Julia Lathrop was an American social worker at the turn of the 20th century, a pioneer in the field of child welfare who investigated child labor, studied infant mortality and pushed for separate courts for juveniles.
Lathrop’s career and significance as a political force is the subject of a lecture at the Library of Congress by Cecelia Tichi, holder of the Chair of Modern Culture in the John W. Kluge Center.
Tichi will discuss “Justice, Not Pity: Julia Lathrop, First Chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau” at 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 28
, in Room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Kluge Center, the event is free and open to the public; no tickets are needed.
According to Tichi, “No Washington notables were on hand to greet Julia Lathrop when she arrived at Union Station in the spring of 1912 to be sworn in as chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Lathrop, a well-groomed, Gilded Age lady from the Midwest, had detested politics all her life. Ironically, she was about to become a political force on the national scene and a figure at the cutting edge of momentous change in federal policy.”
Lathrop faced many challenges when she assumed the helm of the Children’s Bureau. Tichi said, “Congress was wary and watchful for missteps, and opponents of the new bureau were already massing, furious at governmental meddling in family life. Lathrop’s credentials were no guarantee of success, and the first year’s bureau budget was tiny. If she failed, her name would be synonymous with governmental waste and female incompetence. Worse, the children of the United States, the very future of the country, would needlessly suffer and die.”
At the Library of Congress, Tichi is studying the shift that occurred in U.S. culture from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era. She is examining how certain figures who grew up in the late-19th century Gilded Age were able to guide the nation into a new era by thinking freshly about society, economics and culture. These figures, such as Lathrop and economist John R. Commons, became distinguished leaders.
Tichi is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. She received her master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and her Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis. At Vanderbilt, she teaches classes in 19th and 20th century American literature, focusing on aspects of culture, from consumerism and social critique to country music.
Tichi’s numerous publications include “Exposés and Excess: Muckraking in America, 1900/2000" (2003); “Embodiment of a Nation: Human Form in American Spaces” (2001); “Reading Country Music: Steel Guitars, Opry Stars and Honky-Tonk Bars” (1998); and “High Lonesome: The American Culture of Country Music” (1994).
Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate, energize and distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For more information about the fellowships, grants and programs offered by the John W. Kluge Center, visit www.loc.gov/kluge