Who Were We? An Era's Dark Dilemma As Told By Children

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Bad kids party.jpg

From NYPL, a Harper's Weekly cartoon lampooning an era ' juvenile dance ', these lavish events having come under fire, understandably. An entire war raged elsewhere, refugee children found shelter where they could, orphans were created almost hourly. Someone noticed.

Another, same genre.
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Here's a question I keep running into, meaning it's confusing. Or enlightening, no idea which. A lot of us understand who were our ancestors but not who they were, both personally and in society. We tend to get overviews on topics that are too easy considering how vast and complicated something really is. What we end up with is at least an understanding ' things ' were just as convoluted with no one answer as they are today.

It's only one although there are a dozen more plus articles about the latest baby found dead in some pond or sewer. I won't post those unless asked. I won't even read them again because the thought a society devolved into this is too upsetting. This incident was in England but it's the ' mildest ' example I could find on either side of the Pond.
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baby get rid of.JPG


Children. For all the gooey, sentimental content in books, newspapers and periodicals there doesn't seem one answer as to society's take on our most vulnerable population. Gettysburg's orphan asylum is a terrific example. Extremely well intended citizens poured compassion into the project of ensuring children made orphans or left homeless by a father's death were raised with a roof over their heads, hopefully protected, educated and cherished. It was a very worthy project gone horribly wrong in the end. When it fell into the wrong hands the worst happened by way of abuse and neglect yet it took a near riot by citizens to get those kids out of there.

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No one did sentimental images of children better than Currier and Ives. You can find an almost selection in archives of cherished, loved children.

While by no means the epidemic it was in England, infanticide in the poorest segments of society evoked outraged editorials. Babies were thrown away, left to die in ponds or out in the cold or quite literally or left on doorsteps, passed to strangers on trains while the parents got off at the next stop and simply never came back. An extra mouth to feed was simply too much, not to make an excuse for the barbarism- it's where we were. An undercover journalist ( I think 1863? ) busted an ' orphanage ' where children were being sold. I transpired a few had been kidnapped first.

Some pretty savage lampooning of ' the other side ' was common, extremes in wealth and status highlighted through cartoons and articles. One famous case included a soldier's wife found dead of starvation in a veritable hovel, emaciated children with her body while a government contractor literally feasted at a lavish banquet. Godey's and Demorest's magazines, pointedly upper-crusty displayed laced and silk garments, wonderfully exotic toys and endless advice on raising children. Don't let them eat candy, wear tight clothing or play inside, hear angry words and for the love of Heaven keep their toes warm.

A wanted, cherished new family member is depicted in this illustration from LoC. An idyllic moment in a comfortable family. It's what we see when poking around in ' then '. There were small children working in the mines, providing coal to keep that room warm and crawling under clacking machines in cloth factories in 12 hour shifts- and laboriously tending crops on plantations.
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Public schools with mandatory attendance were new around the time of the ACW. All those poor kids cluttering up the streets were unsightly, someone do something. ( I can source that ). Well, up to a point. It wasn't until the 1930's labor laws forbid child labor. 1930's! We're vastly familiar with drummer boys. What we're not getting is children exposed to the worst humanity can throw at each other. My 10 year sons were grappling with math and needing a new pair of soccer cleats, not playing a drum in the midst of some bloody battle.


So what was the case? How dear did we hold childhood and those entrusted to our care?

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The rest of the article I'll forego. A journalist documented an extensive, brutal and barbaric practice where anyone who had enough money could come shop for one. Part of our society's dark underbelly of indifference meets commerce, at least this business was shut down. They were unable to find the parents of various babies who'd been kidnapped.

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Another lampoon image, obviously meant to be prewar. Object was obvious, too. So who were we?
 
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