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Intimate Reconstructions

Children in Postemancipation Virginia
Catherine A. Jones

BUY Cloth · 288 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813936758 · $45.00 · Feb 2015
BUY Ebook · 288 pp. · ISBN 9780813936765 · $45.00 · Feb 2015

Grace Abbott Book Prize, Society for the History of Children and Youth (2015)

In Intimate Reconstructions, Catherine Jones considers how children shaped, and were shaped by, Virginia’s Reconstruction. Jones argues that questions of how to define, treat, reform, or protect children were never far from the surface of public debate and private concern in post–Civil War Virginia. Through careful examination of governmental, institutional, and private records, the author traces the unpredictable paths black and white children traveled through this tumultuous period. Putting children at the center of the narrative reveals the unevenness of the transitions that defined Virginia in the wake of the Civil War: from slavery to freedom, from war to peace, and from secession to a restored but fractured union. While some children emerged from the war under the protection of families, others navigated treacherous circumstances on their own. The reconfiguration of postwar households, and disputes over children’s roles within them, fueled broader debates over public obligations to protect all children.

The reorganization of domestic life was a critical proving ground for Reconstruction. Freedpeople’s efforts to recover children strained against white Virginians’ efforts to retain privileges formerly undergirded by slavery. At the same time, orphaned children, particularly those who populated the streets of Virginia’s cities, prompted contentious debate over who had responsibility for their care, as well as rights to their labor.

By revisiting conflicts over the practices of orphan asylums, apprenticeship, and adoption, Intimate Reconstructions demonstrates that race continued to shape children’s postwar lives in decisive ways. In private and public, children were at the heart of Virginians’ struggles over the meanings of emancipation and Confederate defeat.


This is an impressively researched and thoughtful examination of the place of children in the lives and imaginations of postemancipation Virginians. The author demonstrates a clear command of the subject, with research that is both wide and deep in the primary sources, and with analysis that is astute and conversant with the most recent scholarly literature. It is an important work.

Amy Murrell Taylor, University of Kentucky, author of The Divided Family in Civil War America

Intimate Reconstructions offers us new ways to think about the role of children and childhood in the rebuilding of family life and the life of the nation after the Civil War. Taking careful stock of local circumstances in the Upper South, it puts black and white children at the center of negotiations among parents, children, and the local, state, and federal government in Virginia. In so doing, it makes a clarion call for the study of Reconstruction as a pivotal period in American history.

Mary Niall Mitchell, University of New Orleans, author of Raising Freedom's Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery

Intimate Reconstructions achieves a welcome balance between treating youths as vocal and forceful historical agents and understanding their symbolic potential to promote competing visions of the postbellum South.

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

In this well-researched and engaging book, Catherine Jones provides a richly textured account of children's experiences in Reconstruction-era Virginia, as well as the multiple ways that adults mobilized ideas about children to justify divergent political projects.

Virginia Magazine

Catherine A. Jones’s Intimate Reconstructions, which is about the treatment of children in the former slave society of Virginia after the Civil War, is among the freshest and most exciting. It is one that no scholar of the era should miss.

Mark Wahlgren Summers, University of Kentucky · The Historian

About the Author(s): 

Catherine A. Jones is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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