Book Review Linda Gordon, the Great Arizona Orphan Abduction
In 1904, a group of New York nuns delivered 40 mostly Irish but entirely Catholic orphans to a remote Arizona mining town to be adopted by local Catholics. What happened next is the subject of historian Linda Gordon's compelling new book: For their act of Christian charity, the nuns were rewarded with near-lynching and public vilification of an intensity hard to fathom today.
In 1859, the New York Times termed urban orphans the ""ulcers of society."" By 1864, child welfare crusaders were advocating their adoption by rural families and sending trains full of orphaned and abandoned children westward. As Gordon documents in this compelling account, they were often dumped at the end of the line, where they were taken in by whoever needed or wanted a child--for any purpose. By the end of the 19th century, the Sisters of Charity's New York Foundling Hospital was cleaning up this well-established practice by carefully matching children with families selected by parish priests. Focusing on the delivery of 40 ""white"" orphans to Mexican Catholic adoptive families in the Arizona mining towns of Clifton and Morenci in 1904, Gordon vividly describes how the Anglo women of the town--all of them Protestants--became enraged and instigated a mass abduction of the children, often carried out at gunpoint. A trial ensued, pitting the Foundling Hospital against the Anglo powers of Arizona, which ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held that the abduction was legal, and that placing the children with Mexican families had been tantamount to child abuse. In delineating the racial and religious dynamics in turn-of-the-century Arizona (including frontier feminism, the evolution of racial and class structures and the history of copper mining, labor disputes and vigilantism), Gordon reveals a great deal about the origins of ""family values"" in America. (Nov.)
"Historians could help us understand how Americans oppose Americanism to anti- Americanism, patriotism to dissent, loyalty to criticism. We need to scrutinize how high, middle and low-brow culture have all participated in constructing these oppositions and, perhaps, what cultural forms have tended to disrupt the polarities. Disrupting them has to be one of our major goals as Americans and historians." I want to ask you to celebrate with me the construction of a crime. I realize that this request may seem perverse but it is a way to introduce an historical approach to the problem of family violence. The fact that child abuse, domestic violence, and rape are now crimes--no matter what the relationship between perpetrator and victim--represents a major victory for women, men, and children, for humanity and for democracy. 150 years ago, beating children harshly was not only commonplace but often praised; beating wives was widely considered a standard, inevitable and minor foible, like rape the subject of snickers among men and resignation among women. Today the criminalization of these practices should be seen as an achievement of the magnitude of compulsory education or woman suffrage.
Given these points, this is an unusual and interesting work of history, whose chief strength lies in the way it lovingly recreates the spirit of a particular Arizona community and, through its insistence on micro-historical detail, gives the reader a clear sense of how racial assumptions and antagonisms operated within everyday life.
Linda Gordon, "Progressive Expertise: an Oxymoron?", for conference of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities, March 2002, published as "If the Progressives were Advising Us Today, Should We Listen?" Journal of Gilded Age and Progressive Era, April 2002.
Linda Gordon, Social Movements, Leadership and Democracy: Toward More Utopian Mistakes," keynote lecture, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, 2000, Monday, May 22, 1933, Washington, DC
Linda Gordon in "On Difference," Genders, Spring 1991, and "The Trouble with Difference," Dissent, spring 1999
Linda Gordon "Harry Hopkins Brings Relief," in "Days of Destiny," ed. McPherson and Brinkley (NY: Agincourt Press for the Society of American Historians, 2001).