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The lowest common denominator : children, state and society, Tasmania, 1896-1920

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Pearce, VF 1984 , 'The lowest common denominator : children, state and society, Tasmania, 1896-1920', Honours thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

This thesis investigates the relationship between the State and destitute, neglected children, and youthful offenders in the period 1895 to 1920 in Tasmania.
The thesis, using a wide range of primary source material which until recently has been overlooked by historians, reveals how the State penetrates the private sphere in prescriptive and proscriptive ways in structuring the lives of people. Further, the documents clearly illustrate the class nature of Tasmanian society at Federation and reveal structures and practices of oppression which were the basis of the interaction between privileged men and women and working class children and their families.
The thesis aims to investigate children in a way which places children back into history rather than creating a history of children. Children have always been of concern to the State; with women they have constituted the largest group of welfare recipients since the beginning of settlement. Special agencies have been established in every State, which have the right to assume guardianship over certain children. The continued existence of 'State' children is ample evidence of the need to record their trials and tribulations. In 1981 there were over 20,000 children under state guardianship in Australia. The experiences of this group of children will provide a further dimension to the social history of Tasmania at Federation.
Because the thesis aims to bring to centre stage the experiences of 'welfare' children set in a broad landscape of social history, it explores a number of other questions which lead to a more complete understanding of the nature of Tasmanian society in the period under scrutiny.
During the debate on the care of 'welfare' children contemporary ideologies reveal the way in which children and childhood are perceived in this period and how these ideas are translated into social policy and its institutions. The documents reveal a complex of ideas about children's sexuality which in turn determine the way children were managed when they entered the care of the State. The documents reveal the intimate relationship between the Church and the State as mutual agents of the moralizing of the working class and show how both are mutually involved with philanthropic groups which are an integral part of the services dealing with 'welfare' children and which attempt to influence the legislative wing of the State.
The high status which is accorded to influential women in the voluntary philanthropic groups throughout colonial times is also observed in Tasmania around the turn of the century. The implications of this activity for these women and their relationship to women and children in other social classes is explored.
The period under investigation is one during which the provision of public services became increasingly sophisticated. This period saw the growth of a more professional bureaucracy but it will be shown however that within the State bureaucracy the welfare of children was accorded a low priority reflected in both the changing organizational structures experienced by the Neglected Children Department and in the very limited commitment by successive governments in funding the Department's work.
Finally the files of the children who came under the care of the State are a window onto the lives of working class families both through the judgmental language of the inspecting officers, departmental officers and police and through the correspondence of children, their families, and carers. These documents reveal the conditions under which many families attempted to survive, the work they undertook, the way children were seen in working class families and the resistance individuals mounted against the intrusion of the State and its agents into their lives.

Item Type: Thesis - Honours
Authors/Creators:Pearce, VF
Keywords: Child welfare, Children
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1983 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

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