American Youth and Their “Foreign Friends” from World War One through World War Two

Katherine Cartwright, The College of William and Mary

When young readers opened the pages of the Girl Scouts’ American Girl magazine they often found themselves traveling around the world as “armchair adventurers.” As they turned the pages of the magazine, they read about their “foreign friends” who went to school, had adventures, attended troop meetings, and volunteered in their communities. The accounts of young people abroad came in many forms, from fictional stories written by children’s authors, to articles written by troop leaders and personal accounts by young people themselves. This paper examines how adults portrayed children and childhood outside of the United States and how girls “spoke back” to these portrayals. An examination of youth abroad in American Girl reveals a tension: the magazine indeed fostered international friendship among youth, a main goal of the Girl Scouts, but its contributors—both old and young—often perpetuated stereotypes about children and childhood. This paper derives from a larger examination of juvenile publications in circulation from World War One through World War Two that argues that they encouraged cultural appreciation, but that this appreciation was limited, often marred with paternalism and Anglo-centrism. The larger project this paper is part of prioritizes children and youth and asks how they engaged in and shaped projects aimed at cross-cultural understanding and internationalism. The project builds on scholarship that moves beyond the masculine—and adult— realms of politics and business to instead analyze actors and spaces not usually considered in studies of foreign relations and U.S. expansion, especially before World War Two.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 215. Depictions of Difference in Children's Periodicals