Gubar, Marah (University of Pittsburgh)
The Representing Childhood Project (2005)
In 1799, children’s author and educator Hannah More reacted against the revolutions that had recently taken place in America and France in terms that tell us a great deal about the child’s place in British society at that time. Denouncing Thomas Paine’s radical insistence that all men are created equal, More argued that recognizing the “rights of man” was an absurd idea. Next, she scoffed, reformers would begin to discuss the rights of women, and then (even more ridiculously) “our enlighteners […] will illuminate the world with grave descants on the rights of youth, the rights of children, the rights of babies” (Walvin 45). The idea that children have rights that the state should protect may have seemed silly at dawn of the nineteenth century, but by the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, it had gained significant support. Beginning in the 1830s, the Victorians passed a variety of laws aimed at protecting the wellbeing of children at work, at school, or in the home.This activism was motivated in part by a growing acceptance of the Romantic idea that children are innocent creatures who should be shielded from the adult world and allowed to enjoy their childhood.