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Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920.

In Delinquent Daughters, Mary Odem analyzes the campaigns to raise the age-of-consent and to create maternalist institutions for delinquent girls. Her evidence for the impact of these reforms comes from two samples of California court records: all of the cases for statutory rape in Alameda County Superior Court from 1910-1920, and all delinquent girls charged before the Los Angeles Juvenile Court in 1910 and 1920. Odem places her local study in the context of the national purity crusade and Progressive era efforts to systematize juvenile justice.

Odem is at her best in examining the competing interests of her actors. Women reformers in the purity crusade sought to protect girls from sexual predators, who were constructed as older men spiriting girls off into "white slavery." Odem concludes that the purity crusaders, while attacking male sexual privilege, retained ideological blinders, ignoring the sexual exploitation of black women, not responding to the anti-lynching campaign, and overlooking the problems of the patriarchal family as suggested by cases of incest. Of course, they could not predict how court officials would treat the complainants in statutory rape cases, and as Odem found, male court officials were unsympathetic to young women, questioning them about their sexual history and judging them according to the tenets of a strict Victorian moral code.

However, working-class parents and their daughters were not simply acted upon. Parents used the courts to enforce their own notions of purity or to gain leverage over a daughter's suitor - in other words, as part of a generational conflict with their daughters. The vast majority of defendants in statutory rape cases were not white slavers, but peers of the complainants. They were young men of similar class background, and in the Los Angeles sample, three quarters were between fifteen and seventeen years of age. Odem places daughters' actions in the context of expanding economic and recreational opportunities that loosed them from traditional familial controls. Young women engaged in sexual activity for a variety of reasons; when they were victims, it was usually at the hands of male relatives.

In the Progressive era, women reformers revised their views of sexual delinquency and demanded a role in the justice system. Unlike the purity crusaders, they viewed young women as sexual actors, and not simply the victims of male predators. They also saw sexual deviance in a more complicated fashion, as the product of familial and societal environments, which provided the ideological underpinning for an interventionist state. Women also acquired leverage in the administration of justice. In Los Angeles, they enjoyed full judicial authority over girls' cases, and they created courtrooms without the intimidating trappings of judicial power. In California and elsewhere, they established detention homes in order to ensure that female delinquents were not held in jail or police lockups, and they created cottage-style reformatories that were administered by women.

Odem is aware of the limitations of the maternalist state. She concludes that maternalists expanded surveillance and control over young women's lives and they did not always use their power benevolently. For example, female delinquents remained subject to invasive medical examinations, humiliating cross examinations about their sexual histories, and incarceration for sexual offenses. From the perspective of delinquents, maternalism's achievements were modest indeed.

This is a rich narrative work that is attentive to issues of gender, ethnicity, race, and class. While the book covers ground familiar to readers of social welfare history, Odem does a masterful job of synthesizing recent scholarship and leavening it with her own insights.

Eric C. Schneider University of Pennsylvania
COPYRIGHT 1997 Journal of Social History
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Schneider, Eric C.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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