Jaclyn Schultz, How Children Lived in the 19th Century

The PhD Candidate is researching the ways children in the United States in 1800-1900 were taught to participate in the economy.

December 08, 2017


"Hecker's Buckwheat" advertising card. Such cards were collected and traded in the Victorian era by children. C/O J. Schultz.

You probably collected something when you were a kid. Model trains, dolls, toy cars, maybe trading cards. Jaclyn Schultz believes that this collecting and trading is a child-centered economy, and it all started back in the 1800’s.

Schultz is a PhD Candidate at UC Santa Cruz’s History graduate program, studying the way children in the 19th Century were taught how to handle money, and how these lessons were framed by race. “Even though children rarely had access to money - even when they worked - several forms of authority (books, toys, parents, schools, organizations, etc.) instructed children in specific expectations of spending, saving, and giving.”

As an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Schultz read about a seemingly odd sort of collection children in this time period made. Parents are familiar with the random items children prize - a watch that no longer works, or a tape cassette they’ve never listened to but still covet. Children in the 1870s had advertisement cards, handed out at stores to showcase soap, shoes, or sewing machines, as Schultz came to discover.

“The cards were colorful and [with] printing technology at the time, to get something colorful and free was novel,” said Schultz. “Another thing that attracted kids to this is that they had images of children on them, so there’s some self-identification going on as well. Collecting was certainly not new - stamp collecting was already happening - but baseball cards hadn’t been around yet.”

Schultz discovered the cards reading an article about the representation of black women in advertisements, and eventually wrote her master’s thesis on depictions of African Americans in advertisements, and how the images encouraged consumerism in children. “In 1825 activists, in particular Maria Stewart, were vocal about black money staying in the black community, and were also focused on childhood education. Whiteness was normalized and African Americans were depicted as perpetually impoverished, rarely capitalistic actors, or selling things rather than buy things - or depicted as objects of capitalism.”

“Tracking how the different ways children were taught about money reflect larger ways that people looked at the economy - the way that capitalism became foundational to American history,” Schultz said. “In the 1810s through 1820s, kids would go to Sunday school even if they didn’t attend regular school, and they would learn to read [there]. They would receive tickets for doing well, which could be used for buying gifts.” Schultz frames this as the children participating in capitalism. “My interpretation is that, in a way, this is how kids can participate in the economy, and there’s something exciting about that.”

Advertising card for a shoe store in San Francisco, typical of the style collected by children in the late 1800s. Credit: Library of Congress.

At UC Santa Cruz now, Schultz has continued to examine this history through the perspective of the ways money was spent at this time, rather than the labor used to produce goods. “I’m really interested in the ways in which supposedly mundane things like objects and printed materials have actually been powerful in shaping subjectivity historically,” Schultz said.

“I’m a historian but my projects are always very interdisciplinary. I think they have to be if historians want to avoid only telling the history of the wealthy, literate, and otherwise privileged.”

As an historian of children, Schultz has to look at the physical objects surrounding children during a period of time, in addition to works written about children. She refers to her work as “a combination of historical and material culture analysis; looking at their material culture is one way to understand children’s history since they didn’t document it the same way as adults do.”

Schultz has a chapter in an edited book due to come out in the spring of 2018, with the working title “19th Century Childhoods in Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives,” by Oxbow Books. In her chapter, she discusses didactic advertising materials marketed towards children.

Starting in the 1850s (even before advertising cards were available), companies would make books marketing their materials, but utilizing children’s literature themes, making these easily accessible to children and their caretakers. “These would sometimes be ABC books, and each letter would be a riff on a product they sold or an adjective describing the product they sell,” said Schultz. “They would also do nursery rhyme books, and every rhyme was about how great a brand of sewing machine was.”

“Most people are so attracted to this topic because they can’t believe it started so long ago,” said Schultz. “These phenomena have a longer history, but we can also use their existence to ask a bigger question. What happened in 1850 that made it ok to advertise to children in these books, what sort of larger things are being reflected in these materials?”

“Advertising is one part,” Schultz continues, “but mostly it’s lessons about money from non-commercial sources - children’s literature, their parents, textbooks or school lessons, penmanship exercises.”

Schultz explained that her dissertation starts even before the 1850s, twenty-five years earlier when the Sunday School economy became a popular model, and as the country recovered from The Panic of 1819. She discusses a then-new form of book called City Cries, “a rare genre with a long history that might go back to the 16th century - a book for rural area people to navigate the city when they come shopping,” she said. “A publisher in New York City turned these into juvenile literature in 1825. Children’s magazines start to emerge in the 1820s” -  just as the push for a common standard of education began in the United States.

Schultz wants to take a big-picture look at what surrounded these children and the economy: a higher interest in ready-made goods from rural populations, coupled with increasing literacy for children, and the post-depression concern for the economic future of America. “How can we look at all these things together?,” Schultz said. “There were fears that children, particularly if they’re non-producers, may be a threat to this budding economy.”

Looking back at her path towards graduate school, Schultz explained that her "big picture" wasn't always so clear. As a first-generation college student, she wasn't entirely certain that graduate school was anything she could ever consider. “Financial difficulties made it impossible for me to go straight to college after high school,” she said. Working full-time and taking classes part-time was taxing on Schultz. After taking some time off during her undergraduate studies and traveling to New Zealand thanks to an invitation from a friend, Schultz came back to school with a new perspective. “I realized that so much of society and culture is contingent - when you go immerse yourself in a different culture and society you understand that things happen for a reason - so I returned to school for history.”

Jaclyn Schultz is a PhD Candidate in the History Program at UC Santa Cruz. Credit: J. Schultz.

“My return to school in my late 20s was driven by a passion for history that I really didn’t possess when I was 18, but that passion has been my primary motivation for the last decade.”

Schultz decided to continue her education at UC Santa Cruz after completing her master’s degree. Working as a teaching assistant (TA) in her master’s program at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee helped her realize that she had a future in higher education. “I worked full time during my first year in the master’s, and in the second year they offered me a TA-ship. I was so glad they did because if [they] didn’t, I don’t think I would have considered being a professor or teaching in higher education. The TA experience and writing my master’s thesis made me realize that this is what I should be doing.”

Here she works with Associate Professor of History Catherine Jones, and Professor Eric Porter who works in the History program and the History of Consciousness program. Both faculty are members of the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies program. But the change in landscape, from Milwaukee to Santa Cruz, was a big part of what convinced Schultz to make the move. “I was excited about the possibility of working with certain people, but my visit to Santa Cruz sealed the deal. This is probably the most beautiful place to study and I feel incredibly fortunate to have this as my landscape everyday,” she said.

“I guess I came to work with the faculty but it was also important to me to choose a school in a place I could see myself living for six years.”

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