Childhood in Liminal Legal Spaces

AHA Session 176
Society for the History of Children and Youth 3
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Centennial Ballroom B (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Paula S. Fass, University of California, Berkeley
“The Employment of Minors Is Almost Indispensable”: Boyhood and Military Labor
Rebecca Jo Plant, University of California, San Diego; Frances M. Clarke, University of Sydney
The Wolf at the Door”: Determining Entitlement to Children's Wages
Jennifer Robin Terry, University of California, Berkeley
Michael C. Grossberg, Indiana University

Session Abstract

This session traces a number of legal issues that informed the status and rights of various groups of American children from the 1860s through the 1930s.  It asks how political, social, and economic transitions resulted in legal gaps that held a number of children in contingent status while the United States judicial system grappled with changing notions of race, childhood, and labor. 

In the first paper, “‘The employment of minors is almost indispensable’: Boyhood and Military Labor,” Rebecca Jo Plant and Frances M. Clarke jointly present their project on boy soldiers during the American Civil War.  Based on their status as soldiers, these boys became legally emancipated, yet in many ways, they were still treated differently than adults.  Plant and Clarke explore the reasons for this incongruity.  In the second paper, “Miscegenation Law and the Politics of Mixed-Race Illegitimate Children in the Turn-of-the-Century United States,” Nicholas L. Syrett examines how activists fought against anti-miscegenation laws that perpetuated poverty among mixed-race children as they were denied the protections and provisions otherwise afforded by legal recognition of paternity.  Lastly, Jennifer Robin Terry’s paper “‘The wolf at the door’: Determining Entitlement to Children’s Wages,” examines the doctrine of parental entitlement and mutual obligation with regard to their children’s wages, with a specific focus on the motion picture industry in the 1930s.  She argues that laws that were meant to protect child laborers actually had the opposite effect for children who worked in the motion picture industry. 

Together, these papers demonstrate the complexity of governing and legislating issues of childhood concurrent with navigating political, social, and economic change.  Oftentimes, children’s legal status, rights, and protections were slow to progress during periods of transition.  Even as the nation increasingly claimed a desire to act in the best interests of its children, the children were often left in limbo and slow to realize the benefits of change in their own lives.  In seeking children during periods of significant national transition—when hierarchies were challenged, traditions were unseated, and social mores were altered—this panel finds them in liminal legal spaces.

This panel should have broad appeal to scholars interested in histories of childhood, youth, race, sexuality, military, labor, popular culture, class, and the law.

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