Protected Children, Regulated Mothers

Gender and the “Gypsy Question” in State Care in Postwar Hungary, 1949–1956
Varsa Protected Children Regulated Mothers book cover
$75.00 / €63.00 / £54.00
Publication date: 
256 pages

Protected Children, Regulated Mothers examines child protection in Stalinist Hungary as a part of twentieth-century East Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European history. Across the communist bloc, the prewar foster care system was increasingly replaced after 1945 by institutionalization in residential homes. This shift was often interpreted as a further attempt to establish totalitarian control. However, this study—based on hundreds of children's case files and interviews with institution leaders, teachers, and people formerly in state care—provides a new perspective. Rather than being merely a tool of political repression, state care in postwar Hungary was often shaped by the efforts of policy actors and educators to address the myriad of problems engendered by the social and economic transformations that emerged after World War II. This response built on, rather than broke with, earlier models of reform and reformatory education. Yet child protection went beyond safeguarding and educating children; it also focused on parents, particularly lone mothers, regulating not only their entrance to paid work but also their sexuality. In so doing, children's homes both reinforced and changed existing cultural and social patterns, whether about gendered division of work or the assimilation of minorities. Indeed, a major finding of the book is that state socialist child protection continued a centuries-long national project of seeking a “solution to the Gypsy question,” rooted in efforts to eliminate the perceived “workshyness” of Roma.

List of Figures

List of tables




Chapter 1. Child protection in early state socialist Hungary
A brief introduction to the historical context: Hungary, 1949–1956
Historical and legal background of child protection in Hungary in the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century
Child protection as a “solution to the Gypsy question” in nineteenth and twentieth century Hungary

Chapter 2. “The minor would hinder the mother in finding employment”: Child protection regulating women’s labor force participation
A lack of child care services and “delinquent” children
“The minor would hinder the mother in finding employment”: Child protection as a tool to force unemployed mothers to enter paid work
“As they are Gypsies, they are not employed”: The negative evaluation of Romani motherhood
Parents requesting their children’s institutionalization for the purposes of child care

Chapter 3. “She occupied herself with men”: Child protection regulating the sexual morality of lone mothers and single young women
Concern about women’s sexual morality in early state socialist Hungary
The regulation of lone mothers’ sexuality
The representation of lone mothers in the case files of children in state care
The regulation of Romani women’s sexuality
Regulating the sexuality of single young women

Chapter 4. “Make Them Experience the Good Taste of Productive Work”: Residential Care as an Institution of Education
Reformatory and reform pedagogy: The origins of education for work in residential care education
The continuity of education for work in the curricula and educational practice of residential homes under state socialism
Education for work in the socialist context: reform pedagogical and reformatory traditions
“Make them experience the good taste of productive work”: What education for work meant to child protection professionals during and after socialism
Turning work into a habit
Education for work as education for life: Creating gendered habits
Education for work as a means towards the assimilation of Roma

Chapter 5. “He was three years old but could not speak and had no emotional attachment to anybody”: State care as discourse on Stalinist political terror in socialist Hungary
Emmi Pikler and the history of “Lóczy”
The cases of László Rajk Jr. and Mátyás Donáth
Júlia Rajk and Éva Bozóky’s (re)construction of their children’s institutionalization



Biographical information


"Protected Children, Regulated Mothers is a brilliant and highly important study that reveals the practices and policies of Hungarian childcare institutions in the early communist era. The book offers a complex analysis of social-policy considerations of child protection, including gender specific and ethnic discrimination, the regulatory functions of the institutions, and the Marxist educational principles that emphasized work and re/production. It gives insight to how children’s homes attempted to raise Roma children in accordance with the ideal of the socialist citizen, while also exposing the antigypsy prejudices that dominated the assimilationist policy of these homes. By giving voice to those placed under institutional care in such homes, the book also offers new thoughts about how the memory of the past can be shaped and reshaped in various modes of remembrance."
"The book fills a gap in the historiography of early state socialism by discussing Stalinism in Hungary in light of social problems – such as employment, housing, financially related difficulties or war-related problems leading to children’s placement in state care – rather than political repression of the Rákosi era. One of the major findings of the book is that the institutional system of child protection of early state socialism evolved as a result of spontaneous developments in existing institutional patterns, social norms and conventions inherited from earlier political periods, rather than a critical juncture induced by the new communist state."
Parts of the questions posed to the author of the book: "The issue of childhood in the broader social and political contexts of Eastern, Southeastern, and East Central Europe continues to be an insufficiently researched topic, while childhood in state-socialist/Stalinist Europe is even more so. Which official childhood narrative do you try to counteract in Protected Children, Regulated Mothers? Were there any attributes specific to Hungarian state actors’ attempts to exercise control over the Roma by placing their children in temporary state care? How was child protection supposed to balance the responsibilities for reproductive work but also impose paid employment for Romani mothers?"
"Eine wichtige Erkenntnis des Buches ist, dass der staatssozialistische Kinderschutz ein jahrhundertekanges nationales Projekt der sogenannten 'Lösung der Zigeunerfrage' fortzetzte, das in dem Bemühen wurzelt, die vermeintliche 'Arbeitsscheu' der Roma zu beseitigen."
"Auf Grundlage einer breiten Quellenbasis belegt sie, dass es Kategorien wie Geschlecht und ethnische oder soziale Herkunft waren, die Lebenschancen und Handlungsspielräume von Kindern, Jugendlichen und ihren Müttern beeinflussten sowie die Wahrscheinlichkeit staatlicher Interventionen ihnen gegenüber bestimmten. Insgesamt leistet das Buch einen wichtigen, kompakten und sehr lesenswerten Beitrag für eine europäische Zeitgeschichte, die neue Perspektiven auf Kindheit, Gender, Arbeit, Alltag und nicht zuletzt Herrschaft in der 2. Hälfte des 20. Jh.s sucht."