A remarkable collection of over 200 stunning photographs of children—from the Civil War era to the present—that captures the ever-changing experience of childhood throughout American history.
Did Americans “invent” childhood? Author Todd Brewster believes we did, or at least childhood as “a period of life cordoned off from that of full maturity, covered with a veil of protection, and subject to a program of nurture.” That’s the inspiration behind this rich, compelling volume of rarely seen historical images drawn from the photography collections at the Library of Congress, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, and the Magnum Photo Agency as well as dozens of other archives, flea markets, and antique shops.
The result is a carefully curated paean to American youth: 200-plus photos from all parts of American history, joined by a series of deeply insightful essays on the topic of the American child.
American Childhood reveals American children of all types: white, Black, gay, straight, poor, middle-class, upper class, in cities, on farms, at work, at play, lost in reverie, posing for the camera, or captured in their innocence as the lens gazes at them from afar. Some of them would go on to fame: A young Mark Twain is here. So is a juvenile Thomas Edison, Shirley Temple, Lady Gaga, Sammy Davis Jr., Truman Capote, and dozens of others. Can you see the spark of genius in the life of a child? Brewster thinks so. Still, most subjects here are unknown; in many cases a photograph may be the only public trace they have left behind.
Both a powerful study of American childhood and a beautiful gallery of extraordinary photography, American Childhood is a terrific addition to an under-appreciated part of American history.