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Review of City Children

David Nasaw's Children of the City is a study of the children of immigrants whose primary playground and place of employment was the streets of American cities. Nasaw covers the period 1900-1920 and the working-class children whose employment was not based on desperate need, but who did not have the complete leisure that middle class children possessed. Nasaw's principal thesis is that the experience of these children was overwhelmingly positive as they set up systems of rivalry and cooperation in their neighborhoods, frequently mixed with children of various ethnic backgrounds, learned numerous skills that would be essential to their futures, and assimilated to the American scene at a great rate. His secondary thesis is that these children had a considerable effect on the future of American entertainment and leisure services--becoming the first generation to look on work as a means of obtaining the money to entertain themselves rather than simply to make a living. The first thesis is fairly well demonstrated, but the second is, while convincing enough, more speculative and less firmly grounded in Nasaw's sources.

Nasaw begins with a description of the face of the new city of this era: electric lighting; elaborate department stores; restaurants and theaters that catered to the middle class; afternoon editions of newspapers; the nickelodeons and motion picture houses; and, family-oriented vaudeville. All of these innovations had in common the improvement of consumption and, as Nasaw shows, much of the change that took place at the time--especially in this generation of children, was the elevation of consumption to a right or a duty. At the same time, however, the rapid increase in land prices in nearly every growing American city meant that recent immigrants and the rest of the working and poor classes "were forced to live in spaces that should have remained uninhabited" (10). The terrible conditions of dark, airless tenemen...

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Review of City Children. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:42, November 29, 2021, from