Covering the entire period from the colonial era to the late twentieth century, this book is the first scholarly history of the homeless in America. Drawing on sources that include records of charitable organizations, sociological studies, and numerous memoirs of formerly homeless persons, Kusmer demonstrates that the homeless have been a significant presence on the American scene for over two hundred years. He probes the history of homelessness from a variety of angles, showing why people become homeless; how charities and public authorities dealt with this social problem; and the diverse ways in which different class, ethnic, and racial groups perceived and responded to homelessness. Kusmer demonstrates that, despite the common perception of the homeless as a deviant group, they have always had much in common with the average American.
Focusing on the millions who suffered downward mobility, Down and Out, On the Road provides a unique view of the evolution of American society and raises disturbing questions about the repeated failure to face and solve the problem of homelessness.
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From Publishers Weekly:
Kenneth L. Kusmer is Professor of History at Temple University.
Homelessness is not only a contemporary phenomenon in the U.S. according to this well-researched and engrossing history. While many readers will be familiar with the hobos and box-car riders of the 1920s and the post-Depression world of transient skid row inhabitants, Kusmer has uncovered a complex sociology that transforms how we view U.S. culture and history in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Kusmer examines overarching social conditions and structures such as a condemnatory U.S. Protestant work-ethic response to homelessness, and why "workhouse" solutions do not deal with underlying economic issues. The mythologies of the "tramp as criminal," "pedophile seducer" and disease carrier are examined and taken apart. But Kusmer is at his best when describing the specifics of people's lives, from "the wandering poor" and "sturdy beggars of Colonial times" to the creation of the "tramp" after the Civil War, the social position of penniless Jewish scholars on New York's Lower East Side in the 1890s, and the political ramifications of unemployment as manifested in Coxey's Army's 1894 march on Washington. Drawing upon sociological studies, reports from charitable institutions, the novels of William Dean Howell and Stephen Crane, and the music of blues writer and singer Ida Cox, Kusmer has produced a book that is highly engaging, emotionally absorbing, and historically consequential. (Dec.)Forecast: Unfortunately, homelessness is not likely to be a front-burner issue in the coming months, and the lack of substantive coverage of WWII and beyond further limits the book's contemporary reach. But its scholarly basis should make it a must for most campus libraries, particularly those strong in sociology and urban studies.
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