Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Alpert Gallery, First Floor
The firm of Currier & Ives is known for its idealized images of life in 19th-century America. As with other subjects, Currier & Ives presented an optimistic, romanticized vision of childhood. A selection of these prints is displayed in this exhibition.
One of the most important tasks assigned to the Victorian woman was raising children. Middle-class parents believed that childhood should be an extended, protected time that allowed children to develop their innate goodness and acquire the skills necessary for participation in the larger society. Currier & Ives reinforced this concept by providing images for families that depicted perfect children in an ideal environment and stories of life lessons.
Currier & Ives’ renditions of childhood fell short of reality for many youngsters who worked in American factories and on farms from dawn to dusk. According to an 1870s census, more than three-quarters of a million children between the ages of 10 and 15 from poor families worked full time, and that number increased each year until 1910. Child labor laws continued to develop during the Industrial Revolution but were slow to be enforced.
Currier & Ives realized that the public preferred the sanitized ideal to reality and that many adults regarded children as symbols of innocence and purity. The images on view in this exhibition illustrate the charming side of childhood and can be appreciated both historically and aesthetically as romantic and sentimental depictions of growing up in 19th-century America.