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The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction Paperback – May 2, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0674005358 ISBN-10: 067400535X Edition: 0th

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1859, the New York Times termed urban orphans the "ulcers of society." By 1864, child welfare crusaders were advocating their adoption by rural families and sending trains full of orphaned and abandoned children westward. As Gordon documents in this compelling account, they were often dumped at the end of the line, where they were taken in by whoever needed or wanted a childAfor any purpose. By the end of the 19th century, the Sisters of Charity's New York Foundling Hospital was cleaning up this well-established practice by carefully matching children with families selected by parish priests. Focusing on the delivery of 40 "white" orphans to Mexican Catholic adoptive families in the Arizona mining towns of Clifton and Morenci in 1904, Gordon vividly describes how the Anglo women of the townAall of them ProtestantsAbecame enraged and instigated a mass abduction of the children, often carried out at gunpoint. A trial ensued, pitting the Foundling Hospital against the Anglo powers of Arizona, which ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held that the abduction was legal, and that placing the children with Mexican families had been tantamount to child abuse. In delineating the racial and religious dynamics in turn-of-the-century Arizona (including frontier feminism, the evolution of racial and class structures and the history of copper mining, labor disputes and vigilantism), Gordon reveals a great deal about the origins of "family values" in America. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Gordon (history, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) builds her book around an incident in 1904, when a group of New York Irish orphans was sent to live with Catholic (and Mexican) families in Arizona. Outraged local Anglos then "rescued" the children at gunpoint. This account of the orphan abduction jostles for space amidst an encyclopedic re-creation of the world of Mexican miners in the American Southwest. The tale is so convoluted that the book even includes a list of characters, and the outcome is, predictably, unhappy. More compelling are the background sections that detail everything from how many pestles were in the miners' kitchens (two) to the racial basis for setting mine wages. Throughout, Gordon discusses the hardening racist system in the Southwest. These painstakingly researched chapters could well stand on their own as a powerful history of the miners' lives and a superior case study of emigrant labor at the turn of the century. Recommended for academic libraries.ADuncan Stewart, State Historical Society of Iowa Lib., Iowa City
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067400535X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674005358
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #282,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Linda Gordon is the Florence Kelley Professor of History at New York University. She is the author of numerous books including Dorothea Lange and Impounded, and won the Bancroft Prize for The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction. She lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

Those of you reading the new novel Orphan Train should definitely take a look at this book!
Virginia Rogers
A wonderfully and thoroughly researched book on a little-known part of the Orphan Train events that transpired from pre-Civil War times to 1929.
R. Swain
It seems as if Gordon is torn between writing an academic work or a popular work and ends up not quite hitting the mark with either.
L. Cunningham

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

100 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Sue K on December 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Seemingly small incidents can offer large insights into the process of social change. Linda Gordon, perhaps our country's leading historian of women, has taken a largely forgotten episode in which 40 Irish orphans were placed with Mexican families in a remote Arizona mining town and made it a window into some of the most important themes in the history of the 20th century Southwest. In her book we relive the human meaning of migration for thousands of Mexicans and we see the role of race and gender in the creation of a colonial economy in the Southwest. Above all, her book offers a valuable lesson for our time. She shows how an earlier ideology of family values was misused and abused, and harmed the interests of the very children it was supposed to help.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on November 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Linda Gordon's "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction" tells one small story in order to examine a far larger one. In 1904 the Catholic sisters in the employ of the New York Foundling Hospital attempted to place several white, Catholic orphans with Mexican families in the mining towns of Clifton-Morenci, Arizona. The white Protestant residents in the towns objected strenuously to the placements, and joined together to steal the children away from the prospective Mexican parents. Appalled by the scenes of mob activity and the threats made on their lives, as well as the idea of Protestants adopting Catholic children, the Foundling Hospital sued in court to retrieve the orphans. The case first went to the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court before moving on to the United States Supreme Court, which ultimately gave permanent custody of the children to the Arizona whites. This story as told by the author--an excellent example of microhistorical research--provides the impetus to pursue a host of larger subjects involving labor issues, gender, class, mob violence, and child welfare. The overarching theme is race relations.

To understand the orphan imbroglio, Gordon contends, one must understand the racial attitudes whites held about Mexicans. In the late nineteenth century, when Anglos were a weak minority trying to establish themselves in the Southwest, Mexicans could more or less stand on an equal footing with many of the white laborers and settlers. What changed? The arrival of more white settlers increased the power of Anglos. Too, the implementation of large-scale industry--here, the consolidation of individual copper mines--as the sole means of employment in the region brought about an unspoken agreement between Anglo laborers and mine owners to keep Mexican wages low.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Alan Mills VINE VOICE on January 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
Ms. Gordon has told in a compelling, exciting manner the tragic story of how 40 orphans became a pawn, first in New York's reform movement, and then in the southwest labor struggles.
However, her book goes far beyond this simple story, by using it as a springboard for an examination of the evolving concept of "race" in american history, and how the concept of race was used in different ways, at different times--tied to economic, religious and gender issuses which prevailed at diiferent times in different places.
The central "action" in Ms. Gordon's narrative is not, as several reviewers seemed to think, the abduction of the orphans. It is the transformation of the orphans from "Irish"--a despised minority in New York--into "White"--a powerful minority in Arizona, as they took their 2,000 mile train ride to their new adopted homes.
The only reason that I did not rate this book five stars is because Ms. Gordon first does a very good job explaining the paucity of evidence for the actual abduction--poor people tend not to leave historical records. However, she periodically leaps beyond this limited records into wild speculation (which may well be correct, but certainly is not supported by her evidence), all without acknowledging the contradiction.
All in all, well worth the read for anyone who is interested in the role race has played in american history--which ought to be all of us.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By L. Graham on September 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
Linda Gordon takes a small story out of the old southwest using court records, oral histories, interviews, and hospital records to create a highly readable and provocative work of American history. She recounts the half-legend of the Arizona orphan abduction to reveal what it meant to be human a hundred years ago. It was a time and place of nation-building and evolving standards of citizenship. During that colonizing period, dominated by self appointed "civilizers," racial attitudes allowed a mob to kidnap infants at gunpoint only to have the Supreme Court grant the perpetrators custody. The Euro-Americans did not want Mexican-looking people to gain any whiteness in the form of the foundlings and thereby diminish their status. Today it seems like an outrage akin to Plessy v. Fergusson.

Against a backdrop of the smoldering mountains of oozing slag, Gordon describes how the eastern nuns fought the western WASPY-neighbors-from-hell in an effort place their charges in good catholic homes. This story heightens the contrast of the blurred lines of identity: gender, religion, politics, nationality, class, regional identity, group and subgroup, and most of all, race. These lines, like the borderlands themselves, are never clear and fixed. They shift in and out of focus, but they nevertheless affect the concrete balance of power between labor and capital, men and women, the genteel and the half-breed, the wicked and the good, the white and the non-white other.

Gordon's thesis is that fickle notions of race dictate status, from the Irish Catholic birth mothers to mine workers. Race was a badge of rank for courtroom and lynch mob alike. In an age of imperialism and social Darwinism race determined one's place, trumping class, religion, education and merit.
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