a1 Yale University
In 1877, a Congregational pastor started a modest effort to send New York City tenement children on two-week summer vacations in country homes. The pastor's Fresh Air Fund grew, in the following decades, into a hugely popular program and a celebrated cause. The charity thrived in part because its simple project adapted well to several different reform environments. The fund made a place for itself in the evangelical child-saving efforts of the Gilded Age, the civic-minded reforms of the Progressive Era, and the more individualistic pursuits of the 1920s. In each era, fund leaders cast country vacations as simple means to address middle-class New Yorkers' fears about their changing city, from the influx of immigrants to the spread of disease to rising class tensions.
Tracking the Fresh Air Fund over fifty years reveals the sea changes in child-welfare work between 1877 and 1927, but it also calls attention to continuities often overlooked in the history of child welfare. Throughout the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, the fund tapped supporters' constant and deep-seated beliefs in children's potential, the restorative power of the outdoors, and a child's right to play.
Julia Guarneri is a PhD candidate in the history department at Yale University. She is at work on a dissertation, “Making Metropolitans: Newspapers and Urban Life in America, 1880–1930.”
1 I thank JGAPE's two anonymous reviewers for their thorough and helpful comments. I am also grateful to Julia Irwin; Alison Greene; Barry Muchnick; my advisor, Glenda Gilmore; and my father, Carl Guarneri, for their assistance and feedback.