Neglected Book

Alexander, Ruth, The Girl Problem (1998).

Far more than better known authors, Ruth Alexander effectively captures the complex and conflicted situation of teenage, working–class girls in the early twentieth century. She captures the mix of pleasure and danger, new opportunities and constraints they experienced without romanticizing their agency. This deceptively short study offers a rich picture that intertwines individuals, ideas and institutions, that vividly presents individuals and their stories, offers telling statements by reformers and a clear discussion of a multi–faceted and complex legal apparatus. Alexander also extends her analysis into the 1920s, which clearly emerge as integral chapter of a story usually ended in 1920. In this decade the concept of adolescence is fully developed by the mental hygiene movement to accommodate sexuality, yet the institutions established earlier continued to work to control girls’ sexual expression.

Recommended by Stephen Robertson, University of Sydney

Stephen Robertson received his PhD from Rutgers University, and now teaches Modern American History at the University of Sydney. His first book, Childhood, Sexual Violence and Legal Culture in New York City, 1880-1950, to be published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2003, deals with the modern redefinition of sexual violence in terms of age, and with the response of ordinary New Yorkers to sexual modernity.