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Babysitter: An American History Paperback – December 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (December 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814728952
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814728956
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,088,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Considers the history of the babysitter in American culture, and why she has so frequently been perceived as a dangerous figure.”
-The New Yorker


“Forman-Brunell does a service by documenting one of the few remaining common denominators of American life—though this one, too, is disappearing.”
-Wall Street Journal


“Powerfully reclaiming the marginalized history of girls’ domestic labor, Forman-Brunell deftly examines a broad range of cultural artifacts to help us understand how different generations used the figure of the babysitter to negotiate shifting norms for gender, age, work, and sexuality.”
-Mary Celeste Kearney,author of Girls Make Media

“In this well-documented, illustrated discussion of our culture’s perceptions of babysitters through the years, the author skillfully demonstrates how changing social mores and attitudes toward girls and women were responsible for the astonishing range of notions about babysitters, running the gamut from child-care provider to home wrecker. . . . Forman-Brunell makes excellent use of the various babysitting handbooks published over the years, and, particularly, of the commercial novels (e.g., The Baby-Sitters Club series) and movies that came out, from domestic comedies to horror films reflecting parents’ (and babysitters’) worst nightmares.”
-Library Journal


“This cultural and social history captures dominant gender and generational struggles of the twentieth century around girlhood independence, domestic norms, and fragile masculinity. Forman-Brunell takes us on an engaging romp through urban legends, codes of conduct, slasher and pornographic movies, and the teen culture and resistance strategies of girls themselves.”
-Eileen Boris,author of Home to Work: Motherhood and The Politics of Industrial Homework in the United States

About the Author

Miriam Forman-Brunell is Professor of History at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She is the author of Made to Play House and general editor of ABC-CLIO’s Girlhood in America. She is also co-director of Children and Youth in History.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on September 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
From the beginnings of babysitting to the fall of babysitting, Miriam Forman-Brunell has produced a sweeping history of the practice not chronicled elsewhere. Babysitter: An American History gives us a welcome look at the subculture of babysitting in the United States. When you peruse the extensive notes and bibliography, it's not surprising that the book has taken nearly two decades to complete (Forman-Brunell began her project in the early 1990's). While the book covers the 20th century, with emphasis on the 1950s through the 1980s, we are reminded of previous generations (including Puritans, enslaved African Americans, and urban working-class children) charged with babysitting as their duty without the benefit of payment.

Readers will find the book full of curious bits of observations and facts about American popular culture as it relates to babysitting. For instance, poet, Sylvia Plath, at age fourteen, wrote about her first experience babysitting in a paper for an English class. The two boys demanded she read aloud story after story, jumped on top of her, playing "kill the bear," and the popcorn she was making caught fire. Plath concluded that "little children are bothersome beings...all in all, a nuisance."

The narrative moves from the 1920s through the 1940s as girls begin to challenge older generations with their new conduct and confidence. As the United States marched off to war, births fell, then rose; and mothers took on jobs, then gave them up to be homemakers and move to the suburbs.

The second half of the 20th century brought significant changes as society experienced more war, the sexual revolution, increasing divorce rates and mothers going back to work once again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Todd Bartholomew TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
While it's hard to believe that babysitting would be the subject of scholarly examination by a professor, "Babysitter" is just that. Forman-Brunell's book attempts a socio-cultural examination of the phenomenon that, it turns out, is no longer the province of teenage girls. Forman-Brunell tracks the beginnings of babysitting, which surprisingly began during the depths of the great depression. The word itself first came into use in 1937 to describe the new phenomenon of teenage girls watching children while parents were otherwise engaged in a range of activities. It seems strange to think that the Lindberg Kidnapping prompted a sudden concern about leaving children unattended, but oftentimes events such as that spark a sudden cultural change. As more women were entering the workforce, the use of servants decreased, and the extended family living under one roof became less common there arose a need for someone outside of the family to tend to childrens needs. Enter the babysitter; the trusted neighbor or friend outside of the family to fill that void. The lack of ability to pay adult wages necessitated that teenagers fill that need, and considering they lacked employable skills and needed money supply met demand.

Babysitting by its very nature has been a largely unregulated part of the labor market and the unevenness of the caretakers ability and the high demands of the parents could sometimes result in severe inequities and led to considerable angst with both parties. Forman-Brunell explores the cultural complaints and depictions of teenage babysitters as hormone crazed eating machines wreaking havoc to the more nuanced view of them as budding entrepreneurs.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well researched and engaging to read. I am writing a babysitting curriculum and found this book very useful. I highly recommend it as the only one of its kind as far as I know.
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