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Anxious Adults and Bad Babysitters: The Struggle over Girlhood in Interwar America

Miriam Forman-Brunell

Keywords: BABYSITTER; BABYSITTING; TEENAGE GIRL; FEMALE ADOLESCENCE; GIRLS' CULTURE; GIRLHOOD

Abstract

This article argues that a long-standing critique of female adolescents is the source of everyday complaints about ordinary babysitters. The author traces the origins of adults' anxieties to the birth of babysitting and the advent of the modern American teenage girl in interwar America. The development of teenage girls' culture that generated conflict between grownups and girls with competing needs and notions of girlhood found expression in the condemnation of babysitters. Although experts and educators sought to curb girls' subcultural practices and principles by instructing babysitters during the Great Depression and World War II, their advice and training proved to be as ineffective at stemming the tide of girls' culture as halting the decline of babysitting. The expanding wartime economy that broadened the economic and social autonomy of teenage girls led many to turn their backs on babysitting.

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