Daughters of the State

From Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies Series

Daughters of the State

A Social Portrait of the First Reform School for Girls in North America, 1856-1905

By Barbara Brenzel





A rich and fascinating study of education, social reform, and women's history, Daughters of the State explores the lives of young girls who came to the State Industrial School for Girls in Lancaster, Massachusetts during its first fifty years.Brenzel skillfully integrates the complex lines of nineteenth-century social thought and policies formed around issues of work, sex roles, schooling, and sexuality that have carried through to this century. In the school's handwritten case histories and legislative reports, she uncovers institutional mores and biases toward the young and the poor and especially toward women. Brenzel also reveals the plight of the parents who were forced by their circumstances to condemn their children to such institutions in the hope of improving their futures.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262021944 206 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262521048 206 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • Daughters of the State makes good use of quantitative evidence without losing sight of the individuals who lived at Lancaster. Case histories poignantly describe the desperate existences of families ground down by poverty, who could neither provide for nor govern their children... a valuable addition to the history of social welfare in the United States.

    Journal of Social History

  • What Barbara Brenzel has written is not just a story of an institution. It's a tale about how nineteenth century America saw women's roles and how they dealt with those 'difficult girls' who strayed from the path of True Womanhood. The struggles of these 'daughters' of the state and of the family were moving profiles from our own.

    Ellen Goodman

    Columnist, The Boston Globe

  • Daughters of the State is an impressive addition to the literature on the origins of major American social institutions. By blending case histories with administrative records, the book illustrates how gender, class, and ideology combined to influence the shape and consequences of public policy. The book should be of great interest not only to historians but also to anyone concerned with the relation between young people, the state, and the dilemmas of institutionalization today.

    Michael B. Katz

    Professor of History and Education, Director, Urban Studies Program

  • Daughters of the State is the best kind of social history. It speaks to the construction of female reality and the social control of adolescence in the context of the transformation of a single penal institution. The result is a crystalline analysis which should be read by anyone interested in women's lives in nineteenth century America.

    Alice Kessler-Harris

    Professor of History

  • A fascinating study that illuminates nineteenth century views of female respectability, moral training, and the hopes and fears of an age both optimistic and anxious. Professor Brenzel skillfully blends rich detail about individuals with intellectual and institutional history.

    David Tyack

    Professor of Education and History

  • ...an exceptional contribution to nineteenth century women's history, as well as to the history of education and social reform...provocative and useful insights into current policies.

    Marvin Lazerson

    Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia