Scholars trace the impulse to reform troubled children to the work of nineteenth-century “child savers” who invented the problem of juvenile delinquency in the burgeoning northern industrial cities and then founded the institutions and the professions through which to deal with them. (( Anthony Platt, The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency, (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1977) 3.)) For all children the behavior that defined delinquency remained vague; for young females, it was maddeningly so. Incorrigible behavior and morality crimes–prostitution, illegitimate pregnancy, venereal disease, suspected promiscuity, running unchaperoned with boys, driving around in cars, and staying out past curfew, to name just a few–often landed young women in front of a social worker, a juvenile judge, or a reformatory matron.
Yet this field focuses primarily on efforts in industrial centers because reformers, and subsequently scholars, understood juvenile delinquency as an urban problem. “The juvenile court sought to protect girls from the temptations of urban society and to protect society from the girls’ sexual misconduct.” ((Laura S. Abrams and Laura Curran, “Wayward Girls and Virtuous Women: Social Workers and Female Juvenile Delinquency in the Progressive Era,” Affilia 15 (Spring 2000), 52.))