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Gender and Justice in the Progressive Era: An Investigation of Saint Louis Juvenile Court Cases, 1909-1912

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 24 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2007 Pages: 657-678
Charlotte Lyn Bright; Scott H. Decker; Andrea M. Burch
Date Published
December 2007
22 pages
The purpose of this study was to examine juvenile court records from St. Louis, MO during the Progressive Era from a feminist standpoint, testing whether gender identities were constructed differently within the social control network of the juvenile court.
In the early history of the St. Louis juvenile court, findings indicate that girls were subject to harsher forms of social control than boys, despite less serious charges, and that sexual behavior was described and treated much differently in girls’ records than in boys’. The importance of understanding juvenile court history cannot be overstated. Questions about differential treatment based on gender and race are extremely timely, and the early juvenile court may be part of the foundation on which current system practices are based. While there is not enough information to state, unequivocally, that oppression of girls around their sexual behavior has constantly been a practice of the juvenile court since its inception, this study uncovered evidence that this double-standard appeared in two time periods, nearly 100 years apart. Feminist scholars have emphasized the long-standing legacy of the court’s attempt to control girls’ violations of gender images, particularly sexual behavior and status offenses. This is recognized during the Progressive Era which is credited with creating a unique environment in which girls’ sexuality was of concern. This time period saw a rise in opportunities for adolescent girls’ sexual experimentation as they moved from domestic employment to work in offices and factories. This study tested hypotheses about the relationships between gender and charge, prehearing detention, and disposition using St. Louis, MO juvenile court records for the years 1909-1912. The connection between gender and sexually based charges in the early history of the St. Louis juvenile court is more deeply probed. Tables, figure, references