Apart from its origins during the California Gold Rush, Oakland was similar to other small American cities during the mid-nineteenth century. In step with the rest of the nation, California was becoming industrialized and urbanized. The state's progress relied heavily on immigrant labor, but white Protestants resented the presence of the Chinese, Irish Catholics, and African Americans who built the infrastructure needed for growth. Immigrants and blacks lived in the worst parts of the cities they helped create, and their children suffered the consequences. Municipal governments had neither the inclination nor the budgets to fund the necessary services, so women volunteers filled the void.

In A City for Children, Marta Gutman explores how...

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