Descriptive inventory for the Institute for Juvenile Research (Ill.) life histories collection, ca. 1921-1949, bulk 1929-1933 (partially processed collection)

Institute for Juvenile Research (Ill.) life histories collection

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Descriptive inventory for the Institute for Juvenile Research (Ill.) life histories collection, ca. 1921-1949, bulk 1929-1933 (partially processed collection)

Prepared by Gary Stockton, October 1983; rev. by Heather Leslie, 2011
Please address questions to:
Chicago History Museum, Research Center
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614-6038
Instructions for accessing this collection

Collection Overview +/-

Title: Institute for Juvenile Research (Ill.) life histories collection, 1910-1949 (inclusive), 1929-1933 (bulk)
Creator: Institute for Juvenile Research
Dates: 1910-1949 (inclusive), 1929-1933 (bulk)
Accession numbers: M1973.0003
Bib number: 00065876
Call number: MSS Lot I
Size: 7 linear feet (17 boxes)
Language of material:Collection is written in English.

Provenance statement:

Gift of the Institute for Juvenile Research (accession #: M1973.0003, M1975.0060, M1976.0018, M1984.0135).

Terms governing use:

Copyright may be retained by the creators of items or their descendants as stipulated by United States copyright law, unless otherwise noted.


In order to consult the Life Histories collection, researchers must sign the form "Request for Research Access to Confidential Files."

Portions of this collection are unprocessed. This collection has been assessed for access and can be requested except for noted restrictions. Researchers using this collection will need to sign the Access to Unprocessed Collections form.

Please cite this collection as:

Please cite this collection as Institute for Juvenile Research (Ill.) Life Histories collection (Chicago History Museum) plus a detailed description, date, and box/folder number of a specific item.

Additional Materials +/-

Related material:

Related materials at Chicago History Museum, Research Center, include the Chicago Area Project records; the William Simon papers; the Anthony Sorrentino papers; and James Bennett's book: Oral History and Delinquency: The Rhetoric of Criminology (University of Chicago Press, 1981).

Additional material related to Clifford Shaw and the Chicago Area Project can be found in the Ernest W. Burgess papers in the Special Collections of the University of Chicago Library.

Collection Summary +/-

The IJR records include written life histories compiled by the IJR, primarily dated 1929-1933 (although they range from 1921-1940s), and consisting of interviews with teenagers and young adults, most of whom were confined in Illinois detention facilities. The authors of the 133 life histories or autobiographies in this collection were mostly white, first generation American, male Chicagoans who discussed various aspects of their lives, giving particular attention to their childhoods and the development of their criminal careers. At least one author was African American and at least two were women. In addition to juvenile delinquency and crime, topics discussed in the life histories include: prison life, families and ethnicity, youth gangs, and sexual behavior and attitudes. There is some description of Chicago during the 1910s and 1920s.

The life histories were solicited by the IJR, and provide insights into juvenile delinquency and crime because they reveal the thoughts and perspectives of the perpetrators themselves. Some life histories describe a wide range of thoughts and experiences by their authors, while others deal only with selected portions of their lives or simply recount an isolated event. It is evident which subjects were of most interest to Clifford Shaw and his associates in the sociology department of the IJR: the juvenile delinquents' home environments, their criminal careers, and prison life. The escalation of the writers' criminal behavior along with accounts of actual crimes--the most common being theft and armed robbery--figure prominently in the histories. The writers also commonly focus on their relationships with parents and siblings and the reactions of family members to their delinquent actions. The fact that there are six sets of brothers among the writers provides additional insights into the relationship of the home environment and delinquency. Many of the histories contain excellent descriptions of daily life in juvenile institutions and prisons such as the Illinois State Training School for Boys (St. Charles, Ill.), the Illinois State Reform School (Pontiac, Ill.), and the Illinois state penitentiaries at Joliet, Pontiac, and Stateville.

Beyond juvenile delinquency, crime, and prison life, the life histories frequently provide insights into ethnic family life. The ethnic nationalities that the writers most often represented are Italian, Polish, Jewish, Irish, and German. When present, family background information usually indicates that parents were foreign born.

The life histories also explore the role that youth gangs played in these delinquents' lives. The subject is one which appears to have been of much interest to IJR researchers because as delinquents the authors rarely acted alone. Exactly how many gangs are represented in the life histories is uncertain, but many of the writers knew each other as fellow gang members.

Another frequent topic in the life histories is sexual behavior and attitudes. The prevalence of this topic may be a result of both the IJR researchers and the authors themselves placing importance on it, for space is devoted not only to boasts of teenage sexual exploits, but also to more detailed accounts of the development of sexual awareness and early sexual experiences. Related to this are the writers' attitudes and opinions of girls and women, which are frequently expressed. In addition, a few of the histories include opinions and/or accounts of homosexual behavior.

The life histories contain some references to the authors' neighborhoods, and the authors commonly mention where they lived and when and why their families moved. Occasionally this involves descriptions of the various residences. Because of the frequent references to home addresses and street corners it is possible to establish the general areas of the city from which the authors came. The great majority were from the west and south sides of Chicago. The near north side is also mentioned often, but more as an area of activities than as a place of residence.

Unfortunately many of the life histories, regardless of their size and quality of content, possess little supporting documentation to specify three significant facts: when and where they were written and the age of the author at the time of writing. Often all or part of this information is contained in the text and can be deduced from a careful reading, however. Of those histories for which a date is given or can be ascertained, most appear to have been written between 1929 and 1933, with a few both before and after this period--perhaps as early as the late 1910s and as late as the 1940s. Although the ages of the writers are rarely stated directly, this can sometimes be determined when the date of writing and the authors' birth dates are available.

Approximately 40 histories contain a personal data or fact sheet that includes information on the authors and their families such as: race, nationality, religion, dates of births, occupations, educational levels, dates of arrival in the United States and/or Chicago, and any criminal records. Also listed are the delinquents' arrest, school, and work records; along with gangs, clubs, or other peer groups to which they may have belonged.

The life histories are arranged alphabetically by the authors' surnames with twenty-three unattributed histories as the end of the collection. They vary in size, ranging from a page or two, to several hundred pages, although the majority are under 100 pages in length. Many of the shorter ones are surviving fragments of lost or destroyed histories. Nearly all the life histories are typed although a few also include handwritten original copies and some contain one or more typed drafts.

Biographical/Historical Note +/-

The Institute for Juvenile Research (IJR) was established in 1909 as the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute and renamed as the Institute for Juvenile Research in 1917. It ran the first child guidance clinic and the second organized psychology training program in the nation. It also was one of the first sites for training child psychiatrists. Over the years the IJR combined private and government funding in financing its work and various projects. In 1990, the IJR became affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In 1926 Clifford R. Shaw, a former Chicago parole officer (1921-1923) and probation officer of the Cook County Juvenile Court (1924-1926), became head of the IJR's Department of Sociology. In this capacity he studied, treated, and supervised problem children and parolees, and oversaw delinquency and crime research.

Clifford Shaw personally began collecting life histories probably as early as 1921, and the collecting continued with the IJR at least into the early 1940s. The period of heaviest activity was 1929 to 1933. It is uncertain when the IJR ceased to collect the life histories of juvenile delinquents. A number of life histories probably were lost during various moves the IJR sociology department made during the 1960s.

In 1932 Shaw organized the Chicago Area Project, an experimental program in three low income areas of the city designed to involve residents in the effort to curb juvenile delinquency in their communities. The emphasis was on local residents working together in their own neighborhoods rather than outside professionals. The Chicago Area Project, of which Shaw became the administrative director in 1933, was eventually incorporated as a private nonprofit corporation with its own board of directors in 1934.

One of Shaw's colleagues at the IJR (as well as at the Chicago Area Project) was Henry D. McKay. McKay held the position of supervising sociologist and research sociologist at the IJR intermittently from 1927 to 1972. His activities centered mainly upon experimentation and research. In his early years he was involved in research on delinquency, community characteristics, and criminal career development. Later he focused on group-oriented social action programs in relation to delinquency. McKay taught at several Chicago area universities and colleges over the years and was head of the Division of Urban Studies at the IJR before his retirement in 1972.

Shaw and McKay published numerous books and articles, both separately and in collaboration that reflected their work on juvenile delinquency. These include: The Jack Roller (1930), The Natural History of a Delinquent Career (1931), and "Housing and Delinquency" (1932) by Shaw; Delinquency Areas (1929), Social Factors in Juvenile Delinquency (1931), Brothers in Crime (1938), and Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas (1942, revised 1969) by Shaw and McKay; and Nationality and Delinquency by McKay (with Solomon Kobrin).

Another of Shaw's colleagues was Anthony M. Sorrentino, who served on the staffs of the IJR and the Chicago Area Project from 1934 to 1945, developing prevention and treatment programs for Chicago's near west side. He carried out supervisory responsibilities in the Department of Sociological Services of the IJR from 1946 to 1957, also serving as Shaw's administrative assistant.

As part of their research activities related to juvenile delinquency, Shaw and his colleagues at the IJR collected hundreds of life histories from juvenile delinquents, adult offenders, and their relatives. The two methods most often used to obtain life histories were a personal interview and a request to the individual to write his or her own story. In the case of the personal interview, the resulting transcript was edited by the IJR staff to produce a continuous story. When an individual was simply asked to write his or her own story, which seems to have been the preferred method, interviews were still conducted in order to prompt and guide the individual's writing. When finished, the manuscript was typed by an IJR staff member with usually only spelling and obvious grammatical errors corrected. However, those histories that were published eventually, either in part or in full, underwent more extensive editing.

In his book, Oral History and Delinquency: The Rhetoric of Criminology, James Bennett reveals that the life histories were usually written in one of three places: the IJR sociology department offices (at 907 South Wolcott Street in Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s), the communities in which the Chicago Area Project was active, or at Illinois detention facilities. At the time of their writing, the authors could be either free or confined, juveniles or adults.

Please note: A general history of the IJR is provided with the finding aid for the Institute for Juvenile Research records.

Catalog Subject Headings +/-

Criminals--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Criminologists--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Ethnicity--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Families--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Gangs--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Juvenile delinquency--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Juvenile detention homes--Illinois
Prisoners--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Social workers--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Sociologists--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
Teenagers--Sexual behavior--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
World War, 1939-1945--Illinois
Youth--Illinois--Chicago--20th century
McKay, Henry D. (Henry Donald), 1899-1980
Shaw, Clifford R. (Clifford Robe), 1895-1957
Simon, William, 1930-2000
Sorrentino, Anthony
Illinois State Penitentiary (Joliet, Ill.)
Illinois State Penitentiary (Pontiac, Ill.)
Illinois State Reform School (Pontiac, Ill.)
Illinois State Training School for Boys (St. Charles, Ill.)
Institute for Juvenile Research (Ill.)--Archives
Stateville Correctional Center
Case files
Oral histories
Chicago (Ill.)--Social conditions--20th century
Near West Side (Chicago, Ill.)
South Side (Chicago, Ill.)
West Side (Chicago, Ill.)

Organization and Arrangement of Collection +/-

The processed portion of the collection is arranged in one series, containing the life histories. The life histories are arranged alphabetically by the authors' surnames with twenty-three unattributed histories at the end of the collection.

Click on heading to view series description.

Series 1. Institute for Juvenile Research Life histories, 1921-1949

About This Finding Aid +/-

Creation: Finding aid encoded by Erin Glasco using Oxygen XML editor, 2015.
Language: Finding aid is written in .
Other Finding Aids: Finding aid also submitted to Explore Chicago Collections portal.
Processing Note:This collection is partially processed and this finding aid describes only the processed portion. Additional portions of the collection will be added as processing is completed.
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