Abstract

Most children in nineteenth-century America were buried as members of a family or a church, not a trade. Yet in cities across the country newsboys publicly laid to rest many of their fallen comrades. An ethnographic reading of these humble rituals, and a reconsideration of the often-sentimental literature and images in which they appear, enable us to see children's grief not solely as a product of personal loss or religious faith, but as expressions of class feeling. Studies of children and death usually focus on middle-class attitudes and domestic practices, but newsboy funerals can broaden our understanding of bereavement to working-class children in the public sphere and illuminate why poor youths feared burial in a potter's field more than death itself. Newsboys took up collections for flowers, caskets, and gravestones for each other; they drafted letters of sympathy and resolutions of condolence, and marched en masse in funeral trains. Some boys dispensed with clergy and conducted the last rites themselves. In so doing, they were not simply aping bourgeois standards of propriety and spirituality, but drawing on a host of cultural influences, both bourgeois and plebeian, religious and commercial, to develop their own masculine codes of affection and rituals of mourning.

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 5-30
Launched on MUSE
2002-09-01
Open Access
No
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