers, the children themselves, and the Mexican families with whom they were to be placed. She contextualises the event superbly, giving us a well-rounded portrait of Clifton-Morenci at the time, as well as taking us through the ideological and emotional processes which moved people to act as they did.
Plain Dealer - Karen R. Long
Historian Linda Gordon has unearthed a small, forgotten story, and told it exceptionally well...[The] astonishing story, less than a century old, contains much to ponder. Gordon does a masterful job probing class and race, gender and religion, family and border economics to shed light on conflicts unresolved to this day...She has crafted both an exhilarating yarn and a sober morality tale.
Lingua Franca Book Review - Joann Wypijewski
[A] fascinating, almost cinematic book...Gordon has brilliantly retrieved history, in the process providing a vivid, complex addition to the growing scholarship on 'whiteness.'
The Star-Ledger - Ian Graham
It is both fascinating and disturbing to delve into specific events of American history: Cultural biases explode, exploitation simmers, and religious identity is challenged. Linda Gordon's book confronts all these issues...Delving deeper and deeper into the American conscience, Gordon shatters layer upon layer of assumption. She has done her research, and the story she has written breathes life as a dragon breathes fire, burning sometimes accidentally, though oftentimes intentionally. As a challenge to preconceived notions of American history, as a reflection of cultural, religious and economic realities and as a how-to guide for retrieving important historical lessons, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction is fascinating, repelling and completely engrossing.
salon.com - Debra Dickerson
In 1904, a group of New York nuns delivered 40 mostly Irish but entirely Catholic orphans to a remote Arizona mining town to be adopted by local Catholics. What happened next is the subject of historian Linda Gordon's compelling new book: For their act of Christian charity, the nuns were rewarded with near-lynching and public vilification of an intensity hard to fathom today. As Gordon makes clear in writing so alive it makes the reader smell sagebrush and white supremacy, the Eastern nuns didn't realize that, in turn-of-the-century Arizona, Catholic also meant Mexican, and Mexican meant inferior.
Choice - E. W. Carp
In this remarkable history of an obscure event, Gordon skillfully casts light on myriad important subjects...[She] has done an extraordinary amount of research and has completely contextualized the orphan abduction. One finds learned chapters on the history of the Southwest, the copper mining industry, vigilantism, Mexican women, labor relations, and Catholicism. Especially informative are Gordon's lengthy discussions of historical definitions of whiteness and how the orphan abduction was instrumental in destroying the fluidity of race relations.
Booklist - Vanessa Bush
Economics, religion, and racial and sexual politics intersect in this fascinating account of the social upheaval caused when Mexicans in a small Arizona mining town in 1904 adopted 40 abandoned Irish-Catholic children from New York. The children were brought West by Catholic nuns on the little-known orphan trains that transported children of poor families across the country for adoption. Gordon has rendered a well-researched analysis of the social and racial factors that aroused passions enough to send posses to 'rescue' the children and that nearly lead to the lynching of a priest. Gordon puts the incident in the context of turn-of-the-century industrialization and changing racial definitions that reclassified ethnic groups, such as the Irish as whites. Gordon uses news accounts and court transcripts to render a compelling account of the incident and the legal challenges by the Catholic charity group that went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court and ended in judgement in favor of the white vigilantes, reinforcing racial and religious attitudes of the time.
Bloomsbury Review - Jeff Biggers
Written in the lush prose and plots of a Joseph Conrad novel, Linda Gordon's The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction is [an] extraordinary chronicle...More than an isolated case of frontier vigilantism, the affair swirled into the national headlines, fanning the flames of the caustic debate over religion and race...Peeling off the overlapping intrigues, issues, and players of the incident with the precision of a historical detective, Gordon, a leading social historian on issues of gender and family, goes far beyond the question of blatant racism in a racist epoch to examine the cultural and historical makeup that allowed the affair to happen in the first place...Her meticulously researched and reasoned chronicle is a masterwork of historical analysis that deserves to remain on bookshelves far into the future.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Christina Thompson
Gordon is genuinely curious and deeply thoughtful about the complex ways in which race, class and gender intersect to produce pivotal moments like this one. The book that she has written should be of interest not only to scholars of the American southwest, but to anyone curious about how ideologies make us what we are.
Wisconsin State Journal - William R. Wineke
[Gordon] uses the plight of the children...to introduce her readers to the racial, social and cultural situation in the Arizona minds and in the country in general.
Commonweal - Peggy Ellsberg
Gordon's account takes place in six scenes, with historical interludes between them. Her narrative voice is enticing, and her descriptions vivid...This book provides a gripping piece of a puzzled history, not only of American racism, but of the Catholic experience of it.
Newsday - Maureen Corrigan
Linda Gordon's The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction is a spellbinding narrative history--the kind of rigorous but engaging work that other academics dream of writing. Gordon here unearths a long forgotten story about abandoned Irish-Catholic children in turn-of-the-century New York who were sent out to Arizona to be adopted by good Catholic families. The hitch was that those families turned out to be dark-skinned Mexicans. What ensued was a custody battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The astonishing story Gordon has recovered considers vexed intellectual questions about race, class and gender in a dramatic, accessible fashion.
Catholic Herald - Christina White
Linda Gordon has written an astonishing book...This is not just a story about orphan children: it is a story of America at a time of transition, when the railroads were opening up the land and men went west from the cities of the eastern seaboard to seek their fortune. It details religious prejudice, but also compassion.
Journal of the West - Gregory J. W. Urwin
Linda Gordon…has produced a brilliant foray into social history that explores issues of race, class, gender, law enforcement, and labor relations in the American Southwest at the dawn of the 20th century.
American Historical Review - Paula S. Fass
Gordon demonstrates the continuing vitality of the issues social historians have brought to the table – class, race, gender, family – in the context of a new commitment to a synthesizing narrative…Gordon's invocations of the many issues that have concerned social historians deeply enhances her examination of a particular time and place in this richly re-imagined history…Gordon has gone to such pains to guard the integrity of her historical subjects and to invest then with genuine depth and individuality.
Michael Kenney

On Oct. 1, 1904, at about 6:30 p.m., an impatiently awaited train pulled into the railroad station in the Arizona mining town of Clifton. On board were the reasons for the large crowd that had gathered: 40 young children, orphans being ''placed out'' by New York's Foundling Hospital.

The arrival of these ''orphan trains'' were invariably major events in the small towns of the West and Midwest, where by 1900 they had become a significant expression of the prevalent child-welfare principle that children needed a proper environment in which to thrive.

''Placing out,'' and the arranging of orphan trains to accomplish that policy, was initially a mission of Protestant child-welfare agencies. But as the children were mostly Catholic, and the receiving families mainly Protestant, the policy became one of increasing concern to Catholic leaders. By 1880, the Sisters of Charity at the Catholic-run Foundling Hospital had organized a rival system.

But in Clifton that October evening, the very concerns that Catholics had felt about interreligious placements were transformed into ''Anglo'' concerns about the interracial placement of mostly Irish orphans with Mexican families.

The result, as social historian Linda Gordon skillfully, and suspensefully, details in ''The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction,'' was an armed confrontation, just short of ''a lynch mob,'' she writes. The children who had been placed upon arrival with Mexican families were rounded up that very evening by a posse and handed over to Anglo families. Most of the remaining children were taken back to New York.

The Foundling Hospital attempted unsuccessfully to get the abducted children back with a habeas corpus petition that ended up before the US Supreme Court. On a technicality, writes Gordon, the court upheld a decision by the Arizona Supreme Court, which validated ''the claim of the vigilantes'' and, in effect, the child-saving policy of the Protestant orphan train movement, by stating that ''the child in question is a white, Caucasian child ... abandoned ... to the keeping of a Mexican Indian [who is] by reason of his race, mode of living, habits and education, unfit to have the custody, care and education of the child.''

If Gordon's book did nothing more than redeem from obscurity the story of the Arizona orphans, it would be an extraordinary contribution to social history. But Gordon, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin and the author of well-regarded books on working-class women, has gone beyond the scanty written record, mainly from the court proceedings, to explore the motives of the Mexican and Anglo women.

The Mexican women, Gordon writes, were doing ''something daring'' in volunteering to take a child when the request from the Foundling Hospital was relayed through their local priest. As they took the children home from the railroad station, Gordon writes, ''they were warmed by righteousness,'' while ''chilled by just the least bit of anxiety.'' They were ''no strangers to race talk and Anglo chauvinism,'' but sensed that bringing an American child into their homes ''was a way to become American'' themselves, for ''such a child might go to school, might learn perfect English, might marry a white man or earn a white man's wage.''

But against that, writes Gordon, ''the orphans were literally drawing Anglo women out of their homes and into an adventure in which they felt that they had an obligation to lead.'' The Anglo women, writes Gordon, were motivated at least partly by self-interest, being immediately charmed by the sight of the Irish-American children and wanting one for themselves. But ''in their vigilance in noting the danger and then acting to protect children at risk, they were performing a public duty and thus making themselves citizens'' because women have traditionally ''aspired to and reached citizenship ... through defending children's welfare.''

Of course, Gordon notes, to accomplish that end in 1904 Arizona, the Anglo women had to mobilize their husbands, being ''cautious not to overstep a normative line into the male sphere.''

In a footnote, Gordon credits sociologist Robert Merton for pointing out that the Arizona orphan story is an example of ''a strategic research site,'' an event so interesting in itself that it allows the investigation of broader social issues. But Gordon's achievement is that she so effectively and fair-mindedly delved into the site and unearthed this appalling and poignant story.


Boston Globe
Debra Dickerson

In 1904, a group of New York nuns delivered 40 mostly Irish but entirely Catholic orphans to a remote Arizona mining town to be adopted by local Catholics. What happened next is the subject of historian Linda Gordon's compelling new book: For their act of Christian charity, the nuns were rewarded with near-lynching and public vilification of an intensity hard to fathom today.

As Gordon makes clear in writing so alive that it makes the reader smell sagebrush and white supremacy, the Eastern nuns didn't realize that, in turn-of-the-century Arizona, Catholic also meant Mexican, and Mexican meant inferior. How could a dirty, amoral Mexican (terms that were among the nicer descriptions of the would-be foster parents in newspaper accounts and sworn testimony) raise a white child? To Western whites, the nuns were depraved white-slavers selling children to drunken-whore savages.

Local whites (nearly all Protestant, and therefore ineligible to receive the sisters' charges) rioted and "liberated" the children from their Mexican foster parents, all of whom had been carefully vetted by the local (white) priest in accordance with the Sisters of Charity's well-established system. Many white Arizonans concocted stories claiming they'd seen Mexicans pay a priest on receipt of a child, or claiming that the sisters promised them children if they'd ante up. As Gordon plausibly sees it, these manufactured memories helped them to make sense of why another white would deliver helpless white children to the clutches of near-animals -- and also legitimized their "rescue" of the children.

The sisters sued to win back the children, promising that they'd be placed with Catholic, and -- having learned their lesson -- white parents. Indeed, the sisters abandoned the Mexicans entirely, claiming they would have never given the children to them had they "known." Interestingly, the suits were all civil; no criminal charges were ever entertained, let alone filed, against the vigilantes, although they were kidnappers whose treatment of the sisters and the Mexicans was brutal. When the mob first came for the sisters to "voluntarily" give up the children, 100 people crowded into their hotel lobby, with 300 more outside threatening the nuns with tar and feathers. Many were armed, and several called for a rope.

"In the street a sheriff sat on horseback, with a revolver, like the other men," one sister later wrote. "Women called us vile names, and some of them put pistols to our heads. They said there was no law in that town; that they made their own laws. We were told to get the children from the Spaniards [meaning the Mexicans, a difference the sisters could not understand] ... If we did not we would be killed."

The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where, unsurprisingly, whites' right to protect their racial purity, their societal supremacy and their right to state-sanctioned violence remained sacrosanct. The "rescued" children grew up with nice, white criminals as parents and role models, across the tracks from their erstwhile Mexican-American parents, none of whom were allowed to testify, file written statements or even enter the courtroom. The great orphan abduction -- in which Mexican-Americans tried to do the right thing and were nearly massacred for it -- was settled entirely among whites.

For the sisters, who back home had to vie with Protestant charities for the souls of New York's numerous street urchins, religion was all that mattered. As she relates the story of the orphans' fate, Gordon patiently describes the tortured, complex systems of racial categorization that prevailed in different parts of the country. In New York, "Irish" was a separate and reviled race not much above "Negro" or "Slav." The orphans' Irish status, coupled with their sheer numbers (150 more were abandoned every month) made it impossible to find enough adoptive homes in the children's hometown, or even in a nearby state. The activist (and quite feminist) sisters understood that the abandoned children had their best chance at a future in the labor-starved hinterlands, where they were a much-needed resource. The sisters failed to realize, however, that in a sparsely populated region without many gradations among what we now think of as "white," "race" meant very different things.

In Arizona, all social significance hinged on the differences between "whites" and the inferiors: Mexicans, "Chinamen," blacks and Indians. Closest to white in appearance and comportment, Mexicans were at the top of the list but remained (then as now) non-white. Intermarriage (or more often, intercourse) between whites and Mexicans was common and largely accepted in the Southwest, but there were limits -- Mexicans adopting white children, for instance. Gordon's convincing analysis of the nuns' mistake and the debacle that followed points up some potent racial ironies that are still worth savoring today: The Easterners didn't understand that the same train ride that would bring their Irish charges parents and homes would also make them white. Of course, had they been white in New York, there would have been no need for the arduous journey west.
Salon

Stephen Lassonde
In her gripping book ''The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction,'' Linda Gordon, a historian at the University of Wisconsin, has written a model study of the creation and maintenance of race relations that manages to capture both the breathless sensationalism of the era's tabloids and the complexity of social status, shifting racial codes and the multiple uses of sex roles in social action.
The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Microhistory at its best. Gordon (History/Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison) has long been a student of working-class and poor women, with a special interest in motherhood (Pitied But Not Entitled, 1994, traces the history of single mothers and welfare). Here she takes on some new challenges—narrative, the history of Spanish-speaking Americans, New Western history. Gordon began with great raw material: a gripping tale that sounds more like the plot of a TV mini-series than the subject of a university press book. In 1904, Catholic nuns in New York sent 40 Irish children on an "orphan train" to a small Arizona mining town, where they would be cared for by Catholic families—Mexican Catholic families. When the children arrived, the Anglo townsfolk were outraged by the idea that 40 white boys and girls were going to be placed with non-white families. Anglo women organized their men into a posse which kidnapped the children from the Mexican families. A trial followed, and the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court found in favor of the Anglos. Gordon, drawing on interviews, newspapers, and the court transcript, recreates the kidnapping and the ensuing courtroom drama in intoxicating detail. Along the way, Gordon cracks open a number of hot issues, from labor relations to women's roles. At the center is her examination of the social construction of race; you won't find a more illuminating or nuanced discussion of the invention of whiteness than Gordon's. "The train ride," Gordon reminds us, "had transformed [the foundlings] from Irish to white." In early twentieth-century New York, Irish kids were no more "white" than Jewish or Italian children. But in Arizona, where the "other" wasdark-skinned and spoke a language even more foreign to "white" ears than an Irish brogue, the children were suddenly as white as George Washington. Gordon has written the rare history book that readers won't be able to put down. (35 halftones, 2 maps, 1 table)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674005358
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 709,751
  • Product dimensions: 6.23 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Linda Gordon is Professor of History at New York University. She is the author of the now classic history of birth control in America, Woman's Body, Woman's Right, and of Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, winner of the Joan Kelly Prize for the best book in women's history.
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Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Cast of Principal Characters
  • October 2, 1904, Night, North Clifton, Arizona
  • September 25, 1904: Grand Central Station, New York City
  • 1. King Copper

    October 1, 1904, 6:30 p.m.: Clifton Railroad Station

  • 2. Mexicans Come to the Mines

    October 1, 1904, around 7:30 p.m.: Sacred Heart Church, Clifton

  • 3. The Priest in the Mexican Camp

    October 2, 1904, Afternoon: Morenci Square and Clifton Library Hall

  • 4. The Mexican Mothers and the Mexican Town

    October 2, 1904, Evening: The Hills of Clifton

  • 5. The Anglo Mothers and the Company Town

    October 2, 1904, Night: Clifton Hotel

  • 6. The Strike

    October 3–4, 1904: Clifton Drugstore and Library Hall, Morenci Hotel

  • 7. Vigilantism

    January 1905: Courtroom of the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court, Phoenix

  • 8. Family and Race
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
  • Maps
    • Sonoran Highlands Mining Region in 1903
    • Old Clifton and Morenci



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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2007

    Sorry But this book is Boring

    It contained too much background information. Perhaps if the author had done a better job in engaging the reader and make history less dull. I had to read this book for a history class. (I'm not sure what my professor was thinking.) Far to boring to be recommended. It bounced back from the whole Mexican-American Mining issues to the actual orphans. I was disappointed, I wish it would have focused more on the orphans. This book is by far one of the only books I have had trouble finishing because of its uninteresting writing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2006

    Too Looonnng!!!

    I had to read this book for a history class, otherwise I would have stopped reading about 100 pages into it. I agree with the other reviewer who said that there were interesting areas of the book, but it seemed to go on and on and on... After a while I just wanted to know what happened to the kids and close the book. The author could have made it about 100 pages shorter, easily. It was a page turner, but only because I kept looking to see how much more I had to go through.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2005

    AWESOME!!!!!!

    This book was much better, then I thought it was going to be. A must read for people intrested in a social aspect of this event.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2003

    Orphans or Migrant Workers?

    I personally hated the book. Some aspects of it were interesting, but it was a very DRY and BORING read. The book was centered around the Orphan Abduction, but it rarely talked about it. The Abduction part took up about 20 pages (of the 407 pages) and the rest was background information on Migrant Workers from Mexico and like the other reviewer said, the treatment of orphans. Stress added on DRY(!!!) and BORING(!!!).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2001

    What a interesting read.

    I had to read this book for a history class and I really enjoyed it. The book opened my eyes on how orphans were treated at the turn of the century. I would have chose this book even if it was not required. I could have done without the history of coal mining, but it gave me a view of how life was for the Mexicans.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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