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A "real boy" and not a sissy: gender, childhood, and masculinity, 1890-1940.

Maurice, a ten-year-old "sissy," had a chapter devoted to his dilemma in The Problem Child at Home, published in 1928. A victim of relentless teasing and taunting by his peers, Maurice was described as having a "soft, feminine face" and an unathletic build. As a small child he had suffered from a range of health problems, from rickets to pneumonia, and his frequent illnesses had drawn him closer to his mother. Maurice's physician referred him to a child guidance clinic, identifying the child's most pressing problem as the "over-solicitude of his mother." Upon further investigation, the clinic personnel concurred with the doctor's diagnosis. Clinicians portrayed Maurice's mother as insanely preoccupied with her son's health and his father as ineffectual. This infelicitous parental combination had produced a timid, nervous son whose prognosis for healthy adulthood was poor. Investigators reported the neighbors' claim that the mother "used to skip down the street with her son when he was seven or eight years old, pick him up in her arms and cover him with kisses in full view of the entire neighborhood." Both the neighbors and clinicians agreed that Maurice was lacking in the ingredients of the "real boy." According to one of the clinicians: "This 'perfect little gentleman,' this 'carefully nurtured flower' ... needs more than anything else to be helped to become a real boy." (1)

As this narrative suggests, the "sissy," a term that had emerged out of the boy culture of mid-nineteenth century America, increasingly became not only an epithet hurled by school yard bullies but a clinical term suggestive of psychological pathology and sexual inversion. (2) While effeminate or unmanly boys were not artifacts of the twentieth century, the meaning attached to them shifted in conjunction with the politics of masculinity and transformations in child rearing, gender socialization, and the new sciences of human development. (3) Nineteenth-century sissies were castigated by their peers, but twentieth-century sissies bore a clinical as well as a social stigma. As the peer group loomed ever larger as a means of the socialization of children, conforming to the code of boyhood became increasingly central to establishing the normalcy of boys' personalities and behaviors. (4)

The sissy embodied a cluster of attributes that were endemic to the architects of modern child psychology. In the literature of the normal child the "real" or "regular" boy emerged as a psychological ideal, while sissies were frequently characterized as sickly, timid children who were overly dependent on their mothers. (5) Psychiatrist Edward Strecker [1926] characterized the mentally healthy child as possessed of "a strong leaven of curiosity, an appreciable love of power, a dash of savagery" and "emotional virility," qualities that were unlikely to be appreciated in the female child. (6) Historian Peter Stearns contends that girls' and boys' "emotional cultures" were becoming less distinct in the 1920s, as child-rearing literature portrayed children of both genders as displaying many of the same emotional responses to common childhood travails. However, boys still paid a heavy price for departures from predominant conceptions of masculinity. While both boys and girls experienced fear and shyness, according to the advice literature, boys' fearfulness and timidity elicited greater concern and carried a more gender-specific clinical meaning. (7)

Politicians and figureheads as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and G. Stanley Hall had raised the specter of effeminacy as a threat to the progress of American civilization at the turn of the century. The child guidance practitioners who arose to prominence in the 1920s embedded these concerns in their treatment of young children. The timid, nervous boy who clung to his mother's skirts was seen as emblematic of larger problems in the psychic health and masculinity of the American nation and its children. (8) In her study of Boston's Judge Baker child guidance clinic, Kathleen Jones discovered that boys formed 2/3 of the clinic's caseload as of 1935, a phenomenon that was replicated in many child guidance clinics of the period. The question of how to turn problem boys into "real boys" was a central concern of child guidance professionals. (9) The vociferous debate about the "feminization" of American boys that marked the turn of the century had subsided by the 1920s, because the debate had been won by those who sought to provide a more masculine upbringing for little boys. While individual parents, educators, and professionals no doubt resisted the new paradigm, their voices were largely silenced in the advice literature of the period.

This essay traces the convergence of social and psychological conceptions of sissies and "real boys" during the early decades of the century. My focus is on boyhood prior to adolescence, when masculinity is in the making, when the transition from babyhood to boyhood and adolescence is in process, and when gender boundaries are somewhat more fluid than in later years. During the early decades of this century, little boys--once thought to be exempt from the demands of masculinity--were recast as men in the making, placing their behaviors, characteristics, and temperaments under a microscope for manifestations of gender deviations. In fact, just as the traditional gender roles of adult men and women were being challenged by the politics of feminism and the transformations in work and leisure that accompanied urbanization, little boys became the object of intensified scrutiny by both parents and professionals for signs of gender deviations. (10)

Professionals in the newly minted disciplines of the human psyche--sexology, psychology, and psychiatry--increasingly conceived of personality, gender, and sexuality as products of culture and upbringing. Confronted with the phenomena of women who sought to assume masculine rights and privileges, and men and women who chose to love same-sex partners, experts sought both to describe the trajectory of normal child and sexual development and to prescribe it. (11) Although there were few well articulated theories of masculine gender identity development, in their everyday practices clinicians used the standards of boys' peer society in diagnosing and treating effeminate boys. (12) The "real" or "regular" boy was the standard against which little boys were measured. Although often a challenge to their parents, real boys at least stood a good chance of developing into "normal" adult men, while effeminate boys were perceived as deviants in the making. Boys who failed to partake in the typical pranks and escapades of boyhood, who were overly obedient and clung to their mothers, became the objects of concern. While the charge of effeminacy had been leveled at adult men for centuries, by the twentieth century the label was applied to little children. In both cases, the label effeminate held clinical as well as social and political meanings.

There was a critical shift in how individuals thought about gender in young children, and in boys, in particular, by the turn of the twentieth century. In the early nineteenth-century United States, gender was viewed primarily as a social category that was acquired in successive stages as children matured. Babies were somewhat gender-free, according to this view, and children's dress reflected this sensibility. For instance, the donning of boys' short pants--a symbol of the emergence of a masculine gender identity--which had occurred in the nineteenth century between the ages of five and seven, steadily moved downward to ages two or three at the turn of the century. (13)

The custom of dressing infants in pink and blue, which originated in the clothing industry of the 1920s and gained popular currency in the 1930s, was the most visible manifestation of the significance of gender in young children during this period. The expanding toy and children's clothing industries targeted their audiences on the basis of gender as the twentieth century progressed. It was also during the early decades of the century that many gender-specific recreational activities for children--such as boys' clubs, scouting, and competitive sports--made their ascendancy. These activities, initially earmarked specifically for boys, were soon extended to girls. In one sense, then, the values and activities associated with masculinity were being offered in a limited way to girls, but rarely were girls' activities or traditional values promulgated as beneficial for boys. (14) In fact, some of the feminine qualities celebrated by many Victorians were increasingly cast in a negative light for both boys and girls. The self-sacrificing mother valorized in Victorian literature, for instance, became a figure of ridicule in 1920s popular culture.

To view this phenomenon through a different lens, the popular "tomboy" in girls' literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had few counterparts in boys' literature. (15) Little Lord Fauntleroy had fallen into disrepute and the "bad boy" of the Victorian storybook was resurrected as a "regular" or "real" boy by the turn of the century. This was no fleeting shift. While late nineteenth and early twentieth-century critics decried the "feminization" of American boys in the public schools, psychologists and other commentators of the 1920s would denounce the "spoiling" and the "over-protection" that American mothers bestowed on their children. Concerns about over-protected and sissified boys would resurface even more powerfully in the 1940s, as psychologists turned their attention to the pathological consequences of maternal tenderness on children, focusing on homosexuals and the shell-shocked veterans who were unable to withstand the rigors of war. (16)

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were clearly a watershed in the shaping of modern manhood. (17) In her ground breaking history of the transformation of American manhood, Gail Bederman illuminated the significance of the cultural messages parlayed by figures, such as Roosevelt and Hall, who attempted to salvage American manhood from the perils of over-civilization through their calls for a return to "the strenuous life" and a resurrection of the "savage" qualities of earlier peoples. The question of how to define manhood for those middle-class males who no longer exercised their manly muscles in order to maintain home and hearth underlay many reform efforts to simultaneously restrain and cultivate masculine qualities. (18) There were clear class and racial distinctions in this discourse as well. Middle-class boys were thought to be victims of over-civilization and nervousness due to the repression of their masculine impulses, while working-class and non-Caucasian boys were believed to be in need of having their masculine impulses controlled and directed into productive activity. The iconic sissy boy was a pale-faced neurasthenic aristocrat, with curly locks and immaculate dress. A boy named Edward profiled in a Parents' Magazine [1927] article exemplifies the boy who suffers from repression of his masculine impulses: "Edward had always been a painfully proper person from babyhood. He was one of those irritatingly perfect children ... He was a model--everything a happy, healthy child isn't." (19) The mythological "real boy" was also Caucasian if a little scruffier and apt to be from less privileged origins.

When reformers of the early 1900s spoke of the "boy problem," however, they included both sissy boys and urban working-class boys, whose lives in inner-city neighborhoods frustrated their boy natures and led them into delinquency rather than more wholesome masculine activities. (20) Whether sissies or ruffians, however, organized sports and boys' clubs were viewed as solutions to the problem of both arousing and controlling masculine impulses, as historian David MacLeod has so eloquently demonstrated in his study of the boy scouts. (21) These efforts primarily addressed adolescent boys, who were seen as the crux of the "boy problem"; however, as psychology made its inroads into social work and reform, early childhood came to be a seen as a critical period for the development of masculine character and gender identity.

Gender and Boyhood in the Nineteenth Century

In the early nineteenth century, many middle-class Americans attempted to preserve young childhood as a period of life that was relatively uncontaminated by the forces of sexuality or the demands of sex-role socialization. Middle-class Americans dressed infants and toddlers so as to highlight the distinctions between adults and children, while downplaying the differences between the genders. (22) Mothers bore the major responsibility for rearing children of both genders up through ages six or seven and were often ambivalent about the transformation of their male youngsters into "boys." (23) They cherished the long curls of toddlers of both sexes, and boys' and girls' frocks were very similar. Boyhood did not properly commence as a stage of life until boys were outfitted in their first set of trousers, a momentous day for parent and child alike, and not always without trauma. (24) According to one mother, writing in 1881 about the day her five-year-old donned trousers: "He will be a noisy, shouting, out-of-doors boy and not a dear little house boy any more at all." (25) But even if boys assimilated to the culture of boyhood, ideals of behavior for both young boys and girls were somewhat similar. The qualities of tenderness, self-control, and self-sacrifice were celebrated for both genders in children's literature and prescriptive advice for parents. (26) While boys were associated with qualities such as roughness and cruelty to animals, the typical "hero" of a children's book embodied instead ideal feminine virtues: tenderness, refinement, and restraint. (27)

This is not to suggest that nineteenth-century middle-class boys grew up in a genderless world; rather, that gender played a different role in children's lives at different ages than it did in a later period. During early childhood, boys' identities as babies overshadowed their identities as boys, although class and race could foreshorten this moratorium from masculinity. Indeed, one of the markers of middle-class status was the frivolity of dress with which both girls and boys were adorned. As boys aged, donned trousers, and entered the peer culture of other boys, boy culture played a role in helping to patrol gender boundaries. (28)

Thomas Bailey Aldrich's popular memoir The Story of a Bad Boy, first published in 1869, was an important articulation of the idea that "real" boys--who were boisterous, mischievous, and pugilistic--were being held hostage by polite Victorian society and literature. Aldrich's text was oppositional for its time. He explicitly contrasted his book with the standard children's literature of the time: "I call myself a bad boy partly to distinguish myself from those faultless young gentlemen who generally figure in narratives of this kind ... I was a real human boy ... and no more like the impossible boy in a storybook than a sound orange is like one that has been sucked dry." (29) The idea of a bad boy as the normal and healthy boy entered the public arena at this early date, even as it vied with works such as the popular Little Lord Fauntleroy, first published in 1886, the story of a noble, refined, and self-effacing little boy. (30)

An example from a book written by a reformer of juvenile detention homes in 1877 helps to illuminate this contrast. In discussing his methods of rehabilitation at a Massachusetts reform school, Joseph Allen highlighted those moments when boys were brought to tears by stories of human death and virtue as redemptive. He wished to awaken the boys' tender sentiments, through exposure to flowers and music, in order to rehabilitate them. Later reformers would try to enlist "boy nature" in their efforts to turn rebellious young boys into upstanding young men, but Allen argued that boys needed "gentle and refining influences" in order to become properly manly men. (31)

Debates about the perils of the "feminization" of little boys in churches, homes, and schools were common in the late nineteenth century. As America's foremost psychologist in the late nineteenth century, G. Stanley Hall was extremely influential in articulating a scientific justification for the rowdy behaviors and activities of little boys. Hall contended that children's [in particular, boys'] development reenacted the various stages of civilization, beginning with savagery. Boys' development had been stunted by mothers' and teachers' attempts to foist feminine notions of niceness and refinement on savage little boys, he argued. Early nineteenth-century educators believed that their task was to tame the savage impulses thought to be the basis of boy nature; Hall and many turn-of-the-century thinkers insisted that educators must capitalize upon the "barbarism" of boy nature along the route to civilization. (32)

Hall demanded that education adapt to the nature of boyhood by incorporating activities that appealed to boys' primitive instincts, such as playing cowboys and Indians, boxing, camping, and reading adventurous stories. Bederman's account of the mixed reaction to Hall's views illuminates the earlier paradigm. After a presentation by Hall at the Chicago Kindergarten Meeting in 1899, an anonymous author in the Chicago Post expostulated: "The idea among the uncivilized people of the world to-day is that boys and men should fight ... To these people we send missionaries ... and just as we are beginning to congratulate ourselves on reclaiming some men from barbarism Dr. Hall gets up and advises us to teach our sons to do what we have been endeavoring to teach the savage to avoid." (33) Hall's spin on evolutionary science--that boys must recapitulate savagery on the road to civilization--was by no means uncontested. The civilization that many Victorian men and women celebrated was not reserved for a particular gender or stage of life.

Henry A. Shute's The Real Diary of a Real Boy, which was first published in 1902 and went through sixteen editions by 1914, went beyond Aldrich's "bad boy" by suggesting that so-called bad boys were in fact real boys. This immensely popular fictional diary of a rambunctious and pugilistic eleven year-old growing up in New England, whose days revolve around a series of "lickens," "fites," and pranks, did more than anything else to catapult the terminology of the real boy into popular discourse. In Shute's text the model boy who obeyed his mother and exemplified Christian forbearance serves as an unfavorable contrast to the little "tuff" who narrates the diary.

Yet both model boys and real boys posed challenges to reformers. While the model boy's fate was to be a Casper Milquetoast or worse, the real boy's pranks were only one step away from delinquency. An outpouring of literature on boy work, the boy problem, and "real boys" emerged to address these dilemmas, accompanied by the appointment of boy workers at settlement houses and numerous clubs and activities organized around the premise that boys required a specific kind of cultivation in order to develop into manly men. Theorists of boyhood attempted to define "boy nature" and to recommend activities and child rearing practices designed both allow for the expression of boys' instinctive selves and to harness these powers constructively.

These theories found practical application in the development of boy scouting, which was inaugurated in the United States in 1910 and spread with amazing rapidity. Boy scouts provided organized activities that organizers hoped would both cultivate and restrain traditional masculine "savagery." Even the boy scouts agreed, however, that little boys were the province of their mothers. After reaching the age of ten or twelve, when boys could join the scouts, masculine leadership was required. (34) Indeed, the Scouts were quite vociferous in their attempt to extinguish the feminine influence from their organization, arguing that "No Miss Nancy [s] need apply" to head their troops. What they needed, in stead, were "REAL, live men--red blooded and right-hearted men--BIG men. " (35) It was not only feminism but femininity that threatened the development of "normal" manhood.

Early boy workers, however, still viewed little boys as having many of the qualities associated with girls. They articulated a conception of the emergence of masculine identity that was developmental, maintaining that boys acquired gendered attributes and instincts at specific ages. (36) In The Boy and His Gang [1912], J. Adams Puffer described the transformation of male children into boys: "Little girls and little boys, as they emerge from babyhood, are not so unlike. But somewhere around the age of ten, the little boy begins to undergo a transformation, which in the girl never takes place at all." (37) In other words, boys became increasingly masculinized, while girls retained their feminine interests as they developed. Joseph Lee described four ages of play in his classic text Play in Education [1929]. The first two stages, through age six, were the same for boys and girls, the third fairly similar, with the fourth stage of play being dramatically different for the two genders. (38) Catholic boy worker Paul Hanly Furfey argued in The Gang Age [1926] that prior to age eight or ten, boys were apt to play with girls, were uninterested in team sports, and were happy to play "quietly about the house." He contended that little boys shared with girls an "effeminacy of disposition," which drew them to girls as playmates. This period of life ceased shortly after boys began school, when they were no longer gender-neutral children and began to become men. (39) When the gang age approached: "He plays the group games with extraordinary ardor. Baseball almost becomes a religion. He is now very much a boy." (40) Thus boys, who prior to age eight or ten were content with unorganized play of various kinds, were hard wired to enter into organized gangs as they approached boyhood.

As boys aged, peers played a central role in inculcating the tenets of masculinity. Instead of trying to substitute adult authority for peer influence, boy workers tried to utilize the "gang spirit" to develop leadership and masculinity. William Byron Forbush [1907] articulated the emerging twentieth-century view of the importance of the peer group: "Out among his peers God intends that he shall go, to give and take, to mitigate his own selfishness and to gain the masculine standpoint which his mother, his nurse, and his school-teacher cannot give." (41) The peer group or gang also played a role in transforming sissies into real boys, according to many reformers. Forbush extolled the benefits of the gang for sissies: "When I see a city boy who wears gloves and has the high hand-shake, I wish fervently that the gang might get ahold of him." (42) Peers were clearly central in the development of boys in the nineteenth century, but boy culture was situated in opposition to the adult culture of the period. (43) By the turn of the century, instead of opposing boy culture, adults sought to utilize the peer society in their efforts to transform boys into men. Peers played a critical role in ameliorating the potentially deleterious effect of mothers, female teachers, and even civilization itself, in the development of boys' masculinity.

The boys' peer society was romanticized in both fictional and non-fictional accounts of the early twentieth century. In "The Boyhood of a Sissie," [1901], Adam Beaseley spoke longingly of the "beautiful barbarism of little boys," characterizing himself instead as a "sissie" and a "Sunday School monstrosity." Beaseley bemoaned his own sissified childhood, attributing his "mysterious mania for revery and for books" to the pious contemplations of his mother during pregnancy. A weak and sickly child, Beaseley's humiliations included the fact that "not a boy in all the school ever wanted to fight me. Who would fight a Sissie?" The connections between sissy boyhood, effeminacy, and homosexuality, often implied, rarely spoken, emerged in this narrative as well. Speaking of the kissing games of adolescence, Beaseley admitted that he was "persecuted with kisses, and how I loathed them! The very kissing games we children played gave me a nausea such a Sissy was I." (44) These implied connections would increasingly play a part in psychological theories of gender and masculine identity.

The Achievement of Heterosexuality

By the close of the nineteenth century, a recognizably masculine ideal had emerged in contradistinction to effeminate or sissified males. Burgeoning homosexual communities helped to give shape to this opposition; male homosexuals were increasingly seen as unmanly, and effeminate men were apt to have their sexuality questioned. Effeminacy in little boys was often viewed as a precursor to homosexuality, a connection that was bolstered by an emerging literature on the genesis of homosexuality. (45) Many sexologists and psychologists argued that homosexuality was neither a crime nor the cause of other types of mental pathology but an illness caused by constitutional weakness, faulty social arrangements, and improper parenting. (46) During the course of the 1920s and 1930s, however, clinicians changed their views about the preeminent causes of effeminacy and homosexuality, as well as their notions of the age at which boys acquired masculine characteristics and their sexual orientation. In so doing, they contributed to a paradigm shift concerning the significance of gender in little boys.

Initially, many scientists targeted adolescence as the period of life during which "normal" or "abnormal" sexualities developed, drawing on earlier views of adolescence as the period of life during which youthful passions could lead boys and girls astray. G. Stanley Hall both elaborated upon and transformed these understandings in his massive Adolescence, published in 1904, by linking the biological processes of puberty with psychological changes. (47) The recently discovered term heterosexuality served to explain how biological impulses got transformed into socially appropriate behavior, but by virtue of its antithesis--homosexuality--it also served to explain what could go wrong. (48) In 1926, for instance, mental hygienist Frankwood Williams warned an audience that "everything in the future depends upon" the "establishment of hetero-sexuality," in adolescence. Heterosexuality, he informed his audience "does not just happen; it is a development and growth that is nourished and contained by what it feeds upon." (49) William McKeever's Training the Boy [1921] proposed that human instincts develop at different times; not until the age of thirteen to fifteen did the boy "respond to the highly stimulating promptings of his inner sex nature." (50) In focusing on adolescence as the pivotal period in the establishment of heterosexuality, these writers had a social agenda. They contended that heterosexuality was imperiled by the tendency to segregate boys from girls during the critical period of adolescence. (51) If society insisted on preventing young people from normal youthful encounters with the opposite sex, the tragic results would end up in the psychiatrist's office. Prudery, the double standard, and misplaced sex antagonism all contributed to the social disease of homosexuality. Appropriate sex education and a wholesome attitude toward the opposite sex could help alleviate the modern homosexual trend. Adjustment to one's proper sex role as an adult was premised, then, not so much on the psychodynamics of family life as on the existence of social practices conducive to heterosexuality.

Increasingly, however, Freudian psychology was influencing how scholars thought about early childhood and the development of sexuality and masculine and feminine characteristics. In fact, Freudian ideas were grafted onto earlier ideas about the gender-neutrality (although Freud wouldn't have thought of it this way) of early childhood. Psychologist Leta Hollingworth claimed that young children were not particularly heterosexual, while reiterating the emerging view that childhood was not a sex-less time: "Previous to the onset of puberty, the child is not definitely heterosexual. Its sex life has been vague but incipient. Its longings for human contacts have been vague and unlocalized; its affections attachable to persons of either sex somewhat equally" [1928] (52) Sex educator Frances Strain argued that prior to adolescence children were naturally "homosexual, which is merely saying that the bond is strongest between those of the same sex." Because young children were essentially bisexual, the transition period to heterosexuality was extremely "unstable" and "fluctuating," with many opportunities for bringing about "prolonged homosexuality" [1934] (53) For some writers, then, cross-sex identification was a prelude rather than an obstacle to the development of heterosexuality. For others, the natural stage of bisexuality in young children threatened to produce full-blown homosexuality if not carefully handled. In both cases, however, the potential for the development of adult homosexuality was obvious.

While earlier theories had given most credence to biology in the development of heterosexuality, theorists of the 1920s and 1930s began to focus on the psychodynamics of the family in giving rise to homosexual proclivities. Adolescence was downplayed as formative in the development of homosexuality, while infancy and early childhood were attributed with enhanced significance. Psychologists and social workers maintained that heterosexuality was the ideal outcome of psychosexual development, while homosexuals remained in an arrested stage of development. In a standard child psychology text published in 1931 Anna Freud stated: "The normality of the entire later life of the child, its ability to love and procreate" are "dependent on the fate of the infantile sexuality," a claim that would become an orthodoxy within much of the psychological establishment. (54) Sociologists Ernest and Gladys Groves, in their Sex in Childhood [1933], argued that "heterosexuality ... is an end-product of the normal growth of impulses that appear first in infancy and early childhood." The Groves admitted that all people share masculine and feminine characteristics but "the degree to which we swing to our normal pole or its opposite is in part determined by the happenings of early childhood." The father who taught his daughter to hunt and play baseball because he had always wanted to have a son was not a twentieth-century phenomenon. However, these kinds of social practices took on new meanings as scientists sought to determine the genesis of homosexuality and other disorders of heterosexual desire and the human psyche.

These ideas about the genesis of sexuality and appropriate gender roles were popularized in the mass media as well. The newly established Parents' Magazine published a slew of articles on sex education and family life in the 1930s, delivering a clear message concerning the importance of early childhood for sexual and emotional development. In "New Approaches to Sex Education," Roy E. Dickerson informed readers that events in infancy and early childhood may determine whether children's attitudes toward sex will be normal or abnormal. In fact, he warned: "Frigidity and homosexuality may be traced to vivid impressions in early childhood." (55) In "Love in the Making," also published in Parents [1939], Frances Strain explained: "When children grow up to be men and women they reflect in their love relations or lack of them the quality and substance of their early affections." (56)

For many cultural critics, focused on the psychic disturbances of the modern age, it was the so-called "normal" family itself that was pathological, responsible for creating a "mollycoddled" generation of nervous, spineless children. Mother-blaming was central to psychological discourse of the 1920s and 1930s, with scientists and cultural commentators alike impugning the motives and mechanisms by which mothers raised their children. (57) Excessive mother love stunted children's sexual development, according to Floyd Dell, the author of Love in the Machine Age [1930] and was a major contributor to the modern problem of homosexuality. (58) And mothers were most certainly the culprits when it came to the making of sissies, an idea that was clarified in an article for the Ladies Home Journal entitled "Mothers Make Sissies" [1938]. (59)

If mothers were smothering boys, fathers were enjoined to greater participation in the rearing of their sons. The early twentieth century witnessed a spate of father-to-father advice books and a growing body of essays and articles written by and for fathers in popular magazines. Parents' Magazine, for instance, featured a monthly column "For Fathers Only" during the late 1920s and 1930s, which was mainly focused on the upbringing of boys. Fathers could direct boys into such properly masculine activities as hunting, boxing, and home carpentry. By modeling masculinity, fathers could provide a much-needed antidote to the smothering influence of mothers. (60)

These cultural concerns were embodied in the psychological research on sex differences and sexuality of the period. Researchers were preoccupied with the question of the origins of deviant sexualities and gender identities and subjected the traditional family--its gender composition, its emotional relationships, and child rearing practices--to extensive analysis. The culmination of this research appeared in Lewis Terman and Catherine Cox Miles' study of masculinity and femininity, published in 1936, and George Henry's study of homosexuality, published in 1941. (61) Both studies used homosexuals as a means of distinguishing "normal" from "abnormal" patterns of masculinity and femininity and attempted to identify early warning signs of homosexuality. Obtaining narrative histories of the subjects they examined, the authors tried to come up with a "recipe" for homosexuality. Terman and Miles' recipe for boys is quite familiar: "Too demonstrative affection from an excessively emotional mother, father who is unsympathetic, autocratic, brutal, much away from home, or deceased, treatment of the child as a girl, coupled with lack of encouragement or opportunity to associate with boys and take part in the rougher masculine activities; overemphasis of neatness, niceness, and spirituality." (62)

Parents were to blame for homosexual and effeminate sons. It was not just that some boys preferred activities associated with girls but that they were not "encouraged" or provided with the "opportunity" to engage in "rougher masculine activities," presumably because their emotional mothers would not let them and their fathers were absent either physically or psychologically. (63) Henry's analysis was similar. He admitted that some children might be biologically predisposed to homosexuality; however, parents could exacerbate or mitigate the trend: "Any mixture such as an effeminate father and an aggressive mother ... is likely to accentuate homosexual tendencies." Henry also added a more specific caveat, insisting that parents should refrain from "applauding" young boys who displayed themselves in "feminine attire." (64) Henry's warnings about parents' enjoyment of young boys' dress-up play points to the casualness with which earlier generations treated such gender play. Ultimately, these studies underscored the importance of careful surveillance of both the gender dynamics of the family and boys' emerging masculinity in order to offset the dangers of homosexuality. The studies of Terman, Miles, and Henry did not break new ground in the science of sexuality; rather, they lent clinical weight to widely held conceptions about the development of gender identity and the genesis of homosexuality. (65)

Sissies in Schools and Clinics

Reformers had opportunities to put their ideas about child development, gender, and sexuality into practice in the nursery schools, kindergartens, child guidance clinics, and parent education classes that were sprouting in the 1920s. The parent education movement was in its infancy but also in its heyday, as proponents insisted that the science of human behavior applied to parenting and education was the key to resolving social and personal problems. In nursery schools, kindergartens, and child guidance clinics, professionals sought to educate parents and steer children toward normalcy using science as a guide. Infants and young children were the focus of many of the social experiments of the era, because they were thought to be most plastic and in need of proper direction. The precepts of behaviorism, as espoused by the notorious psychologist John B. Watson, were central to child development in the 1920s and 1930s. Watson warned parents about the dangers of coddling and spoiling, insisting that "too much mother love" was ruining the temperaments of modern children. (66) Assumptions about gender underscored much of the work of Watson and others, so much so that they rarely felt the need to spell these assumptions out explicitly. Yet in assessments of little boys with "mother complexes," or other such diagnoses, a shared understanding of the causes and treatment of sissy boys emerged. (67) Many espoused the view that the single greatest danger facing all children, but especially boys, was maternal over-protection. Boys who failed to exhibit the requisite independence and strength of character expected of them needed educational, and in many cases, clinical treatment.

The so-called "smother-love" of mothers was the main element in the development of gender inappropriate behavior of little boys, according to the literature. A five-year-old boy referred to the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic was described in this way: "He did not play with other boys--in fact he was distinctly not a boyish boy. He had a great many fears ... He never wants to leave his mother." (68) Psychologist, writer, and nursery school teacher Helen Thompson Wooley was quite explicit about the connections between maternal overprotection and gender identity. In 1922, she wrote about three-year-old Johnny, a "spoiled" child who was the victim of the "unwise affections" of his mother. The mother was "highly emotional" and "her relation to him was merely an indulgence of her own emotional nature." By contrast, his father was a severe disciplinarian and Johnny feared men intensely. Already at such a young age, the effect of an intense attachment to his mother was being borne out in cross-gender behaviors. According to Wooley's report: "Johnny was the only little boy in the school who said that he wished he were a girl or that he would like to wear girl's clothes, or that he would like to be a lady when he grew up. When the little girls in the school played bride, Johnny was the only little boy in the school who insisted upon being a bride. He was very much disgusted when it proved to be impossible to make the old lace curtain which was used as a bridal veil, stick to his short, stubby hair." (69) Wooley was more of a behaviorist than a Freudian, yet the concept that maternal overprotection could lead to sexual inversion was widespread. The idea that mothers were both "unwise" and "indulgent" in their affections for their young sons suggests a double-edge to these worries: mothers lacked both the knowledge and the emotional control to rear their sons effectively. Such mothers were simultaneously seductresses and parasites. In the process of tearing apart the myth of the self-sacrificing Victorian mother, a new and potentially more pernicious myth of motherhood emerged.

Cross-gender play also came under scrutiny in the light of the new concerns. The tradition of boys dressing up in women's clothing in theatrical performances in the nineteenth century had a corollary in the play activities of little boys, many of whom enjoyed dressing up in women's clothes and elicited the admiration of relatives and friends in so doing. As the twentieth century progressed, however, the appearance of little boys came to symbolize their feminization under the auspices of controlling and smothering women. Dick, a Detroit kindergartener, was a "timid, sensitive child, hovered over by a very devoted, adoring aunt," according to a clinical observer. Such excessive devotion was problematic, but to make things worse, Dick wore "immaculate white suits and his hair grew in long wavy locks which gave him the appearance of a sissy." (70) The image of the pampered and overly-feminized boy as an object of pity was a commonplace in popular culture by the 1920s. Warnings about the danger of raising boys such as these permeated the parenting literature. In one article urging parents to be less protective of their children, the author exclaimed: "Alas for the little boy whose blond curls and peach-bloom complexion tempt his mother to pamper her own vanity by making a doll of him." (71) While perfectly acceptable for a nineteenth-century four-year-old, girlish clothes and appearance had a much more sinister meaning for little boys as the twentieth century advanced.

Spoiling and overprotection could conspire to produce a boy in need of expert care. For instance Walter, when admitted to a Cleveland Day Nursery in 1930, was described as a "frail baby" whose mother was "extremely protective of him and he was badly spoiled." The nursery staff recommended a temporary placement in a local hospital to strengthen him but his mother refused to relinquish him. The dangers of over-protection were such that some child guidance workers believed that spoiled boys would be better off in institutional settings, where they could be weaned from maternal influences. Another four-year-old from Cleveland "was protected and pampered by his mothers and sisters and ... a constant trouble maker in the nursery." The clinic staff suggested that they send him to an institutional home for boys, "for a year in order to wean him from the overprotection of his mothers and sisters." Yet the mother, who as a child had lived in an institution, resisted the recommendation. (72)

Three-year-old Tom, a client with the nursery clinic of the Institute for Juvenile Research in Chicago during the early 1930s, did not have such resistant parents. His father and clinic personnel shared the assessment of the preschooler as a "sissy." The father regarded the child as both a "coward" and a "sissy," tried bullying him "to make him more of a man" and was known to physically punish him. Tom's parents had taken him to the clinic because of his feeding problems. Clinic workers recommended the removal of Tom from his home "for a period of intensive retraining in food habits," which the parents concurred with, and Tom was placed in a children's institution for a period of three months. (73)

Tom's case illuminates the convergence of psychiatric knowledge and popular conceptions of boyhood. (74) Tom's timidity evoked the anger of his father and a team of experts determined to "wean" him from his babyish habits. The use of the institution as a corrective to bad habits and improper parenting had been a feature of boys' life since the mid-nineteenth century, in the form of boys' training and military schools, for example. While the use of an institution for a child so young is unsettling to contemporary sensibilities it was in keeping with a culture of professionalism that denigrated parents and a society that routinely housed large numbers of poor children in institutions while their parents looked for work, were hospitalized, or fell on bad times. It is hard to know why Tom's parents submitted their child to medical authority. Perhaps they were exasperated, afraid their child would fail to thrive; perhaps Tom's mother feared for her child's well being with such a brutal father. In any case, as boys aged both parents and educators could invoke the threat of institutionalization as a last resort method to keep boys in line.

Concerns about sissy boys in day nurseries and nursery school records rarely directly alluded to the dangers of homosexuality. Grace Caldwell, the director of a nursery school for Italian immigrant children in Boston--who characterized one of her young charges as a "homo-sexual in the making" in 1928--was an exception, if nonetheless a notable one. (75) As boys grew older, their feminine mannerisms and proclivities were linked more explicitly to aberrant sexuality. For instance, a case report describes an eleven year-old Cleveland boy in an after-school day nursery. His mother, the report stated, was "exaggerated in her affection for the boy, whom she overprotected ... The boy was distinctly effeminate, and last spring showed marked symptoms of homo-sectuality (sic)." (76) Mothers were not only to be blamed for the production of sissy and homosexual boys but they were actually complicit, secretly pleased that their sons shared their affections and affinities. The mother who might have been viewed as devoted in the nineteenth century was recast as a pathological pariah.

A Real Boy

An articulate defender of "real boys," Angelo Patri was an Italian New York City public school principal and author of a widely syndicated newspaper column of advice for parents during the 1920s and 1930. Although purporting to write about children of both genders, Patri focused most of his attention on boys, especially school-age boys, and a majority of the over 7,000 letters from parents (mostly mothers) concerned boys. (77) Patri was a devout exponent of Hallian theories of boyhood. He fully subscribed to the theory of the inherent savagery of little boys and believed that education should be modified in order to meet the demands of boy nature. Patri's advice exemplified ideas about boyhood shared by many boy workers and educators, although he was not in the advance guard of psychological thought. The parents who read his column and wrote to him for advice represented a selective group of individuals; they were more literate than the average person and sympathetic to the idea that experts should play a role in helping to fashion child rearing practices. In this correspondence, however, some of the predominant middle-class conceptions of the "real boy" and his alternative emerge.

In their letters to Patri, parents' concerns about their boys generally came in three categories: that of unruly, obstreperous boys who were difficult to discipline; boys who were slow learners or failing to achieve their potential in school; and timid, shy boys who did not mix well and were likely to be labeled as sissies. There were far more letters about unruly boys or boys with learning problems, but--from the experts' point of view--timidity represented a graver danger. In 1908, prominent psychiatrist Adolf Meyer articulated the emerging view of the mentally unhealthy child: "As a rule we are concerned less with aggressive mischief ... than with repression ... The children affected are the very ones whom a former generation might have looked on as model children." (78) Nearly three decades later, Ethel Kawin, a researcher with Chicago's Juvenile Psychopathic Institute, noted that case studies of individuals "who have come to grief in one way or another" reveal that the facts of their childhood indicated that they were "spoiled children, or shy, withdrawn children or extremely distractible." (79) Thus clinicians were more apt to view the timid nervous boy with concern than the noisy rabble-rousing boy.

A description of a "real boy" and Patri's analysis of his mother's plight, will help to exemplify the contrast. M.H. from Oakland, California wrote in 1925 about her unruly 7 1/2 year old son. In a letter filled with complaints, she documented his snatching other children's toys, his unwillingness to do errands, his lack of concentration in school, and his spiteful treatment of his sister. He was also rude and "gets into a fight every time he goes out, and altogether manages to keep things in an uproar." He was both "wonderfully strong" and "thinks he can fight anyone on the street." Patri's response was very reassuring: "You have a real boy. He has very unpleasant qualities. All little boys have.... At seven years of age a little boy enters upon a stage of what is akin to savagery ... when he reaches the age of twelve or thirteen he approaches another stage of growth where he drops some of the savage characteristics and takes on the instability of adolescence." (80) Many of the disagreeable traits associated with boyhood--which

many parents strove to eradicate through stern discipline--were recast as embodiments of boyhood's natural development, necessary stages through which boys must pass along the way to manhood. This did not mean, of course, that parents were to relinquish discipline, but they were to do so in the context of an understanding of the naturalness and even desirability of such behavior on the part of little boys.

Patri valiantly defended the real boy to parents; however, parents also utilized the concept in defending their sons to the experts. Parents often prefaced their letters by testimonials as to their son's qualifications as a "real boy." For instance, J.G.C. characterized her son as a "bright, lively boy; what folks call a real boy" before discussing his problems with his teachers. (81) Similarly, R.M. confided, "My boy is one of the real boy types, normal in every way," even though he had severe temper tantrums. (82) Other letter writers described their sons as "all boy" or "every inch a boy"--using these phrases to inoculate their sons against the brand of abnormality, whatever the problems they manifested.

It was against the standard of the "real boy" that both parents and professionals measured the development of their young boys. Perhaps the quintessential characteristic by which parents measured the masculinity of their sons was in terms of physical strength and the ability to "take their own part" and defend themselves from attack. In his analysis of the American boy in The Strenuous Life [1900], Roosevelt insisted that a boy must not be a "coward or a weakling" and denounced the "coward who will take a blow without returning it" as a "contemptible creature." (83) The virtue of courage had long been associated with the concept of manliness. Displaying courage in the face of evil, however, was not the same as engaging in common boyhood scraps, which were widely viewed in the early nineteenth century as a manifestation of the lack of self-control deemed essential to manliness. By the late nineteenth century, boys' fights were increasingly accepted as a "means to manliness" rather than as a barrier to it. (84) The view that the real boy was one who knew how to hold his own in a fight continued to infiltrate American thinking throughout succeeding decades. (85) While nineteenth-century advice writers emphasized the need to fight the good fight in matters of honor or principle, by the twentieth century holding one's own in a fight, regardless of the reason, became emblematic of masculinity. Much nineteenth-century children's literature and advice to parents had focused on the boy who was willing to turn the other cheek as an exemplar--the saintly, if sickly, boy modeled a less "muscular" version of Christianity.

How to deal with fighting among boys was not entirely a settled question, however, and the entire issue would resurface in the 1940s as psychologists turned their attention to issues of the authoritarian personality and conflict resolution. A 1931 article in Parents' Magazine entitled "Must Boys Fight?" contained an insert warning readers of the controversial nature of the article. The essay begins with a discussion at a mothers' meeting about fighting. While one mother agreed with her husband that the ability to fight was "manly" and supported his purchase of boxing gloves for their four-year-old, another mother attempted to shield her son from fighting. The article tried to offer a balance between these two perspectives: "To steer a middle course between making one's boy an ineffectual, passive, non-combatant and making him a belligerent, over-aggressive fighter." At the same time, the author establishes as a scientific premise the normalcy of fighting for boys, by citing authorities who claim "Fighting is a natural and normal instinct in every boy. Are we justified then in stamping out, forbidding or repressing fighting any more than any other human instinct?" (86)

If fighting identified a boy as normal, then boys who failed to fight were branded with the stamp of abnormality, a brand which both frightened and repelled parents. A woman from Dayton, Ohio complained that her five year old was picked on by boys who slapped him and took his bike away from him. In her words: "I cannot seem to teach him to take his part, he lets these boys do anything they want to and he just stands there." Patri was similarly disturbed by the little boy's unwillingness to fight back: "I have always noticed that if the boy is a normal, healthy young one, the day comes when his wrath rises and he takes his own part ... I think I would tell John to take a stick and whack the boy who attempts to take his bicycle. Usually we would not resort to such war like methods, but John needs rousing." (87) Normalcy, then, was associated with the boy's ability to defend himself against attack and the former ideal of turning the other check was reinterpreted as indicative of ill health. Teaching boys to fight and to stand up for themselves became part of the training for masculinity among the middle class, hence the growing popularity of boxing classes for young boys.

The failure to fight back came to denote not so much a moral failing as an illness. Boys who resisted a fight were commonly characterized as "nervous" or "slender" types who required careful nurture in order to become healthy. One mother complained that her nine-year-old actually was made ill by fighting or unpleasantness and wondered whether she should give him boxing gloves as a way to build up his self-confidence. She explained to Patri that her son was not so much afraid as unwilling to fight, claiming to want "peace" more than a fight. Patri's advice was not reassuring. He considered the boy to be in need of a doctor's care in order to build up his strength. Proper attention to the boy's nutrition, rest, and exercise was required rather than boxing gloves. Patri recommended a non-competitive sport such as swimming, which would not require the same degree of exertion as a competitive sport in order to help the boy develop the strength needed to stand up for himself. (88)

The ability to hold one's own in the peer society became a marker of physical and emotional health. W.C. from Fullerton, Pennsylvania wrote to Patri in 1927 about her 10-year-old son who had been labeled a sissy by his peers. W.C. assured Patri that her boy "plays everything other boys do" and "is a real boy"; apparently her characterization of her son was different from his peers who had defined him as less than manly. She admitted, though, that he was not a "rough boy," and that he was "deathly afraid" of the boys at school who persecuted him, to the point where he was crying every morning until he vomited. She had taken her son to doctors, one of whom told her to "through [sic] him out and make a rough neck out of him." W.C.'s complaint that her son was fearful of other boys was a recurring theme. Afraid or unwilling to "fight back," both Patri and the mother thought that the boy's behavior merited medical attention. (89) The timidity of the boy afraid to fight, a common object of scorn for schoolyard bullies, was recast as a clinical pathology.

It was in the context of the school, which immersed children in the society of their peers, that boys were most likely to be identified as sissies and to suffer from the victimization of other boys, especially as they embarked upon the years of middle childhood. However, younger boys were also subject to taunting and teasing and to parents who worried that their boys were lacking the virility to hold their own in the peer society. W.H. of Rahway, New York confided in Patri about a 4 1/2 year old boy who was "bright, bonny and well liked but timid." The child allowed even small boys to hit him without retaliating and went home crying after a defeat. The father wanted to give the boy boxing lessons in order to develop his fighting potential and wrote for advice to Patri. (90) Men were not alone in their concerns about such children. J.M. of Buffalo, New York lamented that her timid six-year-old was big for his age yet unwilling to fight back when other boys mistreated him. The strategies she and her husband used to induce him to fight back demonstrate parents' belief that boys needed to be shamed into demonstrating their masculinity: "We've talked to him and got mad and spanked him for not taking his own part but it doesn't seem to help ... Once I got so provoked I called him a coward." The mother also demonstrated her awareness of the common sentiment in psychological circles about the causes of timidity: "I suppose it is partly my fault as I kept him by me so much when he was younger." (91) The mother's sentiment was not uncommon, although parents were much less likely than were professionals to assign responsibility for their boys' timidity to themselves. Some mothers worried that their boys had "mother complexes" or that they had made the mistake of shielding their little boys from problems as a result of ill health or "nervousness."

Boys who were bullied and failed to take "their own part" in battles with other boys were being inadequately socialized into the peer culture of other boys. Parents and clinicians commonly associated this failure with a physical weakness necessitating appropriate medical intervention, including attention to diet and exercise, and--on occasion--more extreme measures, such as thyroid or glandular medication. (92) While much popular journalism decried the mother who kept her young boy tied to her apron strings, many mothers worried about their sons' ability to fend for themselves in the peer society. The ability of a boy to hold his own in the company of other boys was seen by parents and clinicians as a sign of an emerging masculine gender identity.

The combination of delicacy, girlish propensities, and the inability to compete in the boys' peer society could be a dangerous combination, as some parents conceived of it. A father wrote in 1924 about his nine-year-old whom he described as "delicate looking ... extremely slender and small boned." The boy loved to dance and act and would rather play with girls than with boys. The father complained that his son was regarded by his peers as a "sissy" and editorialized "He is one": "His lack of physical strength, as well as his disinclination to fight makes him the butt [of teasing] all the time." The father regarded this configuration of qualities with great fear, worrying that the trouble might be "the forerunner of some desperately serious future condition." (93) Psychological or sexual pathology might await the boy who failed to manifest early on the key dimensions of manhood.

While many nineteenth-century educators decried competition in little boys, discouraged fighting, and valorized the boy who turned the other cheek, twentieth-century educators and scientists found themselves equating the ideal with the normal and drawing on peer society for the definition of the normal boy. Boys coined the term sissy and used it to identify those boys who failed to meet the requisites of masculinity as set by the peer society. If boys were unable to hold their own in this peer society, parents and professionals were more often apt to view them as physically or mentally unhealthy and to seek assistance in guiding boys according to appropriate gender conventions. (94)

The twentieth century witnessed many new developments in the biological and social sciences, all of which suggested that sexuality and sex roles were far more fluid than had been previously thought. Ironically, this work had the result of propelling efforts to ensure that sexual distinctions remained in place and that heterosexuality remained unscathed. Early childhood was posed as an increasingly important period of life, with parents playing an important part in helping to ensure that their boys developed sex-based characteristics and orientations. As children aged, the role of the peer society became increasingly significant in setting the standards for the real boy. Peers had always been important in setting the standards for boyhood; what had changed was the extent to which peers, parents, and professionals converged in their beliefs about the necessity of conforming to the code of boyhood in moving toward conventional masculinity. (95) It is arguably the case that gender boundaries in adulthood were in the process of diminishing during the early decades of the twentieth century. At the same time, the gender of young children was more stringently enforced, with the use of such cultural artifacts and tools as clothing, toys, clubs, and clinics. It was then that "boys will be boys" became less of a description than an injunction.


1. Mary Buell Sayles, The Problem Child at Home: A Study in Parent-Child Relationships (New York, 1928), 285, 287.

2. Peter N. Stearns, "Girls, Boys, and Emotions: Redefinitions and Historical Change," Journal of American History 80 (June 1993):48.

3. For a more recent pathologization of the sissy boy, see Richard Green, The "Sissy Boy Syndrome" and the Development of Homosexuality (New Haven, 1987).

4. On the code of boyhood, see Kathleen Jones Taming the Troublesome Child: American Families, Child Guidance, and the Limits of Psychiatric Authority (Cambridge, 1999); Anthony Rotundo, "Boy Culture: Middle-Class Boyhood in Nineteenth-Century America," in Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffin, Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America (Chicago, 1990); and William Pollack, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood (New York, 1998).

5. In Taming the Troublesome Child: American Families, Child Guidance, and the Limits of Psychiatric Authority (Cambridge, 1999), Kathleen Jones discovered that clinicians of the 1920s and 1930s often tried to help their young boy clients move from effeminacy to manhood.

6. Edward Strecker, "What Constitutes Mental Health in Children," American Journal of the Diseases of Childhood 32 (September 1926): 409.

7. Stearns, "Girls, Boys, and Emotions."

8. See the correspondence of parents to newspaper columnist and educator Angelo Patri at the Library of Congress for an example of this trend. Parents wrote to Patri most commonly about boys who were unruly. In these cases Patri was apt to suggest an understanding attitude; he was much more concerned about timid, nervous boys than were parents themselves. Patri's papers, which are voluminous, are housed in the Library of Congress.

9. Jones, Taming the Troublesome Child, 150.

10. In Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago, 1995), Gail Bederman noted that "by 1890 a number of social, economic, and cultural changes were converging to make the ongoing gender process especially active for the American middle-class" (11) a finding that supports my contention that the gender processes of childhood were intensified during this era.

11. Jennifer Terry's book An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society (Chicago, 1999) provides a good overview of the linkages between research in sex differences, homosexuality, and, to some extent, child rearing. See George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York, 1994) for a discussion of the emergence of homosexual communities in urban New York.

12. In her chapter on "Modern Manhood" in The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender, and Power in Modern America (Princeton, 1994), Lunbeck states that psychiatrists at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital had no well articulated theory of manhood, even while they assigned pathological significance to effeminacy, 237. Jones, Taming the Troublesome Child.

13. On children's clothing, see Jo B. Paoletti, "Cothing and Gender in America: Children's Fashions, 1890-1920," Signs 13 (Spring 1987): 136-43; Clare Rose, Children's Clothing Since 1750 (London, 1989) and Henrietta May Thompson and Lucille E. Rea, Clothing for Children (New York, 1949) and Jacqueline S. Reinier, From Virtue to Character: American Childhood, 1775-1850 (New York, 1996). On toys see, Gary Cross, Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood (Cambridge, Mass., 1997) and Miriam Formanek-Brunell, Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization of Girl Culture (Johns Hopkins, 1998).

14. Cross, Kids' Stuff; David I. MacLeod, Building Character in the American Boy (Madison, WI., 1983).

15. Anne MacLeod, "The Caddie Woodlawn syndrome: American Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century," in A Century of Chidlhood, 1820-1920 (Rochester, NY, 1984), 97-119. In an essay of the period by Ann Kohler, "How Children Judge Character," Studies in Education 1 (September 1896): 94-97, it was found that girls inevitably preferred girls in children's books who were "tomboys," over more quiet and demure characters.

16. See, for instance, Edward Strecker, Their Mothers' Sons: A Psychiatrist Examines an American Problem (Philadelphia, 1946); David M. Levy, Maternal Over-Protection (New York, 1943); Philip Wylie, Generation of Vipers (New York, 1942).

17. Bederman's Manliness and Civilization and Anthony Rotundo's American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York, 1993) are the key texts for this claim.

18. Bederman, Manliness and Civilization.

19. Roberta Wayne, "When a Feller Needs a Friend," Parents Magazine 2 (March 1927): 21.

20. See, for instance, William Byron Forbush, The Boy Problem; J. Adams Puffer, The Boy and His Gang (Boston, 1912); Paul Hanley Furfey, The Gang Age: A Study of the Preadolescent Boy and His Recreational Needs (New York, 1926).

21. MacLeod, Building Character in the American Boy. See also Melvin L. Adelman, A Sporting Time: New York City and the Rise of Modern Athletics, 1820-1870 (Urbana and Chicago, 1986).

22. In Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, 1990), Thomas Lacqueur argues that gender was primarily instrumental prior to the nineteenth century: "to be a man or woman was to hold a social rank, a place in society, to assume a cultural role, not to be organically one or the other of two incommensurable sexes" (8). What historians of nineteenth-century childhood have shown is the remnants of this earlier view in the education of little boys and girls.

23. Stephen M.Frank, Life with Father: Parenthood and Masculinity in the Nineteenth-CenturyAmerican North (Baltimore, 1999), 33.

24. John Tosh, A Man's Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England (New Haven, 1999), 4, 103.

25. Karen Calvert, Children in the House, (Boston, 1992), 109.

26. Claudia Nelson, Boys Will be Girls: The Feminine Ethic in British Children's Literature (New Brunswick, 1991), 2.

27. Nelson argues that some of the traits exhibited by these boy heroes would have been labeled as predisposing them toward homosexuality by late nineteenth-century theorists, 50.

28. Calvert, Children in the House, 99. See Anthony Rotundo, "Boy Culture."

29. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, The Story of a Bad Boy (Boston, 1869), 2.

30. Frances Hodgson Burnett, Little Lord Fauntleroy (New York, 1981) [first published in 1886].

31. Joseph A. Allen, Westboro State Reform School, Reminiscences (Boston, 1877), reprinted in Children in Confinement (New York, 1974), 13-14. On this point in relation to women school teachers, see also David Tyack and Elisabeth Hansot, Learning Together: A History of Coeducation in American Schools (New Haven and London, 1990). The authors state, "Such taming of the wild beast in the boy would later be condemned by the mandarins of masculinity in the Progressive Era as the 'feminization' of the boy," 69.

32. See G. Stanley Hall, "Feminization in School and Home," World's Work (May 1908): 10237-44. See also G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence: Its Psychology and its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education (New York and London, 1915). On Hall, see Dorothy Ross, G. Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet (Chicago, 1972). See also Steven L. Schlossman, "G. Stanley Hall and the Boys' Club: Conservative Applications of Recapitulation Theory," Journal of the History of the Behaviorial Sciences 9 (1973): 140-147.

33. "Dr. Hall's Ultra Views," Chicago Evening Post, 4 April 1899, 4, quoted in Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 78.

34. McLeod, Building Character in the American Boy, 48.

35. Quoted in Jeffrey P. Hantover, "The Boy Scouts and the Validation of Masculinity," Journal of Social Issues 34 (1978): 191.

36. Although I use the "term" masculine to refer to identity and development, in fact, few educators of this period applied this term to boys. They used the terms "boys," "boy nature," "boyish," and "manly" instead. The word "boy" had somewhat of a different meaning from what it has today and was used to refer to youth as old as twenty.

37. J. Adams Puffer, The Boy and His Gang (Boston and New York, 1912).

38. Joseph Lee, Play in Education (New York, 1929), 65.

39. See Paul Hanley Furfey, The Growing Boy: Case Studies of Developmental Age (New York, 1930), 65-66. See also Furfey, The Gang Age: A Study of the Preadolescent Boy and His Recreational Needs (New York, 1926) and J. Adams Puffer, The Boy and His Gang (Boston, 1912).

40. Furfey, The Gang Age.

41. William Byron Forbush, The Boy Problem (Boston, 1907), 23.

42. Forbush, The Boy Problem, 28-29.

43. Rotundo, "Boy Culture."

44. Adam Beaseley, "Boyhood of a Sissie," Independent 53 (May 23, 1901): 1192.

45. See Terry, An American Obsesssion; Chauncey, Gay New York; Harry Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature: Krafft-Ebing, Psychiatry and the Making of Sexual Identity (Chicago and London, 2000).

46. Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature, 40.

47. Hall, Adolescence; Heather Munro Prescott, A Doctor of Their Own: A History of Adolescent Medicine (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1998), 17.

48. See Jonathan Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality (New York, 1995).

49. Frankwood Williams, "Confronting the World: Adjustments of Later Adolescence," in Concerning Parents: A Symposium on Present Day Parenthood (New York, 1926): 152.

50. William A. McKeever, Training the Boy (New York, 1921).

51. Williams, 152.

52. Leta S. Hollingworth, The Psychology of Adolescence (New York, 1928), 117.

53. Frances B. Strain, New Patterns in Sex Teaching (New York, 1934), 182-3.

54. Anna Freud, "Psychoanalysis of the Child," in Carl Murchison, ed. A Handbook of Child Psychology (Worcester, Massachusetts, 1931), 562, 566.

55. Roy E. Dickerson, "New Approaches to Sex Education," Parents Magazine 10 (May 1935): 65.

56. Frances Bruce Strain, "Love in the Making," Parents Magazine 14 (October 1939): 16

57. See Jones' chapter on "The Critique of Motherhood," 174-204, in Taming the Troublesome Child.

58. Floyd Dell, Love in the Machine Age (New York, 1973), reprint of 1930 edition.

59. Charles A. Drake, "Mothers Make Sissies," Ladies Home Journal 55 (March 1938): 27, 113-14.

60. Ralph LaRossa, The Modernization of Fatherhood: A Social and Political History (Chicago and London, 1997) discusses the father to father advice books and the Parents' Magazine column.

61. Lewis M. Terman and Catherine Cox Miles, Sex and Personality: Studies in Masculinity and Femininity (New York, 1936); George W. Henry, Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns (New York, 1941).

62. Terman and Miles, Sex and Personality, 320.

63. Terman and Miles, Sex and Personality, 320.

64. George W. Henry published his initial findings in the article, "Psychogenic Factors in Overt Homosexuality," American Journal of Psychiatry 93 (1937), 903, from which this quote was taken.

65. For important analyses of these studies, see Terry, An American Obsession; Joseph H. Pleck, The Myth of Masculinity (Cambridge, Mass, 1981); and Henry L. Minton, Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America (Chicago, 2002).

66. John B. Watson, Psychological Care of Infant and Child (New York, 1928).

67. For a discussion of the impact of John B. Watson on the parent education movement see Julia Grant, Raising Baby by the Book: The Education of American Mothers (New Haven, 1998).

68. Gerald H. J. Pearson, "What the Preschool Child Needs," Parents' Magazine 6 (January 1931): 13.

69. Helen Thompson Woolley, "The Pre-Kindergarten Child," paper given to the Michigan Teachers Association, 3 November 1922, box 117, file 5, Merrill-Palmer Institute Papers, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

70. "Sample of Records of Mental Hygiene Cases in Castle Kindergarten" box 38, File 11, Merrill-Palmer Institute Papers, Edna Nobel White.

71. Helen L. Kaufmann, "Hands Off," Parents' Magazine 2 (September 1927): 19.

72. "A Study of 24 Families at Mather Nursery, 1931," Cleveland Day Nursery Papers, box 6, file 31, Western Reserve Historical Society, 25.

73. Ethel Kawin, Children of Preschool Age (Chicago, 1934), 64-69.

74. I am indebted to Linda Gordon's, Heroes of Their Own Lives (New York, 1988) for helping me to think about how to view the interactions between parents and reformers.

75. Grace Caldwell, "The Play School for Habit Training," 10 March 1925, North Bennett Street School for Industrial Training Papers, series II, box 103, file 80, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women.

76. "Survey of Mather Families," 1934, Cleveland Day Nursery Papers, box 6, file 32, Western Reserve Historical Society.

77. See Ralph LaRossa, The Modernization of Fatherhood: A Social and Political History (Chicago, 1997) for an investigation of the Patri archive as it pertains to fathers. LaRossa has estimated that there are over 7,000 letters in the collection (page 145). I did a selective overview of the collection for this section of the paper. Of the letters I examined, 2/3 concerned boys.

78. Adolf Meyer, "What Do Case Histories of Cases of Insanity Teach Us Concerning Preventive Mental Hygiene During the Years of School Life," in The Collected Papers of Adolf Meyer (Baltimore, 1952) [originally published 1908-1909], 342.

79. Kawin, Children of Preschool Age, xi.

80. M.H to Angelo Patri., Oakland, CA, 15 September 1925; Angelo Patri to MH, 10 October 1925, Angelo Patri Papers, Library of Congress.

81. R.J.C. to Angelo Patri, Rigby, ID, 27 October 1933, Angelo Patri papers.

82. E.G. to Angelo Patri, Old Mystic, CT, 7 November 1933, Angelo Patri papers.

83. Theodore Roosevelt, "The American Boy," St. Nicholas (May 1900), excerpted from The Strenuous Life.

84. Rotundo, American Manhood, 226.

85. H.W. Gibson, Boyology or Boy Analysis (New York, 1918).

86. Ruth Leigh, "Must Boys Fight?" Parents' Magazine 6 (May 1931): 25.

87. M.C.K., Los Angeles, CA, to Angelo Patri, 1 March 1925; Patri to M.C.K., Los Angeles, 10 March 1925, Angelo Patri Papers.

88. J.S. of Chicago, Illinois to Angelo Patri, 15 November 1933; Patri to J.S. of Chicago, 24 November 1933, Angelo Patri Papers. See Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, MA, 2001), 100.

89. W.C. of Fullerton, PA to Angelo Patri, circa February, 1927, Angelo Patri Papers.

90. W.H. of Rahway, NY to Angelo Patri, 26 November 1924, Angelo Patri Papers.

91. J.M. of Buffalo, NY to Angelo Patri, n.d., circa 1926, Angelo Patri Papers.

92. Heather Munro Prescott's A Doctor of Their Own: The History of Adolescent Medicine (Cambridge, Mass, 1998) gives some attention to the use of hormones in the regulation of adolescent development.

93. H.S.B. of Washington, D.C. to Patri, 9 October 1924, Angelo Patri Papers.

94. For discussions on the role of the peer society in the shaping of the young during the 1920s and 1930s see Paula S. Fass, The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s (New York, 1977) and John Modell, Into One's Own: From Youth to Adulthood in the United States, 1920-1975 (Berkeley, 1989).

95. For an intriguing and problematic analysis of the contemporary "code of boyhood," see William Pollack, Real Boys.

By Julia Grant

Michigan State University

James Madison College

Department of History

East Lansing, MI 48824-1205
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Date:Jun 22, 2004
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