The Juvenile Court of Memphis, founded in 1910, directed delinquent and dependent children into a variety of private charitable organizations and public correctional facilities. Drawing on the court's case files and other primary sources, Jennifer Trost explains the complex interactions between parents, children, and welfare officials in the urban South. Trost adds a personal dimension to her study by focusing on the people who appeared before the court - and not only on the legal specifics of their cases. Directed for thirty years by the charismatic and well-known chief judge Camille Kelley, the court was at once a traditional house of justice, a social services provider, an agent of state control, and a community-based mediator. Because the court saw boys and girls, blacks and whites, native Memphians and newly arrived residents with rural backgrounds, Trost is able to make subtle points about differences in these clients' experiences with the court. Those differences, she shows, were defined by the mix of Progressive and traditional attitudes that the involved parties held toward issues of class, race, and gender.
Trost's insights are all the more valuable because the Memphis court had a large African American clientele. In addition, the court's jurisdiction extended beyond children engaged in criminal or otherwise unacceptable conduct to include those who suffered from neglect, abuse, or poverty. A work of legal history animated by questions more commonly posed by social historians, Gateway to Justice will engage anyone interested in how the early welfare state shaped, and was shaped by, tensions between public standards and private practices of parenting, sexuality, and race relations.