The Boys and Girls Republic of Farmington Hills, Michigan, came to life as the Boys Republic during the Progressive Era, when the combined stresses of urbanization, immigration, and poverty left an unprecedented number of children on the streets. It was a time marked both by social change and new thinking about the welfare of children, especially the neglected, delinquent, or abused. Here Gay Zieger tells the story of the remarkable humanitarians and reformers in the Detroit area who offered such children shelter, food, and comfort. Their efforts ultimately evolved into one of the most dramatic illustrations of a “junior republic”—an innovation directed not at enforcing discipline from above but rather at cultivating character among children through example and self-government.
We meet, for instance, the colorful first superintendent, Homer T. Lane, who believed in the innate goodness of children and established a self-governing system that allowed the boys in his care to exercise some power over their lives. While Lane dealt with issues concerning personal hygiene and honesty—and the book includes humorous accounts of how the boys arrived at “laws” addressing these matters—later issues included aggressive behavior, alienation, and drugs. Telling a story that spans the twentieth century, the author traces the social currents that gave rise to these problems, as well as the changing philosophies and psychological approaches aimed at resolving them. Her book pays tribute to the Republic, a residential treatment center for both boys and girls since 1994, by sharing the stories of individuals determined to help children discover their potential to succeed.