Carceral Girlhoods: The House of the Good Shepherd and “The Problem” of the Girl in New Orleans
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Carceral Girlhoods: The House of the Good Shepherd and “The Problem” of the Girl in New Orleans


Carceral Girlhoods: The House of the Good Shepherd and “The Problem” of the Girl in New Orleans examines the foundations of the juvenile justice system in New Orleans to argue that histories of criminalization and incarceration are integral to the contemporary construction of U.S. girlhood. Specifically, this work considers New Orleans’s first reformatory—the Catholic House of the Good Shepherd (1873-1956)—for “sexually delinquent” girls as an early model of the contemporary juvenile justice system. Bringing together six years of qualitative and archival research in Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, and California, Carceral Girlhoods analyzes the legacies of the House of the Good Shepherd to understand how girlhood is historically created, legally regulated, symbolically reproduced, and extensively distributed. Carceral Girlhoods is an interdisciplinary examination of New Orleanian girlhood. In it, I unpack work by historians, sociologists, psychologists, political theorists, and criminologists who identify the emergence of a modern legal girl subject in the latter half of the long nineteenth century with what was often called “the girl problem,” or the national moral panic over girls’ emergence in the public sphere. More specifically, my dissertation focuses on the Southern girl problem—influenced by Progressive Era reforms to thwart legal prostitution, the implementation of child welfare policies, and white supremacist ideologies enshrined in law—as a response to anti-racist activism, women’s suffragists, industrialization and urbanization, and labor organizing around this time. Tracing the relationship between the Southern girl problem and the foundations of Louisiana’s juvenile justice system, Carceral Girlhoods offers the first and only detailed case study of the House of the Good Shepherd to argue that the criminalization and incarceration of girls leads to the establishment of the juvenile justice system and the contemporary problem of mass incarceration. By also examining performances of resistance and refusal under the threat of criminalization and incarceration, this work interrogates the very category of girl itself by challenging what I see as the carcerality of U.S. girlhood. By “carcerality,” I gesture to the juvenile justice system that literally incarcerates girls as well as to the expectations of the legal and social constraints of U.S. girlhood that figuratively entrap and limit their lives.

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