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REVIEWS Anna Davin. Growing Up Poor: Home, School and Street in London 1870-1914. London: Rivers Oram P, 19%, xvi + 289. £19.95 (cloth). What was it like to be a working-class child in London in die last decades of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? The question, well-rehearsed in die minds of many social historians, has been analyzed mainly from the perspective of the representation of childhood by historians such as Hugh Cunningham and Carolyn Steedman. In contrast to them, Anna Davin deals widi die experience of childhood, particularly childhood for girls. One of the seUing-points of diis book is that she uses oral history derived from die interviews she conducted of her subjects in the 1970s. In doing so, she provides considerable new evidence for die position that the value assigned to die work done by working-class girls was often invisible but nevertheless essential to the steady running of the working-class household. From die girl who ran errands for her mother or neighbors to the one who 'minded a lady's baby' to die one who helped out in the sweated trade at home, Davin argues that adults — particularly mothers — relied on their daughters' labor. By analyzing both childhood experiences and the expectations placed upon children by adult society, Davin moreover provides a larger view concerning die relationship between parents and die state in diis critical period when die latter assumed increasing power over die former and tiieir families. As both members of a family and members of die State, children in late-nineteenth century Britain were the subjects of an important power struggle. To be sure, the Education Act of 1870, which forms the point of departure for this book, marked die beginning of a new epoch in which the educational demands made by die state on die nation's youth ostensibly compromised die control diat parents had over their children's current and future labor. Even so, Davin demonstrates that truancy and/or late attendance at school remained a common experience for working-class children. The often erratic promise of work in their neighborhoods meant that these children relied on piece-meal and seasonal jobs in order to supplement die family 198Victorian Review income at the expense to their own education. Where steady employment appeared, it often took the form of after-school jobs such as matchbox making at home — sometimes extending quite late into the night — and morning jobs, such as delivering newspapers or milk (particularly by boys). If such jobs enabled boys and girls to get to school on time, they may have also been responsible for prompting exhaustion and for preventing these children from achieving their maximum academic potential. Eldest daughters or 'Utde mothers', Davin intimates, shouldered the greatest burden since they were often expected to remain at home in order to look after the youngest members of the family while their mothers worked or performed domestic duties. In order to compel these girls to attend school, the London School Board convinced the Education Department, albeit temporarily, that creches ought to be established in the schools. And, as early as 1879, twelve creches were littered throughout metropolitan schools in order to meet the needs of these school-age girls — a point which raises interesting questions about the origins of the welfare state and the extent to which the School Board was able to influence government policy concerning children. Involved in a process that aided their parents to make ends meet, these children found themselves laden with responsibilities that their socially privUeged peers never knew. However strict rules, steady household demands, economic pressure and close quarters did not indicate that the children of these famtiies were treated harshly. Davin is careful to point out that growing up poor did not preclude growing up loved. In conjunction with class, Davis is concerned with race. She sheds an interesting new Ught on the relationship in the East End among the Irish, English and Jews, the latter being a group that constituted an increasing proportion of recent immigrants to this part of London from Eastern Europe. That Jewish families often hired non-Jewish children to light the fires in their fireplaces at...


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pp. 197-199
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