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The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, by Linda Gordon.

March 19, 2012


The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, by Linda Gordon. Harvard University Press (2001), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 432 pages.

A historical account of the conflict that occurred when a group of Irish children from a New York orphanage arrived in an Arizona mining town and were put up for adoption.

Linda Gordon, a distinguished women’s historian, believes that historians should be true to their calling as cultural storytellers. But she is not about to give up all the analytical tools that social historians, black historians, and women’s historians have developed over the past thirty years for exploring the lives of those who did not leave us abundant written records about their own lives. In this book, Gordon interweaves her narrative with chapters which explicitly analyze the groups who play roles in it.

The story Gordon tells is full of drama and conflict, simply an enjoyable read. Urban reformers and officials of the Roman Catholic Church arrange to sent a group of Irish orphans to a cluster of mining towns near Clifton, Arizona. When they arrive, conflicts break out over whether they are to be placed in the homes of Mexicans or Anglos. Various chapters introduce readers to various groups in the story. We learn about the mining town itself, the Irish orphans, the reformers and church leaders who sent them west, and the Anglo and Mexican families who want to adapt them. Most of all we learn about Mexican and Anglo women and how they behave as mothers.

Race is central to Gordon’s story, but not in simplistic black and white terms or in abstractions of social construction. Here we see racial attitudes in the process of being defined and affecting the lives of various people. It is social history at its best.

Other books provide a more complete depiction of Mexican American’s women in the US. This one, however, is an accessible account of the issues they faced when they came to this country.

Related books:
From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America by Vicki L. Ruiz. Oxford University Press, USA (2008).
An overview of the subject.

Women of the Depression: Caste and Culture in San Antonio, 1929-1939, by Dr. Julia Kirk Blackwelder. Texas A&M Press, 1998.
A comparison of Hispanic, African American, and Anglo women; their families, jobs, and how they coped.

Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Woman’s History, by Vicki L. and Ellen Carol Dubois Ruiz. Routledge (1994). Other editions available.
Excellent anthology of historical articles about women from a variety of ethnicities. Highly readable.

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