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C h a p t e r 5 The Gulick Family and the Nature of Adolescence Susan A. Miller Nothing is more certain than that each generation longs for a reassurance as to the value and charm of life and is secretly afraid lest it lose its sense of the youth of the earth. —Jane Addams, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets Jane Addams set the tone for The Spirit of Youth in the book’s first sentence with the charming double meaning she invested in “the youth of the earth.” Initially she uses the phrase to build her argument that humans have always yearned for a sense of authenticity; we must have faith that each and every dawn is the harbinger of a world, and a life, that can be made fresh. Humans inherently crave a young earth, she writes, a natural world that is receptive to their ministrations, pliant and impressionable, ready to receive an overlay of the culture we create. Yet before a reader turns the first page of the book, Addams has moved on to another meaning of “the youth of the earth.” This definition does not refer to humanity’s fascination with a freshly emergent natural world but rather invokes the redemptive innocence of America’s youth. The average person, Addams avers, could not find resolution to existential quandaries through culture or nature alone—neither “literature” nor 100 Chapter 5 “glimpses of earth and sky” would serve. Instead adults should turn to the young, those beings who in their developmental essence combine culture and the natural world. Reassurance as to the value of life, she declares, “is never so unchallenged and so invincible as when embodied in youth itself.”1 If more lyrical than most, Jane Addams was not at all alone among her contemporaries in this conception of youth as embodying the forces of nature and culture. In 1904, when G. Stanley Hall announced his discovery of a new life stage in his two-volume monograph, Adolescence, he firmly located youths’ maturing bodies within a complex, and mutually constitutive, natural and social world.2 For Hall, early childhood development was more an unfolding of innate inclinations; adolescence, however, was characterized by a virtual collision of cultural and biological forces, as his work’s subtitle amply attests. Youth’s rapidly maturing emotional and intellectual abilities, and especially their newly sexualized bodies, moved them away from a life in which they were merely individuals and placed them in a world in which they were part of the reproductive legacy of the “race.” With their nature changing virtually by the minute and with those changes redounding to both personal development and the evolutionary potential of ensuing generations , adolescents were, Hall theorized, especially sensitive to environmental influences.3 Hall’s adolescents, buffeted by a maelstrom of evolutionary, psychological, and social forces, represented the fundamental entanglement of nature and culture that rendered humans human. If adolescence was a perilous developmental time, it was also one of great opportunity, serving as a unique window into the permeable relationship between the natural world and modern social conditions. This view of the adolescent body as a porous entity that absorbed nature and transformed culture had a profound influence on Progressive Era reform, not least through the ideas of one family, the Gulicks. The siblings Frances Gulick Jewett, Luther Gulick, and Sidney Gulick used their own particular visions of adolescent nature, and a dynamic natural world, to frame what they viewed as the most pressing social problems of their generation.4 All three Gulicks were major contributors to important Progressive Era conversations: Frances as a popularizer of hygiene and health; Luther as a YMCA leader, playground advocate, and founder of the Camp Fire Girls; and Sidney as a popular expert on Japanese culture and U.S.-Asian immigration policy. What united their work in these diverse fields was a belief that the continued positive evolution of the “race”—a term that was as ubiquitous as it was ill-defined at the turn of the twentieth century—was inextricably tied to the responsible Gulick Family 101 stewardship of the American landscape and the proper development of American youths. Sharing Addams’s optimistic belief in the spirit of youth and guided by Hall’s theories about the newly defined developmental stage, the Gulicks sought ways to harness the power of adolescent bodies to promote social reform. In other words, not only did adolescents embody the complex ground between nature and culture, but in...


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