Janine Giordano Drake
When Jessie Ramey's book, Childcare in Black and White: Working Parents and the History of Orphanages came out this year, it was much anticipated. The book won the Herbert Gutman Prize from the Labor and Working Class History Association, the Lerner-Scott Prize in Women's History from the OAH, and the John Heinz Award from the National Academy of Social Insurance.
The book has been widely praised as a pathbreaking study in the history of social class, race, and child welfare. The book shows not only how child care has been a pivotal resource for working families in times of crisis. But, it shows how racial segregation (especially the racial divisions among orphanages) has added to and exacerbated social divisions among families.
Ramey focuses on two orphanages run by "church people" in Pittsburgh. One was the all-white United Presbyterian Orphan's Home, and the other an all-black Home for Colored Children. Working families, Ramey found, widely used orphanages "interchangeably with day nurseries." In fact, they were much more trusted by working people for childcare, and many families retained a large degree of custody over children placed within them. But, the orphanages regarded families' capability of caring for children differently depending on parents' racial and ethnic background. I cannot wait to finish the book and talk more about it later.
One thing I wanted to mention now, however, is the extent to which this history of orphanages is as much a history of working class women and families as it is a history of the middle and upper class white Anglo Protestants who built and maintained these "helping" institutions. As we revise our analysis and periodization of the origins of our social welfare system, we need to also revise our understanding of the Social Gospel movement.
Ramey's book is not explicitly about the Social Gospel movement or the churches or the propriety of social relations in "Christian families," but it is also ALL about all of these things. Church records comprise a large portion of Ramey's evidence, and "Christian visions" of family welfare interlace this history. I hope this book goes on to win the same kind of attention in religious history circles as it is everywhere else!