"I know histhry isn't thrue, Hinnissy, because it ain't like what I see ivry day in Halsted Street. If any wan comes along with a histhry iv Greece or Rome that'll show me th' people fightin', gettin' dhrunk, makin' love, gettin' married, owin' th' grocery man an' bein' without hard coal, I'll believe they was a Greece or Rome, but not befure."
-- Finley Peter Dunne, Observations by Mr. Dooley ( New York, 1902)
Mr. Dooley voiced a common complaint about conventional history, but now we are able to write a more credible history of Victorian America. Historians have discovered that wayward and homeless working-class children left behind extensive records from their institutional lives. Or rather, middle-class child-savers wrote and preserved records which show the common people "fightin', getting drunk, makin' love" and generally living robust and rich lives. By studying these poor children in Boston from the age of Jackson to the age of FDR, students can know their history and themselves better. As the British historian R. H. Tawney commented, "There is no touchstone, except the treatment of childhood, which reveals the true character of a social philosophy more clearly than the spirit in which it regards the misfortunes of those of its members who fall by the way."1
If Tawney is correct, and I believe he is, then the history of wayward children is essential to understanding American social philosophy. It offers a twofold view of American society by focusing on both childhood and children by the wayside. The Boston children's institutions and agencies studied here are, I think, representative of those formed simultaneously or later in other American cities. Further study in other communities will offer useful insights into the lives of the poor and the nearly poor, but never again can history be limited to the famous, wealthy, and powerful.
Children have always been a problem; as early as 1641 Massachusetts identified stubborn and disobedient juveniles as a special category under the law. Constables and magistrates were directed to make special provision for any wayward minor who "habitually associates with vicious or immoral persons or who is growing up in circumstances exposing him or