“Tears Are a Sign of Sensitivity:” Emotions and the Moral Education of Children in Mexico City and Mérida

By Carlos Zúñiga Nieto

Educators in France set the example for other pedagogues across the Atlantic. In Republican France, pedagogues promoted the emotional value of childhood, but also advised parents to decrease physical coercion and pay more attention to mental development. They delineated distinctions between the duties of the child and those of the adult. A young generation of educators in the 1870s repudiated the violence of the Jacobins; they agreed that moral education would unify the nation and create a secular France.[1] Pedagogues such as Émile Littré and Auguste Comte, along with Jules Ferry, Ferdinand Buisson, and Félix Pécaut drew on the burgeoning influence of moral education and participated in debates over teaching secular morality in schools. As Marcelo Caruso and Susan Miller have shown, education in the formation of emotions of youth played a fundamental role in formal education, but also in youth organizations.[2]

French educators influenced their Mexican counterparts, who adopted similar the tenets of moral education. Ildefonso Estrada Zenea and Rodolfo Menéndez, educators in Yucatán, sought to implement order and peace using Auguste Comte’s principles of moral education. Estrada Zenea did not seek to sever religion from education; rather, he drew upon religious metaphors and storytelling to develop the intelligence of children using riddles, stories, and anecdotes.[3] Estrada Zenea and Menéndez cultivated positivist notions of child rearing that were first published in Mérida and became pioneers of the children’s press in Latin America. Newspapers and child rearing manuals in Yucatán, such as El Periquito, El Diario de la Infancia, El Mensajero de la Infancia, and La Escuela Primaria prescribed new notions of childrearing, such as the application of strict discipline and the moderation of emotions, the main tenets of the philosophy of moral education. Educators in Yucatán emphasized the social values of honesty, manual work, and the ability to keep one’s word, as well as the external display of honor and public acknowledgement of these virtues. The riddles and stories published in every Sunday section of El Periquito revealed elite disdain for gossip and hearsay. El Periquito, published in Mérida between April and September 1869, was the first newspaper for children in Mexico.[4]

The Sunday section focused on a different letter of the alphabet each week and presented a word that began with that letter and related it to a moral those young readers or their parents were expected to learn. A riddle published on April 11, 1869 reflects how riddles could teach children about the need to practice caution and to refrain from spreading rumors. In an ironic metaphor, the author warned of the danger and power of the spoken word by comparing the sharpness of the tongue with the blade of a sword: “When honor fades away, it twists like a sword; it destroys.”[5]

Carlos image

As shown in the above figure, in its July 11, 1869 edition, El Periquito noted that tears were a sign of sensitivity.[6] Other newspapers highlighted individual reputation and its defense from the threats of gossip and hearsay, which had to be recognized and acknowledged at an early age. The tale of the travails of a humble carpenter underscored how passion for hard work, and the display of a person’s honor, could bring public recognition and economic success. El Mensajero de la Infancia detailed the story of José Pereira, a carpenter in Mérida, who struggled to sell a dresser. One day, an old woman took interest in the furniture. The next day, José found money in the dresser and started a campaign to return the money to the woman. The carpenter contacted the editorial team of El Siglo XIX, a newspaper established by Francisco Zarco, to publish a story about the lost money in the gacetilla section of the daily newspaper. The carpenter waited several days until journalists had informed him that the unnamed woman had claimed her money. The story emphasized the honor of the carpenter who had refused to keep the woman’s money, his honesty and good deeds. Moreover, the newspaper’s acknowledgment of the carpenter’s honor suggests the importance of maintaining an honorable individual reputation. This recognition by the newspaper not only resulted in public esteem, but also in his economic success. Every reader was aware of his good actions, and all wanted to buy furniture made by his “respectable hands.” His honesty brought recognition and the opening of workshops in the city.[7]

Literary scholars have noted that during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, England produced literary sentimentalizations of childhood. A similar cultural phenomenon took place in Mexico during the late nineteenth century. Teachers and youth advocates incorporated the sentiment of honor as a source of virtue in their projects of child socialization during the 1870s; however, these romantic representations changed as criminologists, doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, and reporters highlighted the violent emotions of children beginning in the late 1880s.

[1] Philip G. Nord, The Republican Moment: Struggles for Democracy in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995)

[2] On the emotional effects of education in Colombia and the United States, see Marcelo Caruso, “Emotional Regimes and School Policy in Colombia, 1800-1835” and Susan A. Miller, “Feeling Like a Citizen: The American Legion’s Boys State Programme and the Promise of Americanism” in Stephanie Olsen ed., Childhood, Youth, and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

[3] El Periquito, July 25, 1869, no. 17, 68.

[4] Newspapers such El Ángel de la Guarda, la Edad Feliz, and La Enseñanza: Revista Americana de Instrucción and Recreo Dedicada a la Juventud were published in Mexico City in 1870. For an overview of republican newspapers, see Beatriz Alcubierre Moya, Ciudadanos del futuro: Una historia de las publicaciones para niños en el siglo XIX mexicano (Mexico City: El Colegio de México: 2006).

[5] El Periquito, April 11, 1869, no.2, 8.

[6] El Periquito, April July 11, 1869, 1.

[7] “La Honradez,” El Mensajero de la Infancia, December 28, 1879, 3


Teaching, Learning, and Adapting Emotions in Uganda’s Child Leprosy Settlement, c.1930-62

Kathleen Vongsathorn introduces us to Chapter 4 of Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives.

By Kathleen Vongsathorn

The Kumi Children’s Leper Home was founded by the Anglican Church Missionary Society in 1930, for purpose of saving children from leprosy and transforming them into healthy, Christian citizens of the British Empire. Leprosy was a popular imperial philanthropic cause, and child leprosy sufferers were particularly prominent within this cause, in part because doctors believed children must be at the foundation of any successful effort to eradicate leprosy, but primarily because child leprosy patients presented a special opportunity. As children and as victims of leprosy, child leprosy sufferers were considered to be doubly vulnerable, and thus their potential salvation was an especially attractive prospect for philanthropists. Missionaries hoped to save these children from leprosy before the disease permanently disfigured them, but equally as important, in separating children from their supposedly dangerous and ‘primitive’ parents at a time in their lives when they were perceived as especially malleable, missionaries hoped to save child leprosy patients from backwardness, and to mould them into Christian citizens of the British Empire.

'Leper boys and girls, Kumi', Mission Hospital, 37.420 (1933 January), 7.

‘Leper boys and girls, Kumi’, Mission Hospital, 37.420 (1933 January), 7.

Missionaries perceived emotion as a means and an end in the physical and mental improvement of their child leprosy patients. They expected that life at the Kumi Children’s Leper Home would engender certain emotions in their child leprosy patients. Happiness, for example, was both an aim and an expectation, essential to healing children of their leprosy and to the experience of a real childhood, which the home purported to provide. Other emotions, like loyalty, courage, and nationalism, were expected to develop in conjunction with specific character traits that the missionaries encouraged in order to create healthy citizens of the British Empire. Missionaries employed a wide range of tactics in an attempt to create these emotions, from recreational activities meant to instil happiness, to drill exercises intended to promote British imperial pride, to a strict daily timetable meant to encourage respect and loyalty. These tactics were varying in their success, and Kumi’s child patients responded to the missionaries’ emotional agendas in a variety of ways, sometimes embracing or rejecting certain aspects, or other times performing emotions of happiness, enthusiasm, service, and obedience in order to win the missionaries’ favour and thus an opportunity for further education and economic advancement.

Taking missionaries at their word, all of the children at Kumi were truly happy, but looking beyond mission publications, it is evident that children at the settlement experienced both happiness and unhappiness.  Some children undoubtedly were happy at Kumi, with all the recreational, educational, and religious opportunities available.  When told that they were ready to be released symptom-free, some children wept and asked if they could return to the settlement if they were unhappy at home.  Equally, however, there were causes for unhappiness.

'Symptom-free children leaving Kumi Children's Leper Home and returning to their parents', Mission Hospital, 38.439 (August 1934), 184.

‘Symptom-free children leaving Kumi Children’s Leper Home and returning to their parents’, Mission Hospital, 38.439 (August 1934), 184.

Chief among the causes of unhappiness was separation from family, as exemplified by one child, when asked on his deathbed what he would like most, answering, ‘Sister I want to go home, just go home and see my people’.[i] In these instances, love was an emotion missionaries discouraged. If children were dying, missionaries did write to their relatives with an invitation to visit, but in general they did their best to displace relationships between children and their families, and lamented the necessity to allow children to go home to visit their parents. Some other causes of unhappiness were a dislike of school and the enforced routine that the children had to live under, disliking the painful injections they received as medical treatment, and forcing girls to eat eggs, which were culturally taboo for women. The latter is another example of the kind of emotion missionaries were trying to redirect: they hoped to transform respect for ‘native customs’ into respect for Christianity and British authority. They were not necessarily successful in this endeavour, however, as children acted out their unhappiness in a variety of ways, whether through ‘bad behaviour’ such as lying, stealing, or evading class, or through running away from the settlement, which about one in fifty children did annually.

[i] Leprosy Mission, 119/5, Gertrude Hopkins, ‘Leper work at Kumi and Ongino’, 1945.

Disciplining Young People’s Emotions in the Soviet Occupation Zone and Early German Democratic Republic

Juliane Brauer introduces us to some of the themes in Chapter 10 of Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives.

By Juliane Brauer

In the post-Second World War Soviet Occupation Zone the communists saw young people as bearers of hope and conceived them as ‘tomorrow’s heads of house’. That fed into political campaigns, attempting to control and regulate young people’s emotions and expectations. Because of this assumed connection between singing and reaching young people’s inner core, there was a widespread conviction that group singing in particular had the power to bind communities closer together. It was thus claimed that it should be used to shape collective identities and to communicate political messages, as well as to propagate a single emotional style. The chapter explains that the emotional dispositions targeted and propagated in emotional education included feelings of happiness, cheerfulness (ideally leading to commitment), activity, vigour, and ‘combative’ patriotism. Moreover, it seeks to show that education of the emotions was motivated by the presumed link between the young generation and the future of the socialist state.

Focusing on collective singing and newly composed songs shows that the education of young people aimed to foster young people’s hopes and wishes by orienting them towards visions of a socialist future. For the sake of the socialists’ utopian project, functionaries had to win over not only the minds, but also the hearts of young people. Communist expectations that young people would serve as bearers of hope fed into political campaigns directly addressed to them, attempting to control and regulate young people’s emotions, expectations, and notions of the future. Political programmes based on young people’s sponge-like capacity to receive education were a major feature of communist social systems. In the post-Second World War Soviet Occupation Zone, the education of young people aimed to summon them to action by promising them joy and jolliness, while at the same time turning the practice of these emotions into a duty.


Looking at the longer history of the GDR, however, shows that educating hearts and minds could also fail, precisely because of those optimistic visions, from which the youth chose to distance themselves. As Peter Stearns concluded, communist youth leaders were of the conviction that ‘children had to be remade’ and that ‘communism as an ideology was deeply imbued with the belief that children were born good, innocent, and improvable’. The socialist authorities made all their political decisions on education on the basis of this principle. At the centre of these decisions was thus the young person, conceived as a malleable object.

Why We Need a New Approach: Emotions and the Global Politics of Childhood

This post continues Karen Vallgårda‘s post on Chapter 2 in Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives. It argues that we need a new history-of-emotions toolbox to deal with central questions in the history of childhood and youth.

By Stephanie Olsen

Several of the chapters in Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives focus at least in part on children’s own emotional experiences, while others explore the emotional valance of children and their symbolic value. Other contributions explore adults’ efforts to cultivate or control children’s emotions, and the effects these had on children. Several chapters deal with the relationship between children and parents, or children and other authority figures. As the book’s contributors show, across time periods and in different geographical settings, young people have had to learn to navigate diverse emotional spaces and collectives. Children have learnt that the emotional standards in school or in the orphanage differed from those in the playground or that the types of emotional interaction in the factory were dissimilar to those at home. It is up to historians to lend specificity to, and point to the historical contingency of, these important questions of emotional cultivation, but the questions themselves have a global relevance.

Cover Palgrave Olsen

The chapters taken together have global reach. Wit this in mind, Karen Vallgårda, Kristine Alexander and I got together to come up with something we thought was needed within the history of childhood: a new analytical toolbox to open up the question of childhood emotions in a global context. How could we make seemingly ‘closed’ case studies ‘talk’ to one another? How could we deal with the complexities of transnational encounters, both in terms of dissonant concepts of childhood and their attendant emotions, and in terms of the experiences of children in a diversity of contexts? Could we not find a key to bring our research into line, making for viable comparative analysis without flattening out the richness of discrete cases?

These questions have led to the somewhat novel organization of this book. Chapter 2, “Emotions and the Global Politics of Childhood,” is the essential starting point. While each of the remaining chapters can be read individually, they will all be read more deeply through the lens of Chapter 2. We have provided a new theoretical approach for the combined fields of the global history of childhood and the history of emotions, which supplies the analytical key for navigating other chapters, both individually and as they interrelate. As Karen Vallgårda pointed out in her blog post, at the centre of this chapter are the concepts of ‘emotional formation’ and ‘emotional frontiers’, which repurpose existing history-of-emotions tools – the emotional community, emotional regimes, emotives – for the history of childhood. I did not, however, want to impose our constructions on the individual contributors to the book. They have brought their own research and their own sets of questions to the fore, and it only makes sense that the interpretations they make remain theirs. Chapter 2 provides a framework that binds the chapters together to forge a new historiographical direction.

Feeling Like A Child: Narratives of Development and the Hindu Child/Wife

Ishita Pande gives us a sneak peak of Chapter 3 in Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives.

By Ishita Pande

If the critiques of child marriage (in India) relied on ethnological, biomedical, and anatomical facts cited to prove the biomedical and eugenic damage caused to the person and the race by precocious sex, a curious defence of the practice had come to rest on the grounds of emotion. Increasingly, reformers too pointed to the emotional damage caused by precocious conjugality, the most important of which was a loss of childhood itself.

To capture the enormity of this loss, novels such as Ratanbai attempted to track the thwarted desires of a child forced into wifehood. But operating in a context where the wedge between child and wife was yet to be made firm, Ratanbai could only take an abbreviated form, with the years of formation between childhood and wifehood signalled as an absence of narrative in the novel. These ‘blank’ years were gradually detailed in a new genre – sex education for girls and adolescents – in the 1920s and 1930s. The ‘universal’ trajectory of formation articulated in the Bildungsroman, and the ‘natural’ narrative of personal development offered by sexology, were examples of the informal means by which a newly legislated separation of child and wife came to be disseminated. Sexological works formulated a seemingly universal narrative of age-stratified personal development to emphasize the contradiction between childhood and wifehood.

Ishita imageFrom Shevantibai M. Nikambe, Ratanbai: A Sketch of a Bombay High Caste Hindu Young Wife (London: Marshall Brothers, 1895).

A discourse of emotion was crucial to the parsing of the figure of the child/wife in the 1920s. The sexologist A.P. Pillay depicted educated emotions as a taming of childish instincts in a manner that was reformist in its intent, even if it was socially conservative in its promotion of monogamous conjugality. In her more radical critique of the gender/caste structure of Hindu society, Sumati Bai evoked emotion to promote marriages of partnership and to criticize marriages based on the other, more dubious imperatives of caste, money, or family. These distinct evocations of emotion relied on the contrast between the image of the child with uninhibited sexual instinct and the adult trained for conjugality by a proper education of desire. In other words, neither author depicted the course of personal development as one from innocent childhood to knowing adulthood, but as the very opposite – a move from uncontrolled instinct to controlled emotion. ‘Childhood’ in other words, was conceptualized in sexualized terms. Reformers in the 1890s, drawing on biomedical statistics, had amply documented that the child was not physically prepared for marital sex. In the 1920s, sexologists suggested that the child was not emotionally prepared for conjugal love. In doing so, paradoxically, they configured the child in highly sexualized terms.

The figuration of the child/wife thus offers some food for thought to historians of emotions, as well as those of childhood. For historians of emotions, the sexological casting of instinct and emotion points to their mutual imbrication. As the works by Pillay and Sumati Bai demonstrate, while the distinction between the sex instinct and conjugal love was rhetorically invaluable, it was frail: both authors spilt considerable ink placing sexual desire at the heart of happy conjugality and in educating their readers on conjugal love while insisting on its pre-discursive essence. Both also acknowledged the corporeality of emotion while insisting on its transcendence of the body. In contrasting natural instinct with reasoned emotion (instead of highlighting a duality of emotion and reason), these works stopped short of naturalizing conjugal love, even as they insisted on a stadial theory of human development. For historians of childhood, the figuration of the child/wife points to the epistemic co-constitution of sexual norms and ideas of childhood, and suggests that a discourse on ‘childhood innocence’ was constituted under the shadow of its other – the spectre of the sexualized child.

Anti-vaccination and the Politics of Grief for Children in Late-Victorian England

Lydia Murdoch gives us a sneak peak of Chapter 13 in Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives.

By Lydia Murdoch

During the last decades of the nineteenth century, anti-vaccinationist protesters integrated familiar communal mourning rituals into their political demonstrations in order to oppose what they interpreted as unjust class-based laws and to affirm their rights as English citizens, and their children’s rights as putative citizens. Political demonstrations in the form of funeral processions, black bannered handbills, and even post-mortem photographs of children directly brought modes of mourning into the public political realm, allowing working-class women, men, and children a voice in shaping national debates. By openly – and controversially – referencing their grief over children in public protests, the anti-vaccinationists illustrated Susan Matt’s and Peter Stearns’ point that ‘[c]hoosing to express or repress a feeling … can be an explicitly political act’.

Lydia image

One particular procession in August 1884 brought women’s grief for children through the streets of London and into the House of Commons (albeit restricted to the ‘outer hall’). The protesters sought to gain recognition and blame the State for harming children. The strategic use of a funeral procession – including mourning dress and Händel’s ‘Dead March’ – brought attention to the deaths of children that anti-vaccinationists claimed went unrecognized by the government. The use of widely shared visual and musical mourning customs may have raised sympathy for grieving parents. But protesters also hoped the appeal to emotion would highlight what they claimed the government overlooked: the supposedly deadly effects of the Vaccination Acts on individual working-class children.

 The Globe, one of London’s oldest evening papers and a strong critic of the anti-vaccinationists, declared the procession to be an ‘outrage’, a ‘hideous spectacle’ of ‘revolting character’. The newspaper decried the inauthenticity of emotion in what it understood to be a moment of theatricality, rather than what the Sheffield Daily Telegraph had termed ‘street realism’. The Globe’s insistence that mourning for children should remain private and that such public, explicitly political referencing of grief must necessarily be inauthentic, highlighted the newness of the anti-vaccinationists’ tactics. It was particularly the public display of emotion used for political purposes – the bringing of working-class protests and female mourners into the thoroughfares of London’s West End – that riled the newspaper to appeal to the law as a power that might prevent such demonstrations in the future in order to ‘uphold public decency’. Otherwise, The Globe, claimed, ‘West-end streets will soon be utterly unfit for persons of any refinement or feeling to walk or drive through’.

Emotions related to child life and child death served as essential aspects of the late-Victorian anti-vaccination movement, as well as of the broader working-class and women’s rights campaigns associated with it. Anti-vaccinationists drew upon common mourning rituals to gain a political voice for themselves and a political status for children. By publicly and repeatedly integrating funeral processions, mourning dress, and music into their political demonstrations, protestors –including the many women and men who were still denied suffrage – expressed their sense that the Vaccination Acts harmed individual children and that the State should not overlook these lives. That these tactics sparked such intense backlash from the press suggests they marked a notable disruption of the ‘emotional regime’, not only by bringing grief for children into public view for political purposes, but also by politicizing the child in a radical new way. Yet, ultimately, the successful undoing of compulsory vaccination rested not upon scientific arguments, but on the conscientious objection of parents who testified to the sincerity of their beliefs and the sanctity of their children. By the early twentieth century, both the new ideal of happy, unblemished childhood, full of sovereign potential, and public expressions of grieving following child death would become lasting components of political culture.

Settler Childhood, Protestant Christianity and Emotions in Colonial New Zealand, 1880s-1920s

Hugh Morrison provides us with a brief teaser of Chapter 5 in Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives, which came out yesterday with Palgrave.

By Hugh Morrison

This chapter examines the intersection of religion and emotions for Protestant settler children and young people in one British colonial context, through a focused case study of an urban Presbyterian parish in colonial New Zealand. It argues that there is value in thinking about childhood religion in terms of the emotional communities to which children belonged. These communities were characterized by emotionally framed narratives that defined or redefined their lives from childhood well into adulthood. This is still a relatively underexplored dimension of juvenile religion. Christianity was an important influence that shaped many children’s and young people’s lives and identities in British settler societies; albeit mixed with notions of empire, nation and cultural superiority.

Cover Palgrave Olsen

Colonial childhood and religion have been approached traditionally from an institutional angle, with most emphasis on Sunday schools or on the many sites of missionary, religious or state education. Yet there were other domains in which children were religiously formed, enculturated and socialized. Juvenile religious formation occurred in the home, amongst peer networks, and was influenced by a wide array of artefacts (literary and non-literary) through an increasingly pervasive child or youth-centred consumer culture. Therefore childhood religion was as much a matter of experience, emotion or embodiment as it was one of intellectual engagement. While the institutions were important, just as significant were the ways in which religion was communicated, received, perceived or experienced both emotionally and intellectually within and beyond institutional boundaries. One way by which to gain a fuller view of childhood and religion is to consider the intersection of these emotional and institutional perspectives as they played out in the colonial context. While the colonial religious context was not exclusively unique (these patterns also pertain to the British metropole), children were differentiated in colonial settings in terms of race and culture in particular. In New Zealand there was a clear division between ‘indigenous’ and ‘settler’ childhoods by the early twentieth century. Religious children were further differentiated by the Protestant-Roman Catholic divide. Therefore the chapter focuses on settler Protestant children.

It concludes with these observations. This colonial micro historical context provides a window into wider modes of thought and behaviour operative across Anglo-American religious settings, both settler and metropole. In these contexts adults’ memories of religious childhood were often constructed from within a shared theological-emotional discourse. Their juvenile lives were shaped in similarly defined emotional-religious communities. Equally clear, however, is that any further analysis needs to find and take account of what children thought of these communities and how they responded or resisted; through both written and oral testimony. As such an emotional approach helps to redress the imbalance of an institutional emphasis. It also causes us to think more critically both about the local and the global contours of childhood religion. As global Protestant networks expanded from the late nineteenth century, emotional constructions of childhood religious thinking, conventions of behaviour, and actions were activated in local settings but also crossed national boundaries, thus rendering those divisions fluid rather than concrete. Children of different nations were bound together, at least in theory, by these common understandings or experiences. Differences wrought by colonization, however, are a warning that any such constructions of religious emotions were culturally or racially configured; and thus variously imposed, rejected, misconstrued or re-appropriated. An emotional approach appropriately serves to problematize childhood religion, beyond the neat boundaries of such things as denomination, institution, nation or culture; and therefore helps to further liberate both its practice and our understanding.