Government Fantasies: Creating Dreams of Bureaucratic Careers in American Youth, 1898–1917
Through children’s books—themselves a part of a contemporaneously emerging consumer industry—and the correspondence between educational institutions and bureaucratic agencies, I demonstrate that during the 1890s and 1900s governance was reimagined as a career opportunity linked not to political patronage, but to a meritocracy defined by an idealized image of masculinity. Francis Rolt-Wheeler’s many-volume US Service Series for children presented a consistent image of who a government agent was and how a boy could grow-up to become one. Through correspondence between educational elites—school directors and college deans—and bureaucratic leaders, I contrast the ideal that captured the imaginations of Rolt-Wheeler’s readers and the reality of emerging government careers. Such a contrast is even more illuminating given the explicit bureaucratic support for Rolt-Wheeler’s literary endeavors. The builders of the Progressive Era administrative state understood the importance of creating a fantasy for future government agents.
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