Farrell, Betty G. 1949-
Farrell, Betty G. 1949-
PERSONAL: Born 1949.
ADDRESSES: Office— Pitzer College, 1050 N. Mills Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.
CAREER: Writer, sociologist, and educator. Pitzer College, Claremont, CA, professor of sociology.
Elite Families: Class and Power in Nineteenth-Century Boston, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1993.
Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture, Westview Press (Boulder, CO), 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: Betty G. Farrell is a sociologist and professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. Her works address issues related to family life, both modern and historical. Elite Families: Class and Power in Nineteenth-Century Boston looks at changes and adaptations in the Boston Brahmin families as corporations slowly took over for family proprietorships in the nineteenth century. Farrell analyzes “family strategies, class consolidation, and economic change” that challenges the notion that the rise of corporate control and decline of family management of businesses effectively removed the Boston elite from power, noted Frederic Cople Jaher in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History. Farrell carefully considers the structure and behavior of upper-class Boston families; the intricate family networks created among the elite families of the city; and the role of women in these networks and structures, which Jaher called a “signal contribution to Brahmin studies and an important addition to the field of family history and women’s history.”
Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture is a “well-informed, smoothly written synthesis of recent work about the history and sociology of American families, one that acknowledges the behavioral as well as symbolic dimensions of families,” commented reviewer John R. Gillis in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History. Farrell “reviews research by sociologists and historians to address current tensions in popular and academic debates on the changing American family,” noted Social Forces reviewer R. Kelly Raley. In the book’s opening chapter, Farrell outlines the academic study of families and describes a number of significant public concerns about the changing nature of the family, including issues such as single-parent families, the stresses of work on families, divorce and its impact on families, the continued erosion of the traditional nuclear family, and child safety and standards of living. Farrell looks at four dimensions of family—childhood, adolescent sexuality, marriage, and aging—and how they developed and shifted from Colonial American times to the present day. She notes that the idealized vision of family often varies from the reality, with profound ambivalence and contradiction present in all four family dimensions. The symbolic importance of family is at an all-time high, Farrell notes, but she also reports that families and family members often do not, and cannot, live up to the ideal, causing conflict and stress. She considers carefully whether government involvement is necessary to preserve the concept, if not the reality, of families. “At it’s base,” Farrell’s book “is an argument about whether families are necessary and whether state involvement does more harm than good,” Raley observed. Gillis concluded that Farrell’s work is a “concise, balanced, and readable treatment of a subject that, because of its cultural significance, can never be free of controversy.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, summer, 1995, Frederic Cople Jaher, review of Elite Families: Class and Power in Nineteenth-Century Boston, p. 141; summer, 2000, John R. Gillis, review of Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture, p. 123.
Social Forces, September 2000, R. Kelly Raley, review of Family, p. 353.
Perseus Books Group Web site, http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com/ (November 25, 2006), biography of Betty G. Farrell.*