During the 19th century in the United States that was a huge influx of people into urban areas in search of jobs and other opportunities. With this change in how people lived, there was a change in the family as well. Before the growth of urban centers, parents and children were all together in a rural setting in a farm-like community and this helped to monitor and control a child’s behavior. Now, parents often would have to leave their children unattended for long periods while they worked. Children who are left unattended tend to get into trouble. Over time and with years of neglect continuing some of these youth became delinquents. Once children began to turn to crime the local government began to step in and try and deal with this problem.
One solution that was tried was developed by a group of juvenile reformers from the Child Saving movement. In this post, we will look at the history and beliefs of the members of this movement.
Child Saving Movement
The Child Saving Movement wanted the government to monitor and control the activities of wayward youth. As mentioned before, this used to be a responsibility of the family but there was a breakdown in the family as a result of living in the new conditions of dense city life.
To help delinquent youths proponents of the Child Saving movement developed the House of Refuge, which was an early form of a reform school. Wayward youth were sent here for status offenses to major crimes. Before this youth were often sent to adult prisons for the offenses they committed.
The House of Refuge was funded primarily privately. However, the irony of the House of Refuge is that funding came from the state of New York, and this funding involved taxes collected from bars, theaters, and even circuses. In other words, venues that contributed to delinquency were used to reform students who were delinquents.
The House of Refuge was opened in 1825 with only 6 youths. Within the first ten years, the facility would serve 1600 youths. Both boys and girls were housed at the facility. Boys were taught blue-collar skills such as skills found in woodshop. Female residents were taught skills related to the home such as cooking and sewing.
The original location of the House of Refuge was in the city. However, with time the facility was moved to a rural location. In all, the House of Refuge would last about 100 years well into the early 20th century. Among the main criticism of this approach was that the facility was trying to play the role of the parent through the use of strict discipline and long work hours.
There are strengths and weaknesses to all forms of reform for young people who become delinquents. There is always something wrong and something that is done well by most movements. What all reform movements have in common is a desire to help young people and to make society safer. Sometimes it might be better to focus on this rather than on the failures of various movements such as the Child Savers.