Education: Ursinus College, B.A.; Temple University, M.A., Ph.D., 2000.
Office—Hiram College, P.O. Box 67, Hiram, OH 44234. E-mail—[email protected]
Hiram College, Hiram, OH, associate professor of history.
Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn: Visions of Youth in Middle-Class America, 1780-1850, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2005.
Rodney Hessinger earned his B.A. at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia, before becoming an associate professor of history at Hiram College in Ohio. His first book, Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn: Visions of Youth in Middle-Class America, 1780-1850, is based on his doctoral dissertation. Hessinger's central theme is how the economic and social opportunities available to young men in post-Revolutionary America created a parental backlash that resulted in a new set of prejudices, assumptions, and fears broadcast across the general population and, in the end, creating a rigidly moralistic American middle class.
Parental fears focused on the moral weakness of young men away from home for the first time. There was a general anxiety that the excesses of youth combined with the new freedom of mobility and independence that the young democracy offered would lead young men into moral decrepitude, tempting them to gamble, drink, and engage with prostitutes. Hessinger centers his study on Philadelphia and the methods employed by church elders, teachers, missionaries, and other reformers to persuade young people to stick to the moral teachings of their parents. One attempt to combat these assumed proclivities was in the use of literature, stories used to warn youth of the dangers of giving in to temptation. This led to the odd predicament of young men being warned against dangers by presenting them with the temptations that might lead them into those very dangers and possibly putting ideas into their heads. Another tactic was the creation of Sunday schools, giving young people a church-related moral activity to keep them out of harm's way. Anxieties about loose morals were not confined to men. Literature aimed at women warned them against the falseness of men and the dangers of trusting a would-be seducer. The literature about seducers and the fate of fallen women had an interesting fallout. Believing their own stories, reformers who tried to help prostitutes failed to acknowledge or understand the real reasons leading women into prostitution; this caused more misunderstanding regarding poverty, as well as a new prejudice about the morals of the poor.
In his critique for H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, Joshua Rothman summarized the book's theme: "Hessinger builds a convincing case that many of the central values trumpeted by the antebellum American bourgeoisie—piety, chastity, self-discipline, moral conscientiousness, and meritocratic success—were born in significant measure out of their repeated and sustained efforts to contain the overly exuberant independence of their children as they stood on the cusp of adulthood." Bret Carroll, reviewing the book for Church History, wrote that Hessinger explains the "accentuating … tensions that characterized relations between youth and the apprehensive elders who tried to contain youthful impulses." Although some critics felt that Hessinger's scope was too narrow, many praised Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn for its contribution to the study of American history. In the American Historical Review, for example, Lisa Wilson commented that the book is the "subtle and complex story of the cultural landscape of the early republic. … The book's argument is persuasive and the material presented fresh and thoughtfully explicated." She further expressed her enjoyment of Hessinger's clarity and style: "This is a book well worth reading because of its wonderful stories and fresh insights…. [Hessinger] takes on complex and overlapping institutions and stories without hesitation, untangling patterns of change."
Other praise included comments by Journal of American History reviewer Steven Mintz: Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn "sparkles with fascinating insights" and "makes a significant contribution to our understanding of antebellum reform, the history of youth, and the cultural and intellectual history of the early republic." Carroll remarked that the work "constitutes an important new cultural history of early national America," and History: Review of New Books contributor Crista Deluzio concluded that the author "puts the pieces together in a fresh way and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the cultural and social history of the early republic."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, October 1, 2006, Lisa Wilson, review of Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn: Visions of Youth in Middle-Class America, 1780-1850, p. 1168.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, May 1, 2006, S. Condon, review of Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn, p. 1661.
Church History, December 1, 2006, Bret Carroll, review of Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn, p. 932.
History: Review of New Books, September 22, 2005, Crista Deluzio, review of Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn, p. 10.
Journal of American History, June 1, 2006, Steven Mintz, review of Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn, p. 209.
Journal of the Early Republic, June 22, 2006, Anya Jabour, review of Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn, p. 331.
Reviews in American History, June 1, 2006, "Marketing Middle-Class Morality," p. 162.
Hiram College Web site,http://www.hiram.edu/ (May 22, 2008), author profile.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online,http://www.h-net.org/ (August, 2006), Joshua Rothman, review of Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn.
Temple University Web site,http://www.temple.edu/ (May 22, 2008), short author biography.
University of Pennsylvania Press Web site,http://www.upenn.edu/penpress/ (May 22, 2008) summary of Seduced, Abandoned, and Reborn.