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The Dead End Kids of St. Louis: Homeless Boys and the People Who Tried to Save Them (Hardcover)
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Joe Garagiola remembers playing baseball with stolen balls and bats while growing up on the Hill. Chuck Berry had run-ins with police before channeling his energy into rock and roll. But not all the boys growing up on the rough streets of St. Louis had loving families or managed to find success. This book reviews a century of history to tell the story of the “lost” boys who struggled to survive on the city’s streets as it evolved from a booming late-nineteenth-century industrial center to a troubled mid-twentieth-century metropolis.To the eyes of impressionable boys without parents to shield them, St. Louis presented an ever-changing spectacle of violence. Small, loosely organized bands from the tenement districts wandered the city looking for trouble, and they often found it. The geology of St. Louis also provided for unique accommodations—sometimes gangs of boys found shelter in the extensive system of interconnected caves underneath the city. Boys could hide in these secret lairs for weeks or even months at a stretch. Bonnie Stepenoff gives voice to the harrowing experiences of destitute and homeless boys and young men who struggled to grow up, with little or no adult supervision, on streets filled with excitement but also teeming with sharpsters ready to teach these youngsters things they would never learn in school. Well-intentioned efforts of private philanthropists and public officials sometimes went cruelly astray, and sometimes were ineffective, but sometimes had positive effects on young lives.Stepenoff traces the history of several efforts aimed at assisting the city’s homeless boys. She discusses the prison-like St. Louis House of Refuge, where more than 80 percent of the resident children were boys, and Father Dunne's News Boys' Home and Protectorate, which stressed education and training for more than a century after its founding. She charts the growth of Skid Row and details how historical events such as industrialization, economic depression, and wars affected this vulnerable urban population.Most of these boys grew up and lived decent, unheralded lives, but that doesn’t mean that their childhood experiences left them unscathed. Their lives offer a compelling glimpse into old St. Louis while reinforcing the idea that society has an obligation to create cities that will nurture and not endanger the young.
About the Author
Bonnie Stepenoff grew up in the hills of northeastern Pennsylvania and eventually moved to Missouri, where she became a professor of history at Southeast Missouri State University. Now retired, she continues to write non-fiction and poetry. She has six books to her credit, including Working the Mississippi: Two Centuries of Life on the River (University of Missouri Press, 2015), The Dead End Kids of St. Louis: Homeless Boys and the People who Tried to Save Them (University of Missouri Press, 2010), Big Spring Autumn (Truman State University Press, 2008), From French Community to Missouri Town: Ste. Genevieve in the Nineteenth Century (University of Missouri Press, 2006), Thad Snow: A Life of Social Reform in Southeast Missouri (University of Missouri Press, 2003), and Their Fathers’ Daughters: Silk Mill Workers in Northeastern Pennsylvania (Susquehanna University Press, 1999). Her articles, essays, and poetry have appeared in many anthologies and journals, including the Sherlock Holmes Journal (2016), Missouri Law and the American Conscience (2016), Red Moon Anthology (2009 and 2016), Yonder Mountain: An Ozarks Anthology (2013), Cultural Landscapes (2008), Mining Women (2006), The Other Missouri History (2004), Rebellious Families (2002), Labor History, Labor’s Heritage, New York History, Pennsylvania History, Missouri Historical Review, Gateway, Missouri Conservationist, Missouri Life, Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and The Heron’s Nest. She lives in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
“An admirable work. . . . The organization, writing, passion for the subject, and research make this a valuable treatment of St. Louis social history unavailable anywhere else.” —Lawrence O. Christensen, author of A History of Missouri, Volume IV, 1875-1919