A City for ChildrenWomen, Architecture, and the Charitable Landscapes of Oakland, 1850-1950

A City for ChildrenWomen, Architecture, and the Charitable Landscapes of Oakland, 1850-1950

Marta Gutman

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780226311289

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book tells how women repurposed buildings to make California a better place for children. It starts during the Gold Rush in San Francisco and moves to Oakland, after the transcontinental railroad arrived in 1869. In the gendered mixed economy of social welfare that prevailed in the United States during the nineteenth century, government counted on women to care for needy children and women were eager to oblige. They formed voluntary associations to organize services and acquire property, set up nodes in the charitable landscape, and deliver the interests of children first to the charitable public, then to the heart of government. Charitable institutions for children—often housed in repurposed buildings and run by female volunteers—played a key role in addressing the social ills brought about by industrialization and urbanization, in bringing order to the urban landscape, and creating reserves of public places, freed from speculative development. Affluent, white, Protestant women, joined by Irish Catholics, white working class ethnics, and middle class women of color, opened orphanages, free kindergartens, settlement houses, playgrounds, and day nurseries for an equally diverse group of children. Especial attention is given to politics—of gender and childhood, race and religion, immigration and migration—that informed the creation of the charitable landscape in the nineteenth century, expansion in the Progressive Era and the New Deal, and ruthless destruction after World War II. The magnitude of what was lost in slum clearance is addressed, as the extent to which earlier decisions informed postwar developments.