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Choosing to Care: A Century of Childcare and Social Reform in San Diego, 1850-1950

Choosing to Care: A Century of Childcare and Social Reform in San Diego, 1850-1950

by Kyle E. Ciani
Choosing to Care: A Century of Childcare and Social Reform in San Diego, 1850-1950

Choosing to Care: A Century of Childcare and Social Reform in San Diego, 1850-1950

by Kyle E. Ciani


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In Choosing to Care, Kyle E. Ciani examines the long history of interactions between parents and social reformers from diverse backgrounds in the development of social welfare programs, particularly childcare, in San Diego, California. Ciani explores how a variety of people—from destitute parents and tired guardians to benevolent advocates and professional social workers—connected over childcare concerns in a city that experienced tremendous demographic changes caused by urbanization, immigration, and the growth of a local U.S. military infrastructure from 1850 to 1950.

Choosing to Care examines four significant areas where San Diego’s programs were distinct from, and contributed to, the national childcare agenda: the importance of the transnational U.S.–Mexico border relationship in creating effective childcare programs; the development of vocational education to curtail juvenile delinquency; the promotion of nursery school education; and the advancement of an emergency daycare program during the Great Depression and World War II. Ciani shows how children from families in unstable situations, especially children from Native American, Asian, Mexican-descent, African American, and impoverished Anglo families, challenged a social reform system that defined care as both social control and behavioral regulation.

Choosing to Care incorporates a broader definition of childcare to include efforts by governmental and organizational bodies and persons to maintain and nurture the physical, mental, and social health and development of minors when parents and guardians cannot do so. It offers a more complex understanding of how multiple avenues and resources established social welfare in San Diego and other West Coast cities.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496216762
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 10/01/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 348
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Kyle E. Ciani is an associate professor of history and core faculty in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Illinois State University.

Read an Excerpt


Indentured Care

Anglo Solutions to "Civilizing" American Indian Children

We want the Indian girl until she is of age.

— Andrew Jackson Chase to Ephraim Weed Morse, 1862

When eight-year-old Frederico arrived at the San Diego courthouse with his guardians, he knew they planned to indenture him to an Anglo rancher. That winter a smallpox epidemic and flooding had caused great hardship for his family, and he could help them survive by working as an indentured laborer. As the trio entered the courthouse, the boy noticed a tall Anglo looking his way, and Frederico realized this man would soon dictate when and where he worked, ate, and slept. Another Anglo carrying some papers appeared, sat behind a large desk at the front of the room, and began reading the material. Frederico's guardians whispered to him that this man, the justice of the peace, would determine his fate. The hearing took only a few minutes, ending when the official declared, "I do hereby certify that the said Joseph Smith is authorized to have the care, custody, control and earnings of said Frederico minor until he obtain the age of fifteen years." Signatures from the adults in the room secured the justice's proclamation that on December 16, 1861, Joseph Smith owned the boy's labor for the next seven years.

From 1850 into the 1880s, Anglo-Californians, including those living in San Diego County, accepted indenture as a rational practice and legal strategy to care for American Indian children. At a time when social reformers in American cities began to establish nurseries for destitute children, Anglo-Californians put American Indian children to work as a childcare solution. Like off-reservation boarding schools, indenture separated American Indian children from their clan networks and isolated them from childhood experiences. Americans in the colonial era used indentured servitude as a control mechanism for economically vulnerable people until they replaced it with chattel slavery. Californians entered the Union in 1850 as a free state, yet they fully accepted indentured servitude as a method to control American Indian people. The effects of that practice are the focus of this chapter.

In California, Spanish colonists established a chain of missions and used American Indians in what Stephen Hackel describes as a "semicaptive" labor force that Spaniards controlled by providing them "food and community life" at the missions. Indians resisted the captivity, and their resistance to these conditions is a major theme in Spanish–Indian relations. When the secularization of the missions in 1821 "freed" Indians from their colonial Franciscan obligations, secular Mexicans continued to use Indian labor, including children. In studying the Los Angeles case, Michael Gonzalez found that traders operating between Los Angeles and Santa Fe raided Paiute villages for children, convincing destitute parents "who needed guns, horses, or, as some witnesses remembered, a 'plug of tobacco,'" to sell their children into service. Anglos also embraced these practices.

The 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians (California State Statute, chapter 133) legitimated indenturing American Indian children and became a de facto form of state-sanctioned childcare. The act essentially erased the 1832 United States Supreme Court decision Worchester vs. State of Georgia by investing the State of California with final authority to manage Native peoples located within the state boundaries. That introduced a system of indenture whereby Indians paid off vagrancy fines and court costs through their labor and/or the labor of their children. Justices of the peace gained jurisdictional authority in all cases of complaints by and against Indians, including decisions regarding contract lengths, provisions expected of employers, and third-party consent to indenture. Moreover, through this act some Anglos assumed custody of Indian children, which essentially erased the parental rights of numerous Indian parents.

The act was amended in 1860 to strengthen the parameters of what lawmakers referred to as "apprenticeship," so as to develop responsible behaviors among Indians. Tragically, these changes encouraged the murder of Indian parents by nefarious traders who sold the orphaned children into this labor. Historian James Rawls notes, "Set in the context of the national controversy over slavery, the situation in California was certainly ironic," considering the territory petitioned for entry into the Union as a free state but essentially sanctioned the enslavement of Indian nations. Potential employers no longer needed to obtain parental consent for child laborers but instead could rely on third-party consent. In addition, the act made any Indian — child or adult — who had "no settled habitation or means of livelihood" eligible for indenture. Under the 1860 law, adults could be impressed into service and terms increased considerably from one or two years to as much as fifteen years for a child. Those terms led to an increased demand for Indian "apprentices" and served as legal mechanisms to fully control a new generation of American Indian people.

While the practice drew some criticism from the general public in California, this transformation occurred through the legal, economic, and political machinations of Anglo-Americans who adopted statehood in the midst of national controversy over captive labor. The state's constitutional convention in 1850 cemented racial stratification by granting state voting rights only to white male citizens of the United States and Mexico. Political privilege gave "white" men the ability to construct racial boundaries and left "nonwhite" individuals little currency with which to argue their citizenship rights. Through this state convention, "white" men affirmed a legal and political system that defined all people who were not "white," male, and mature (twenty-one years) to be legal and political dependents. Thus, in addition to enduring economic instability, "nonwhite" men, women, and their children found themselves vulnerable to further abuses because of the legal system.

Anglo settlement escalated the incidence of domestic violence, environmental scarring, spread of disease, and cultural disruption in the region. Historians agree that nations who lived near the centers of "gold fever" in northern California experienced the greatest harm to their families, but people in all areas of California suffered from the changes. Indians over the age of twenty-five at the time of their capture could be held for up to ten years, and kidnapping children so as to "apprentice" them to employers became a serious issue. Sherbourne Cook estimated that from 1852 to 1867, between three thousand and four thousand children fell victim to apprentice kidnapping in California, with many children being as young as six and seven years old. Boys indentured under the age of fourteen could be held till their twenty-fifth birthday, and girls until they turned twenty-one. Boys contracted between the ages of fourteen and twenty years could be indentured until they were thirty, whereas girls served until the age of twenty-five. Typically, girls worked as domestics, and boys labored on wharves, on ranches, and in mines. Indentured labor integrated children into white spaces, but only as exploited workers who were disconnected from their Native families and dependent on employers for their basic needs.

San Diegans participated in these practices. In 1850 San Diego's population included American Indian nations, Californios (descendants of Spanish colonizers), Mexican nationals, Anglos, and a small group of African Americans. As newcomers from east of the Mississippi entered the area, they brought their imagined visions of "savages" made popular by the penny press. But instead of encountering hatchet-wielding warriors, Anglos met people who belonged to clan networks of the Kuupangaxwichem (known by the Spanish as Cupeño), Takhtam (Serrano), Cahuilla, and Kumeyaays (Diegeño). Unprepared to recognize ethnic distinctions, Anglos collectively referred to these groups as "Mission Indians," thereby erasing whole systems of vibrant culture and further establishing their power. Both Anglo men and women participated in sculpting a segregated landscape: whereas white men defined the boundaries of property ownership and political participation, white women used their privilege in private spaces, which included mandating how nonwhite children should be parented. Like sympathizers of chattel slavery, some proponents of indenture used the language of "assistance" to argue they were saving the "savages" from a life of poverty, thus characterizing indenture as a benevolent rather than an exploitive practice. Even some abolitionists believed that Indians who interacted with whites had a better chance to learn skills that would make them more productive members of society. Abolitionist Jessie Benton Frémont, the wife of explorer and national politician John C. Frémont, shows this attitude in her travel narrative from the 1850s. Frémont commented that the "Mission Indian" servants in her household had been transformed from illiterate vagabonds to civilized domestics. She treated these servants well; however, the assumption that their poverty defined their character underscores the cultural thinking of a mid-nineteenth-century politician's wife. Whereas only white men held the legal authority to contract an indenture, white women served as key instruments in the implementation of "civilizing" projects through domestic spaces, which in California included the care of children.

Some Anglos permitted Native people to remain on their ancestral land in exchange for their labor. Such was the case with J. T. Warner. Originally from New England, Jonathan Trumball Warner (aka Don Juan José Warner) entered California in 1830 as part of a trading expedition captained by Jedediah Smith. Within a couple of years, Warner became a Mexican citizen, changed his name to embrace his new citizenship ties, and began a chain of events that secured his title to forty-seven thousand fertile acres in northeastern San Diego County, the ancestral home of the Kuupangaxwichem. One link in that chain was his marriage to Anita Gale, whose father had left her in San Diego to be raised by an important Californio family, the Picos. Born "American," both Jonathan and Anita became Mexican and adopted the Californio tradition of patronage connected to labor, which embraced a practice of gift giving to and support of loyal workers. For Warner, that included allowing Kuupangaxwichem families to stay on the land in exchange for their labor on his rancho.

When white businessmen arrived in the 1850s, they altered the barter and gift exchange practices used by Californios, "Mission Indians," and bilingual Anglos like the Warners. The system had secured loyalty and protection between workers and employers across several generations, but recent transplants challenged the centuries-old practice and invoked beliefs clearly informed by the social purity movement's call for alcohol temperance. Consequently, they judged Californios and Anglos who used alcohol in this manner as irresponsible employers. Instead, some white newcomers supported Indian removal policies and indenture practices.

Anglo newcomers rationalized that indenture offered multiple solutions to controlling the problems generated by chronic vagrancy among American Indians, and especially among women. To the point, in his 1877 travel narrative Letters from California, D. L. Phillips described the Indian women he encountered as "very much like the men, almost wholly given to a vagabond life, swarming about the towns ... utterly oblivious to the obligations of the marriage relation. The Indians ... are simply doomed, by their laziness and vices, to early extinction." Rumors of Native women offering themselves in prostitution or being sold by a male relative had long circulated in the region, dating to narratives by Spanish soldiers and Franciscan priests written during the conquest and mission periods. In truth, these narratives documented the rapes and assaults of Indian women by colonizers. One example dates to 1775, when six hundred men (defined by some scholars as "Diegueño warriors") descended on the San Diego Mission as a revolt against colonial abuses and burned it to the ground. Over time the history of the revolt lost its connection to the protection of Indian women and became one more misreported account of Native savagery. Yet the laws and ordinances passed in the 1850s show the Anglo disconnect with colonial realities and instead held non-Anglos responsible for the expansion of the vice trade and the evil elements that accompanied it. Indenture became one solution forwarded by Anglo authorities to remedy the issue.

The combination of legislative state law and federal treaty policy paved the way for increased Anglo migration into the San Diego region despite its lackluster commercial endeavors. Newcomers arrived at the way station with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, as most had never ventured west of the Mississippi. Travelers accustomed to oaks, maples, and spruce trees, and an adequate water supply, found scrub brush, yucca, the occasional piñon tree, and little potable water. They also discovered a racially mixed population. In a letter to his brother dated October 18, 1855, Thomas Rylan Darnall mentioned the environment — its excellent bay, the preponderance of fish, and the temperate climate — and emphasized the "heterogeneous combination and amalgamation of all nations and kinds ..." Darnall was struck by people whose physical appearance resembled that of enslaved people in his home region, and he was surprised by their freedom of movement — not "required to show their passes" — and perhaps nervous as to why San Diegans did not control these people. Travelers like Darnall had grown up with tales of wild Indians and uncultured Mexicans, making it easy to believe Indian fathers prostituted their daughters, drunken husbands disturbed the peace at all hours of the day, and whole families stole foodstuffs and livestock from ranchos.

San Diego's non-Indian population increased from 650 residents in 1850 to only 731 residents by 1860, but these people used a legal system legitimated through state politics to control the area. In defending the indenture system, Anglo rancher Cave Johnson Couts insisted that under his authority the Payómkawichum (known as the Luiseño by the Spanish) were "well regulated" rather than vagrant drunks. One of the most controversial and vicious employers in the San Diego area, Couts accumulated the thirty-plus laborers needed to work his 23,000-acre Rancho Guajome by exploiting the law. The son of Tennessee slave owners, Couts believed his racial superiority gave him the right to own and control his workers and use brutal punishment if they stepped out of line. Some of that workforce labored in his fields under his supervision, while others worked domestically for his wife, Doña Ysidora Bandini de Couts. Their indentured servants included vagrants, an orphaned six-year-old girl, boys whose mothers agreed to the contract in exchange for their child's clothing, food, and shelter, and "Francisco, an Indian boy," who was ordered by the court in 1858 to serve Couts. Michael Magliari found that Couts used a combination of convict leasing, debt peonage, and formal indenture to effectively control his un-free labor force. Between 1855 and 1870, his reputation as a cruel disciplinarian prompted the San Diego County Grand Jury to issue "no fewer than four indictments" against him for homicide or violent assault. But, as Magliari explains, "well-heeled, well-connected, and well-represented in the local courts, Couts always succeeded in escaping conviction."

Statehood allowed Anglo San Diegans, like Couts, to take control of the area. In 1851–1852, Indian agents negotiated eighteen treaties that affected groups from Klamath near the Oregon border to Temecula at the northernmost reach of San Diego County. The treaties called for 7,488,000 acres to be set aside for reservation land, meaning the twenty thousand or so Anglo squatters living on these acres would be required to relocate. A special legislative committee investigated the treaties and consequently overturned them, ruling to remove to Indian Territory all Indians except for those converted by the missions. In response, some residents, like J. J. Warner, rejected the action and campaigned against Indian removal. Warner asserted that Anglos and Indians needed one another's labor, and he penned the "Minority Report" to disagree with the legislature's relocation plan. Basically ignored, his document had little effect, as Anglos succeeded in pushing most of the Indian families away from the coasts and into the remote interior areas of San Diego County, leaving plenty of farmable land for Anglo settlement.


Excerpted from "Choosing to Care"
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Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
List of Abbreviations,
1. Indentured Care: Anglo Solutions to "Civilizing" American Indian Children,
2. Maternal Care: Childcare for Working-Class Families,
3. Court-Appointed Care: Interventions for Troubled Families,
4. Professional Care: Expert Protocols for Childcare Programs,
5. Neighborhood Care: Localizing the Settlement House Movement,
6. Emergency Care: Collaboration during Economic Recovery,
7. Wartime Care: Navigating the San Diego Home Front,

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