Abigail Corcoran

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Friends of the MCEAS Dissertation FellowPh.D Candidate, University of Wisconsin

“Juvenile Reform Societies in the Antebellum United States” 

My dissertation examines juvenile reform and activist societies in the antebellum United States, including juvenile anti-slavery, temperance, and missionary societies. In these societies, children raised money, took careful meeting minutes, distributed petitions, organized donations, and made connections with adult activist groups. Juvenile reform societies became a vehicle for discussions of children’s moral and political capabilities and of the nature of childhood itself. Many adults worried that the children in juvenile reform societies were being indoctrinated by adults and spouting arguments they could not understand. Some wondered whether children’s participation detracted from the seriousness of their causes. Others saw the societies as useful institutions for children’s moral and political educations. Children in the societies insisted that their youthful moral clarity was an asset to the world of reform. My dissertation examines what debates over these societies and the actions of the societies themselves can tell us about nineteenth-century childhood. In looking at the reform organizations young people founded, as well as the writings of other reformers geared towards those children, I flesh out children’s contributions to politics and reform in the nineteenth-century United States.