Today's troubled juvenile court system has its roots in Progressive
Era Chicago, a city one observer described as "first in violence"
and "deepest in dirt". Examining the vision and methods of the
original proponents of the Cook County Juvenile Court, Victoria
Getis uncovers the court's intrinsic flaws as well as the sources
of its debilitation in our own time.
Spearheaded by a group of Chicago women, including Jane Addams,
Lucy Flower, and Julia Lathrop, the juvenile court bill was pushed
through the legislature by an eclectic coalition of progressive
reformers, both women and men. Like many progressive institutions,
the court reflected an unswerving faith in the wisdom of the state
and in the ability of science to resolve the problems brought on by
A hybrid institution combining legal and social welfare
functions, the court was not intended to punish youthful
lawbreakers but rather to provide guardianship for the vulnerable.
In this role, the state was permitted great latitude to intervene
in families where it detected a lack of adequate care for children.
The court also became a living laboratory, as children in the court
became the subjects of research by criminologists, statisticians,
educators, state officials, economists, and, above all,
practitioners of the new disciplines of sociology and
The Chicago reformers had worked for large-scale social change,
but the means they adopted eventually gave rise to the social
sciences, where objectivity was prized above concrete solutions to
social problems, and to professional groups that abandoned goals of
structural reform. The Juvenile Court and the Progressives argues
persuasively that thecurrent impotence of the juvenile court system
stems from contradictions that lie at the very heart of
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