The Boston Juvenile Court and Clinic
The work of the juvenile court is really a work of character building.
-- Theodore Roosevelt, 1904
When the Massachusetts legislature established the Boston Juvenile Court on 1 September 1906, a century of charity, child welfare, and specialized juvenile justice coalesced in what was hailed as a humane judicial innovation. The Boston Juvenile Court actually was less an innovation than a combination of well-established concepts and methods with diverse roots in a variety of instruments and agencies of social control and benevolence. The Boston elite had forged a new humanitarian link in the chain which benignly bound the poor to community and control. In the Progressives' juvenile court movement, Bostonians were uncharacteristically tardy, waiting for American courts to recognize the new juvenile courts in other cities before proceeding to establish their own. When they did embrace the juvenile court movement in 1906, however, Boston social reformers quickly assumed a prominent position in this judicial crusade and made the Boston Juvenile Court and its psychiatric court clinic the foremost in the United States.
The juvenile court movement, according to the traditional explanation, was a product of the Progressive Era, launched in 1899 by Jane Addams and her coterie of Chicago settlement house workers, social scientists, reformers, and philanthropists.1 Dependent and delinquent children were viewed as the innocent victims of poverty, ignorance, and slum conditions, who could be cured by scientific treatment prescribed by physician-like judges assisted by probation officers, social workers, and psychologists.2 This explanation of the American juvenile court bears only a superficial relationship to the facts, and Chicago's claim to the invention of the juvenile court is questionable.3 The Boston Police and Municipal Courts used probation in 1830, a practice sanctioned by the Massachusetts legislature in 1836, and had a probation officer in 1843. The Suffolk County district courts held separate juvenile sessions by 1869, and the Board of State Charities appointed agents to attend all trials of juveniles in 1870.4