‘Little Children are Constructed of Malleable Material’: Conceptions of Children and Childhood in Anna Chapin Ray’s Playground Books
Beginning in the 1880s, some American ‘child-savers’ began advocating for, creating, and supervising playgrounds for poor children living in crowded urban neighborhoods. In 1901 and 1903 respectively, author and playground advocate Anna Chapin Ray published two children’s books set on such a playground. Published prior to the nationalization of the play movement in the form of the Playgrounds Association of America in 1906, these books provide an unused lens through which to view the history of a movement that has had a wide-ranging impact on American children. Comparing the historical record with conceptions of children and childhood presented in these two fictional works, I found understandings of children, childhood and the importance of play that contrast with those expressed by later national play movement leaders. These differences suggest that significant changes in play movement leadership and rationales accompanied nationalization. Both the reasons for these changes and their impact on children warrant further research.