Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Rise of Peer Culture

Popular among his peers David Shields Forgey belonged to the Pan-hellenic Council, Sigma Alpha-Epsilon ,  The Eddies, Mcallie Club, Tennessee Club

Searching for the descendants of James Forgey I found yearbooks from the early 20th century with entries for two of his descendants. Looking through these brought to mind my study of the rise of peer culture during this era. I think that subject is fascinating. The move from the Victorian era to the modern era can be seen when you look at early twentieth century yearbooks.
Victorian society was very strict and rigid. The parents of Louise Taylor Forgey and David Forgey were brought up in a different world. A place where children were expected to remain silent and assist the family on the farm when needed. Extreme modesty in dress was stressed for women. These rigid standards caused the next generation to seek liberation.
The middle classes, like David and Louise's family, and upper classes were the first to embrace the new modern ethos of this peer culture society. The parents of David and Louise may have embraced or at least were aware of the new child rearing techniques being advocated in books. Children at this time became centers of attention for families, whereas, before daily tasks for survival were the focus of family energy. Families were freed from time consuming daily tasks by new labor saving devices. Now the nurturing, emotional and intellectual growth of children could become the focus of families. Child development became a popular field of study, opposing theories were debated in the press. It was felt by some that mothers were becoming too indulgent and permissive. Although some of the new theorists felt rigid structure stifled the creative development of children. The progressive educational movement popular when David and Louise were children also stressed encouragement of creativity in children as opposed to rote learning.
These products of the new child rearing techniques were given freedom from responsibility for a much longer time than earlier generations. Middle class teenagers did not have to help provide for the family anymore. A growing number of high schools and colleges in the early 20th century allowed them to continue their education, and as a result they spent more time with peers than family. 
Louise Forgey and brother David were club joiners. Louise is
pictured  here as a member of the Kodak Club.
The more lax upbringing of these children is reflected in the later behavior of these individuals. Previous dress codes became more and more lax along with moral standards. Teenagers and young adults wanting to assert their independence tried to set themselves apart from their parents generation by adopting fads and new dress styles. A culture of  conformity also sprang up. To be considered a part of the peer group you had to fit in and conform to their culture. Fitting in meant joining clubs in school. Athletics became a way to achieve status on campus.
Peer culture sometimes led to irresponsible behavior. As a counter to this YMCA and YWCA clubs were formed.
The peer culture of teenagers and young adults did help prepare them for the modern business world where networking became important to success. (It's nice too be able to put my research into a famiy perspective.) 

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