Harry Hendrick, Images of Youth: Age, Class, and the Male Youth Problem, 1880-1920, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990, pp. xii + 298, £32.50, ISBN 0-19-821782-X
'I would that there were no age between ten and three and twenty... for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing and fighting'
complains the Shepherd in The Winter's Tale. The epoch of life between childhood and the taking on of full adulthood responsibilities, in societies in which marriage does not immediately succeed puberty, has probably always been a problematic one, when it has perceptibly existed. Most jobs in the youth labour market at the period discussed--errand-boy, messenger--did not inculcate those steady disciplined habits believed to be essential for the stability of society. There was a considerable amount of idle waiting around for the next job--is the young man in the photograph on the book-jacket, cloth-capped, blank-staring, smoking, leaning against a wall, working-class youth at leisure, or at work?--plus a lack of supervision.
An important point made by Hendrick is that a good deal of the anxiety over male working-class youth at the turn of the century and the 'youth labour problem' was due to the visibility of young lower-class males, especially to the respectable middle-class male. One might consider as analogous the 'moral panic' during the First World War over 'flappers' and 'amateur prostitutes', when young women formerly secluded in individual households as domestic servants (in popular thought at least) were visible as they performed hitherto formerly male jobs, due to shift working were about on the streets at times when decent women were assumed to be indoors, and additionally had the independence to enjoy themselves that high wages gave. This visibility might well outweigh the objective statistical dimensions of a particular problem.
Hendrick illuminates the complex relationship between definitions of adolescence being formulated by social and medical science, and social policy dealing with questions of youth employment and continuation education. Implicit in his arguments is the creation of these years as a state of late childhood rather than early adulthood. He points out the recurrence in debates on young workers and adolescence of themes of 'disorder, fickleness, irregularity, indiscipline, and lack of self-control... a life-style characterized by apparently irrational mental and physical behaviour' (pp. 87-88). Concepts of age and class were closely intertwined: to the 'supposed mental and moral weakness... [of] all but the most respectable members of the lower orders' (p. 147) was superadded what G. Stanley Hall defined in Adolescence as 'instability and fluctuation' of the emotions, 'natural' to the stage (p. 102). Since even the middle-class young male, with all his carefully inculcated control and discipline, was believed to be endangered during this life-phase, it is not surprising that there was particular anxiety over the less privileged male.
There were endeavours, largely of a voluntaristic nature, to imbue working class lads with 'that spirit of self-denial, self-control and definiteness of righteous purpose' explicitly aimed at by the Church Lads' Brigade but implicit in the ideology of most of these movements. It was not just a question of inducing good, but of 'rightly direct[ing]' the 'wayward forces' threatening youths (pp. 162-163). Hendrick suggests that the Scout movement in particular was not merely combatting 'indiscipline, irreligion, immorality and social neglect' but 'looked to encourage certain positive values necessary for national and imperial security' within a new framework of ideas about 'citizenship' (pp. 164-165).
It would perhaps have been out of place in the wider context of Hendrick's thesis to consider the role of the specifically purity societies at the same period, endeavouring to reform the male and bringing about a single moral standard, although the bodies he mentioned presumably proselytised against 'impurity' and 'beastliness'. The rhetoric of purity organisations tended to emphasise working on 'innate' if undeveloped qualities of male chivalry and tenderness, as Baden-Powell argued that it was necessary to work with the gang-spirit of youth. The bodies discussed by Hendrick seem to have harboured (possibly due to the public school background of their founders?) deep suspicions of girls, with their 'tendencies towards "flirtation"', seeing them as a menace and a distraction to the cause of 'healthy recreation' for boys. While girls' clubs, Hendrick suggests, emphasised the role of women as '"helpers" and "guides" to men and to families' (pp. 174-175) heterosexual family values do not seem to have taken a high priority in boys' clubs, and the 'character' it was aimed to develop was that of a man among men.
There is so much in this volume that it may be niggling to ask for more, but it could have been illuminating to have had some consideration of the conceptualisation of the working-class youth problem in the context of wider ideologies and fears around manhood and masculinity. So many of the characteristics assigned to the adolescent male, especially of the lower class, read like Patrick Geddes and J. Arthur Thomson's description of the 'katabolic' tendencies of maleness in their influential text The Evolution of Sex (1899). Such energy-expending, destructive characteristics tended to be seen as both typifying manhood and yet to need controlling in the interests of civilised society.
Hendrick argues for the construction of adolescence as a time when, far from being emancipated from care and supervision, the youth needed perhaps even more attention during a period of sturm and drang. He relates this to the creation of 'special facilities for young workers emphasiz[ing] their distinctiveness and separateness', which assumed 'ignorance and incompetence' and the need for professionals to guide them in selecting an occupation. The transition from school to the working world became 'a period of effort, anxiety and danger' (pp. 210-211), as adolescence as a whole was being defined. This perhaps relates to yet wider anxieties about the 'unnatural' and 'artificial' nature of contemporary industrialised society.
It is, however, only in the conclusion that we are brought to the disjunction that existed between different sections of the 'middle classes' in their attitude to the entire problem. The professional middle class, from social workers to social scientists, were 'distanced from the realities of the labour market', and the employers, as a body, were far less bothered by the '"problems" highlighted by reformers'. 'Cheap, malleable, non-unionized and easy to recruit' boy labour, 'easy to dismiss' filled their needs to a degree that fully compensated for any 'delinquency' (pp. 248-249).
This book, though somewhat (if perhaps necessarily) repetitive, is a thought-provoking study weaving together a rich selection of diverse materials in support of its thesis.
Lesley A Hall
Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine