Babysitter: An American History

Babysitter: An American History

by Miriam Forman-Brunell


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Babysitter: An American History by Miriam Forman-Brunell

On Friday nights many parents want to have a little fun together—without the kids. But “getting a sitter”—especially a dependable one—rarely seems trouble-free. Will the kids be safe with “that girl”? It’s a question that discomfited parents have been asking ever since the emergence of the modern American teenage girl nearly a century ago. In Babysitter, Miriam Forman-Brunell brings critical attention to the ubiquitous, yet long-overlooked babysitter in the popular imagination and American history.

Informed by her research on the history of teenage girls’ culture, Forman-Brunell analyzes the babysitter, who has embodied adults’ fundamental apprehensions about girls’ pursuit of autonomy and empowerment. In fact, the grievances go both ways, as girls have been distressed by unsatisfactory working conditions. In her quest to gain a fuller picture of this largely unexamined cultural phenomenon, Forman-Brunell analyzes a wealth of diverse sources, such as The Baby-sitter’s Club book series, horror movies like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, urban legends, magazines, newspapers, television shows, pornography, and more.

Forman-Brunell shows that beyond the mundane, understandable apprehensions stirred by hiring a caretaker to “mind the children” in one’s own home, babysitters became lightning rods for society’s larger fears about gender and generational change. In the end, experts’ efforts to tame teenage girls with training courses, handbooks, and other texts failed to prevent generations from turning their backs on babysitting.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814727591
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 07/26/2009
Pages: 326
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Miriam Forman-Brunell is Professor of History at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She is the author of Made to Play House and general editor of ABC-CLIO’s Girlhood in America. She is also co-director of Children and Youth in History.

Table of Contents

1 The Beginnings of Babysitting
2 Suburban Parents and Sitter Unions
3 The Bobby-Soxer Babysitter
4 Making Better Babysitters
5 Boisterous Babysitters
6 Vixens and Victims: Porn and Horror
7 Sisterhoods of Sitters
8 Coming of Wage at the End of the Century
9 Quitter Sitters: The Fall of Babysitting
About the Author

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From the Publisher

In this intriguing social and cultural history, Forman-Brunell (Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City) uses a wide array of sources to argue that the 20th-century creation of the babysitter can tell much about the changing views of girlhood over time, both from the perspective of adults and of girls themselves." "Highly recommended."-CHOICE,

"In this informative and entertaining book, Miriam Forman-Brunell, the author of Made to Play House (1993) and other works on the history of girls, has creatively mined popular culture sources and personal reminiscences to provide the first history of baby-sitting."-The Journal of American History,

"Babysitter is an exemplary work of cultural history, using widely disparate sources to correct popular but misguided myths about teens' labor history, girls' cultural practices, and "the family" as an ideological construct. Written concisely and accessibly with ample illustrations, Babysitter is ideal for undergraduates and professional scholars alike."-Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, a welcome addition to the histories of adolescence and girlhood which have increasingly emerged over the last dozen years. Forman-Brunell is one of those rare academics who easily bridges disciplines, using the methods of the traditional historian, the literary critic, and the popular-culture commentator to present a well-researched and highly readable narrative about babysitters—who are among the most visible, yet invisible, figures in American culture.”

-The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth,

“Miriam Forman-Brunell has written an enjoyable account of a class of employees who, she argues, does an extraordinary amount of cultural working addition to its assigned childcare chores.”

-Oxford Journals

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