Delinquent Daughters

Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920

By Mary E. Odem

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, 5 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4528-8
    Published: December 1995
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6367-1
    Published: November 2000
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6976-0
    Published: November 2000

Gender and American Culture

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Awards & distinctions

1994 President's Book Award, Social Science History Association

A 1996 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Delinquent Daughters explores the gender, class, and racial tensions that fueled campaigns to control female sexuality in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. Mary Odem looks at these moral reform movements from a national perspective, but she also undertakes a detailed analysis of court records to explore the local enforcement of regulatory legislation in Alameda and Los Angeles Counties in California. From these legal proceedings emerge overlapping and often contradictory views of middle-class female reformers, court and law enforcement officials, working-class teenage girls, and working-class parents. Odem traces two distinct stages of moral reform. The first began in 1885 with the movement to raise the age of consent in statutory rape laws as a means of protecting young women from predatory men. By the turn of the century, however, reformers had come to view sexually active women not as victims but as delinquents, and they called for special police, juvenile courts, and reformatories to control wayward girls. Rejecting a simple hierarchical model of class control, Odem reveals a complex network of struggles and negotiations among reformers, officials, teenage girls and their families. She also addresses the paradoxical consequences of reform by demonstrating that the protective measures advocated by middle-class women often resulted in coercive and discriminatory policies toward working-class girls.

About the Author

Mary E. Odem is associate professor of history and women's studies at Emory University.
For more information about Mary E. Odem, visit the Author Page.


“A wonderfully rich and vibrant account of the complex relationships between moral reformers, state officials, adolescent girls, and their working-class families. . . . A highly readable, lively, and accessible work.”--American Journal of Legal History

"A rich narrative work that is attentive to issues of gender, ethnicity, race, and class."--Journal of Social History

"Odem's important book provides a model for the study of state institutions and issues of social control . . . . The complexity and the clarity of argument, the detailed research, and the compelling narrative make this a book that could, and should, be read by the beginner and the expert in a variety of fields."--Choice

"Rejecting simple models of social control, Odem skillfully shows how groups with different cultural orientations and agendas--white middle-class women, immigrant and working-class parents, judges, and police--joined together in efforts to restrict adolescent women's sexuality and autonomy."--Journal of American History

"Delinquent Daughters tells an ironic, even tragic, human story set in the Progressive era which has resonance for our own time. Odem's account of the struggles of teenage girls for personal integrity and choice, their parents for strong family relations, and women reformers for more humane systems of justice, shows us people who sometimes achieved their goals but who sometimes ended in hurting the people they most wanted to help. As we think freshly about juvenile justice and social policy, this book should be most welcome."--Linda K. Kerber, coeditor of U.S. History as Women's History: New Feminist Essays