University of Pittsburgh
January 17, 2013

Scholars and Community Members to Gather Jan. 18 at Pitt to Discuss Modern-Day Impact of Pittsburgh’s 130-Year-Old Orphanages

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—Scholars will join a broad cross-section of the Pittsburgh community on Friday to discuss the modern consequences of local orphanages founded more than 130 years ago. The symposium will celebrate a new book by Jessie B. Ramey, an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow in the University of Pittsburgh’s Women’s Studies Program and Department of History, that examines orphanages and working families in crisis here in Pittsburgh at the turn of the last century. The program will run from 4 to 6 p.m. Jan. 18 in the Provost’s Suite, 2500 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, 230 S. Bouquet St., Oakland.

For Child Care in Black and White: Working Parents and the History of Orphanages (University of Illinois Press, 2012), Ramey conducted an innovative study comparing the all-white United Presbyterian Orphan’s Home (now MHY Family Services) and the all-black Home for Colored Children (now Three Rivers Youth), both of which were located in Allegheny City, the former North Side. Ramey’s research drew on a quantitative analysis of records covering the years 1878 to 1929 of more than 1,500 children living at the two orphanages. Her work explored how parents dealt with child care crises, but also revealed the race, class, and gender assumptions built into these institutions that have had long-term consequences on modern child welfare.

Critics have called Child Care in Black and White a “major contribution” and an “important book” that raises new questions about the role of child care in constructing and perpetrating social inequality in the United States. The book has won the Lerner-Scott Prize in women’s history from the Organization of American Historians; the Herbert G. Gutman Prize from the Labor and Working-Class History Association; and the John Heinz Award from the National Academy of Social Insurance.

Speaking at the Jan. 18 presentation will be Kriste Lindenmeyer, dean of arts and sciences at Rutgers University; Lisa Brush, Pitt professor of sociology; and Marah Guber, Pitt professor of English. The audience is expected to include representatives of the local foundation community, social service agencies, churches associated with the founding of the orphanages, and policy makers.

Ramey’s current research focuses on working families, U.S. social policy, and public education. She writes the education policy blog Yinzercation, which also serves as the online home for a large grassroots public education movement in Southwest Pennsylvania, and her commentary is regularly published in the national media. Last year Ramey was twice recognized by the White House with invitations to meet with President Obama’s senior policy advisors.