The recipient of the Grace Abbott Book Award for the best book published in the history of children and youth in 2014 is Ellen Boucher’s, Empire’s Children: Child Emigration, Welfare, and the Decline of the British World, 1869–1967 (Cambridge, 2014).
The committee was deeply impressed by Prof. Boucher’s study of how deep cultural understandings of preserving a “greater Britain” were at the center of the emigration of poor children from England to settler communities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia and South Africa between the late 1860s and the late 1960s. The idea that a “civilized” people would countenance the removal of children from their immediate families (even with parental consent) goes dramatically against contemporary understandings about child nurture and family well-being. Yet Boucher’s research painstakingly reconstructs why such an initiative was once considered benevolent, enlightened, and progressive. In addition to giving us a close account of how public officials and other self-appointed “child savers” implemented this vision, oral histories with the adults whose formative years were spent on the last frontiers of the British empire add nuance and complexity to our understanding of how children responded to such enterprises, undertaken without their permission and with a benevolence that had mixed within it the more obviously self-interested motives of adults in London and in the dominion lands. Finally, in accounting for why such efforts came to an end, Empire’s Children adds significantly to our understanding of twentieth century nationalisms, the decolonization process and the evolution of social policy across national borders.
The members of the selection committee were Ben Keppel (chair), Kristine Alexander, and Luke Springman. Prof. Boucher will receive $500 and a plaque.