Good and Happy at the Same Time: From Punishment to Reward in Late 19th Century Us Parenting Discourses

Daniel Cook, Rutgers University

In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the issue of the discipline and punishment of children surfaced as an ongoing discussion and debate on the pages of periodicals devoted to mothers like Babyhood (1884–1909), the first national publication of its kind dedicated to the intersection of child development and children’s welfare. With the fading of the idea of child depravity, severe corporal punishment also gradually fell out of favor in Northern, white, bourgeois circles. By no means extinguished, it came under scrutiny. This paper inspects the public narratives and discourses of child punishment in Babyhood and other periodicals. These discussions and debates incorporated the presumed or imputed point of view of the “child” as evidence for the effectiveness of one method over another and as moral grounds for taking up or refraining from various kinds of punitive action. To consider the child’s view meant taking the child’s standpoint, something often undertaken in women’s writing, which invoked memories of their own experiences of punishment when a child. A new sensibility arose whereby seeking to please and reward the child in place of punishing began to gain favor, privileging the presumed wants and desires of the child.

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 Presented in Session 18. Changing Notions of Child Care and Welfare