The “Child Saving” Movement: Geographies of Placement and Displacement on the American Frontier

Julia Bates, Sacred Heart University

This article examines how the mission of the “child saving” movement was produced in relation to the political project of settler colonialism in the United States. Using the writings and correspondence of the founder of the “orphan train” movement, Charles Loring Brace, as well as the conference minutes of the National Conference on Social Welfare, the piece specifically conducts a discourse analysis on how notions of “child welfare” for the children placed out were conceived in relation to the displacement of other races on the Western frontier. Much of the research done on the “orphan train” movement emphasizes how the placing out of poor children from East Coast cities to Western farms , and the ideal of a “sheltered childhood” used to propagate placing out, served to address class conflict in East Coast cities (Ashby 1997; Mintz 2004; Platt 1977; Turmel 2008; Zelizer 1985) . However, there is little research on what political objectives the movement served in relation to westward expansion. The discourse analysis reveals that the hegemonic notions of child welfare, later institutionalized in the Child Welfare Bureau, were conceived in relation to the settlement of land. Furthermore, qualities of the children viewed as dangerous in the cities were valorized as ideals of childhood on the frontier in relation to the displacement of other races of people.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 193. Children on the Move