Cover for Rembis: Defining Deviance: Sex, Science, and Delinquent Girls, 1890-1960. Click for larger image

Defining Deviance

Sex, Science, and Delinquent Girls, 1890-1960

A historical study of the treatment of troubled girls, often perceived as threats to the American race

Defining Deviance analyzes how reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries perceived delinquent girls and their often troubled lives. Drawing on exclusive access to thousands of case files and other documents at the State Training School in Geneva, Illinois, Michael A. Rembis uses Illinois as a case study to show how implementation of involuntary commitment laws in the United States reflected eugenic thinking about juvenile delinquency.

Much more than an institutional history, Defining Deviance examines the cases of vulnerable young women to reveal the centrality of sex, class, gender, and disability in the formation of scientific and social reform. Rembis recounts the contestations between largely working-class teenage girls and the mostly female reformers and professionals who attempted to diagnose and treat them based on changing ideas of eugenics, gender, and impairment. He shows how generational roles and prevailing notions of gender and sexuality influenced reformers to restrict, control, and institutionalize undesirable "defectives" within society, and he details the girls' attempts to influence methods of diagnosis, discipline, and reform.

In tracing the historical evolution of ideologies of impairment and gender to show the central importance of gender to the construction of disability, Rembis reveals the larger national implications of the cases at the State Training School. His study provides new insights into the treatment of young women whom the dominant society perceived as threats to the sexual and eugenic purity of modern America.

"An excellent history of the involuntary commitment of delinquent girls. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

"[Defining Deviance] brings to life new material on the policing of adolescent female sexuality and provides a new perspective on the rise of the therapeutic state."--Social Service Review

"Gripping first-hand narratives coupled with compelling statistics. . . . Rembis's robust research, careful methodology, and keen analyses make this book a worthwhile read."--Disability & Society

"Engaging. . . . careful and thoughtful scholarship."--The Annals of Iowa

"Michael A. Rembis rightly and bravely uses the example of female delinquency to make sharp historical and contemporary analyses of eugenics and disability. The smart, analytical, and broad historical context Rembis provides will elicit marvelous student discussions of questions of gender, power, deviance, and historical change."--Kim E. Nielsen, author of Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship With Helen Keller

Michael A. Rembis is the director of the Center for Disability Studies and an assistant professor of history at the University at Buffalo.

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