The American Daniel OConnell: State Regulation of Children and the Boundaries of Citizenship in the Long Progressive Era

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:30 PM
Governor's Square 14 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Julia Bowes, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
In 1870, a young Irish-American boy of 13 years named Daniel O’Connell was apprehended on the streets of Chicago. The boy, who shared a name with the leader of the Catholic emancipation movement in Ireland, was committed to the Chicago Reform School on the vague charge of “misfortune.” In November that year, as Black men took to the streets to vote in a general election in the first time since the ratification of the Reconstruction Amendments, his father filed a writ of habeas corpus to free him. The ensuing state Supreme Court case, Turner v. O’Connell, was the first major case to consider whether children were citizens and therefore owed the protections guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States constitution.

This paper will use this case as a flash point to consider how Progressive reforms, including compulsory schooling laws, reframed the power of the state and challenged the traditional powers of parents. The paper will explore how the central debates of the Progressive Era, about the moral obligations of the state, labor exploitation, the role of women in politics, and problems with centralized power, played out over the bodies of children. Placing Daniel O’Connell’s story at the center, it will consider how children experienced these new forms of state regulation and question what it meant for children to be extended or denied liberal subjecthood in an age of emancipation.

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