Bums, Revolutionaries, or Citizens? A Political History of Youth in Twentieth-Century America
Rank, Allison Dawn
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Under what conditions do political elites begin to fear that young people will fail to become responsible citizens? What do these conditions and the solutions adopted tell us about the values and skills associated with American citizenship at specific points in time? What types of young people does the state try to develop into desirable citizens, and how has the state's approach to youth who lie on the margins and are at risk of failing to adequately take on the role of citizen changed over time? How do changing beliefs, practices, and policies around youth and citizenship intersect with issues of race and state-building in America? To answer these questions, I examine key debates and policies from the Progressive Era through the 1970s. I focus on legislative initiatives, statements political actors made in support and opposition, and public and media reactions. I attend specifically to restrictions on child labor (1900s-1920s), the Civilian Conservation Corps (1934) and National Youth Administration (1935) during the New Deal, the G.I. Bill (1944), and youth voting through the 1970 Voting Rights Act (1970) and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment (1972). Ostensibly designed to benefit youth, these policies reflected fears of youth apathy, radicalism, and criminality and the desire to craft a malleable, disciplined workforce. The resulting youth-oriented legislation, including child labor laws, employment and education programs, and a lower voting age, sought to redirect young people into traditional means of political and economic activity. Through this redirection, each policy - implicitly or explicitly - defined what it meant to be an adult citizen. This project, then, is not simply a study of American youth. Rather, I use academic works, government documents, and popular and elite media to examine how elites constructed and reconstructed norms of American citizenship during the twentieth century.
- Political science