Guest Post: Saheed Aderinto on Education and Childhood Poverty in Colonial Nigeria

Saheed Aderinto teaches at Western Carolina University. He is the author of When Sex Threatened the State: Illicit Sexuality, Nationalism, and Politics in Colonial Nigeria (2015) and editor of Children and Childhood in Colonial Nigerian Histories (2015), among other books. His articles have appeared in leading Africanist and specialist journals including, the Canadian Journal of African Studies; Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute; Journal of the History of Sexuality; Journal of Social History; Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History; and Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, among others.

My article, titled “O! Sir I Do Not Know Either to Kill Myself or to Stay”: Childhood Emotion, Poverty, and Literary Culture in Nigeria, 1900-1960” uses letters composed by children of Lagos (Nigeria) in the 1940s to unlock the history of urban childhood poverty and emotion.[1] To the best of my knowledge, the letters is the largest and most comprehensive archival material on children’s history composed by children of colonial Nigeria. One theme I found really interesting as I researched my piece is the children’s emphasis on education as the solution to poverty and as a gateway to upward socio-economic mobility. The importance of education has featured prominently in academic and popular discourses of underdevelopment in twenty-first century Africa. It is intriguing to see that Lagos children of the 1940s realized the value of education to their personal, family, and community development. The children’s writings about the significance of education counters the assumption that it was mainly a prescription of adult, imposed on children. It is a truism that adults were mainly responsible for devising educational policy and curriculum; but how children of Lagos internalized it as a significant element of their socialization is fascinating.

Elementary school education was not only popular in urban Africa, it was also conceived by many (especially African educated elites and nationalists) as an enterprise in nation building. The exponential increase in school enrollment throughout the first half of the twentieth century was therefore tied to high demand for education. Yet, the available classroom space could not accommodate demand for the “white man’s knowledge.” Much of the decision to enroll children in school was made by parents and guardians. But, as some of the letters revealed, children did make personal decision to enroll in school in contravention of their parents’ wish for them to receive training in a vocational field or in agriculture. Hence, one sees a lot of children’s agency that contravenes the well-received notion that they were totally innate, especially in big issues such as education and intellectual empowerment.

The children’s letter tells the story of the contradiction inherent in the colonial education system. On one hand, education was viewed as a vehicle of civilization as professed by the colonialists, and as a prerequisite for sound nation building by the nationalists. Yet, access to education at all levels was a privilege. The restricted access to education was largely attributable to the unevenness of infrastructural development in colonial Africa and the government’s policy on public education. Most schools were located in the big urban centers, which had the facilities to support teaching and teachers. But more importantly, most colonial governments did not have free-education policy. Hence parents, guardians, and sometimes the entire community had to pay for children’s education. Some children, as young as ten, worked to pay their way through school—the letters revealed. When one reads about the numerous jobs children did to pay for their education, one is quickly alerted to the need to problematize such concept as “child labor” within the context of the difficult relationship between children’s economic activities in purely capitalist, unsafe, and exploitative environment, and what they did with resources accrued.

Moreover, the children’s letters render a window to viewing how location shaped childhood experience. It also introduces a scholar to childhood poverty, a less charted path in colonial African studies. Who was a poor child in colonial Africa? How did children define poverty? Lack of family ties, which manifested in vagrancy, homelessness, and lack of food, were elements of poverty peculiar to the city—a domain characterized by facelessness and lack of kinship system that sustained communal living in the villages. The children not only rendered the profile of a poor child similar to what obtained in most urban centers across the globe, they painted an idealistic image of a “normal” childhood experience. An ideal childhood to them was a childhood free from the dangers of the street, shielded from the agonies of hunger, and nurtured with “knowledge of book” in an environment controlled by respected teachers and adults. It was a childhood of responsibility, which allowed minors to share household chores and reciprocate the opportunity to have food, education, and shelter by performing tasks or being in charge of responsibilities, beneficial to their parents, mentors, and guardians. As I have shown in my book titled, Children and Childhood in Colonial Nigerian Histories, the notion of “modern” or “ideal” Nigerian childhood emerged alongside with other elements of colonial modernities of the first half of the twentieth century.[2] The proliferation of European-styled play-grounds, schools, and advice manuals on children were all informed by the assumption that African childhood must be modernized. It is one thing to make prescription about an ideal childhood, it is another for it to become institutionalized or accepted by children. Thus, the idea of modern childhood was a two-way traffic—both the adults and children appropriated it to suit their realities and aspirations.


[1] Saheed Aderinto, “O! Sir I Do Not Know Either to Kill Myself or to Stay”: Childhood Emotion, Poverty, and Literary Culture in Nigeria, 1900-1960,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 8, no.2 (2015).
[2] Saheed Aderinto, “Introduction: Colonialism and the Invention of Modern Nigerian Childhood” in Children and Childhood in Colonial Nigerian Histories, edited Saheed Aderinto, 1-18 (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

CFP: Girls’ Economies: Work & Play Cultures

Call for Papers: Girls’ Economies: Work & Play Cultures

Edited by Miriam Forman-Brunell and Diana Anselmo-Sequeira
Foreword by Dr. Eileen Boris

We know more about the history of grownups’ labor than we do about girls’ work, especially in informal domains. We know more about adult women workers than about girlhood employment and work-themed amusements. We know more about girls’ consumption practices than about their production patterns. We know more about childhood and play than we do about how play informs girls’ work skills, sensibilities, and identities as workers. We know more about businessmen and women than about moneymaking girls.

Girls’ Economies: Work & Play Cultures brings into sharp focus the significance of girls’ distinctive labor practices that often overlap with leisured endeavors. By crossing the boundaries between work and play, the margins between girlhood and female adolescence, and the demarcations among various economies, the original essays in this collection traverse the scholarly borders separating the history of labor, play, and business history, women’s history and the history of childhood and adolescence.

This anthology sets out to provide historical, international, and interdisciplinary perspectives on the socio-cultural and economic nature of work in girls’ lived realities and in representations. To that end, we seek previously unpublished essays that examine girls’ often invisible economies (e.g., informal, formal, domestic, household, underground (black economy), plantation, sexual, and sharing economies, etc.) by investigating the distinctive nature of girls’ work patterns that often complicate the lines between manual, domestic, unremunerated play practices, and monetary rewards (e.g., handicrafts; household toys); manifest unique “work cultures” (e.g., DIY participatory cultures) and; employ specific forms of labor, such as the “emotional labor” of Girl Scouts and the “reproductive labor” of girls’ household chores that help to sustain households and enables other family members to engage in paid, productive labor.
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New Book: Children and Youth during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

James Marten is Professor and Chair of the History Department at Marquette University. He is author or editor of more than a dozen books, including in this series Children in Colonial America; Children and Youth in a New Nation; and Children and Youth during the Civil War Era (all available from NYU Press).

Paula S. Fass is the Margaret Byrne Professor History at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author of Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America, Outside In: Minorities and the Transformation of American Education, and The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s. She is the editor of The Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society and (with Mary Ann Mason) Childhood in America (available from NYU Press).

In the decades after the Civil War, urbanization, industrialization, and immigration marked the start of the Gilded Age, a period of rapid economic growth but also social upheaval. Reformers responded to the social and economic chaos with a “search for order,” as famously described by historian Robert Wiebe. Most reformers agreed that one of the nation’s top priorities should be its children and youth, who, they believed, suffered more from the disorder plaguing the rapidly growing nation than any other group.

Children and Youth during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era explores both nineteenth century conditions that led Progressives to their search for order and some of the solutions applied to children and youth in the context of that search. Edited by renowned scholar of children’s history James Marten, the collection of eleven essays offers case studies relevant to educational reform, child labor laws, underage marriage, and recreation for children, among others. Including important primary documents produced by children themselves, the essays in this volume foreground the role that youth played in exerting agency over their own lives and in contesting the policies that sought to protect and control them.

Guest Post: José Pacheco dos Santos Júnior on the Documents of the Labor Court in Brazil

José Pacheco dos Santos Jr. is graduate student (master’s degree) in Economic History at University of São Paulo (USP-Brazil) and researcher at the Laboratory of Social History of Labor in the State University of Southwest Bahia (LHIST / UESB). His research interests are: History of Childhood and Youth, History of Law, Economic History and Social History of Labor, with an emphasis on child labor in the twentieth century, labor laws and Labor Court in Brazil at the time of the civil-military dictatorship. He has a research grant from Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES).

On October 9th, 1967, Uady Bulos, lawyer and representative of Roberto Ramos, a Brazilian single minor boy, visited the office of the Labor Court in Vitória da Conquista (Bahia, Brazil), and recorded a labor complaint against his customer’s workplace, a Regional Radio Station. Bulos claimed that the young man was unjustly suspended services for five days, under the allegation that he had gone to the company in a condition of drunkenness on a Sunday. The failure of the employer to comply with the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT), that guaranteed the payment of minimum wage for workers, was also recorded in the initial papers of the lawsuit by the young worker’s lawyer.

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New Book: The Charleston Orphan House

From SHCY member John E. Murray: The Charleston Orphan House: Children’s Lives in the First Public Orphanage in America. University of Chicago Press, 2013.

From the publisher:
The first public orphanage in America, the Charleston Orphan House saw to the welfare and education of thousands of children from poor white families in the urban South. From wealthy benefactors to the families who sought its assistance to the artisans and merchants who relied on its charges as apprentices, the Orphan House was a critical component of the city’s social fabric. By bringing together white citizens from all levels of society, it also played a powerful political role in maintaining the prevailing social order.

John E. Murray tells the story of the Charleston Orphan House for the first time through the words of those who lived there or had family members who did. Through their letters and petitions, the book follows the families from the events and decisions that led them to the Charleston Orphan House through the children’s time spent there to, in a few cases, their later adult lives. What these accounts reveal are families struggling to maintain ties after catastrophic loss and to preserve bonds with children who no longer lived under their roofs.

An intimate glimpse into the lives of the white poor in early American history, The Charleston Orphan House is moreover an illuminating look at social welfare provision in the antebellum South.

For more information, see the University of Chicago Press website.

SHCY Sessions at American Historical Association Meeting

SHCY will sponsor or co-sponsor four sessions at the upcoming American Historical Association meeting in New Orleans, January 3-6, 2013.

1. Freedom as Work, Freedom to Work: Childhood and the Meaning of Independent Labor in U.S. History
Friday, January 4, 2013
10:30 AM-12:00 PM
AHA Session 91

2. Many Lives, Many Places, Many Stories: Spaces of Childhood in Early Modern Spain
Friday, January 4, 2013
10:30 AM-12:00 PM
AHA Session 94

3. Fighting for the Future: American Social Reformers, Race, and Nineteenth-Century Institutions for Children
Friday, January 4, 2013
2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Society for the History of Children and Youth Session 3

4. Feeding Tomorrow’s Citizens: Conflicts and Negotiations over Food for Children in Twentieth-Century North America
Sunday, January 6, 2013
11:00 AM-1:00 PM
AHA Session 271

For full descriptions, visit: .