Synopses & Reviews
In 1904, New York nuns brought forty Irish orphans to a remote Arizona mining camp, to be placed with Catholic families. The Catholic families were Mexican, as was the majority of the population. Soon the town's Anglos, furious at this "interracial" transgression, formed a vigilante squad that kidnapped the children and nearly lynched the nuns and the local priest. The Catholic Church sued to get its wards back, but all the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in favor of the vigilantes.
The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction tells this disturbing and dramatic tale to illuminate the creation of racial boundaries along the Mexican border. Clifton/Morenci, Arizona, was a "wild West" boomtown, where the mines and smelters pulled in thousands of Mexican immigrant workers. Racial walls hardened as the mines became big business and whiteness became a marker of superiority. These already volatile race and class relations produced passions that erupted in the "orphan incident." To the Anglos of Clifton/Morenci, placing a white child with a Mexican family was tantamount to child abuse, and they saw their kidnapping as a rescue.
Women initiated both sides of this confrontation. Mexican women agreed to take in these orphans, both serving their church and asserting a maternal prerogative; Anglo women believed they had to "save" the orphans, and they organized a vigilante squad to do it. In retelling this nearly forgotten piece of American history, Linda Gordon brilliantly recreates and dissects the tangled intersection of family and racial values, in a gripping story that resonates with today's conflicts over the "best interests of the child."
[A] fascinating, almost cinematic book...Gordon has brilliantly retrieved history, in the process providing a vivid, complex addition to the growing scholarship on 'whiteness.' Karen R. Long - Plain Dealer
Gordon is genuinely curious and deeply thoughtful about the complex ways in which race, class and gender intersect to produce pivotal moments like this one. The book that she has written should be of interest notonly to scholars of the American southwest, but to anyone curious about how ideologies make us what we are.
Linda Gordon's The Great Arizona Orphan Abductionis a spellbinding narrative history--the kind of rigorous but engaging work that other academics dream of writing. Gordon here unearths a long forgotten story about abandoned Irish-Catholic children in turn-of-the-century New York who were sent out to Arizona to be adopted by good Catholic families. The hitch was that those families turned out to be dark-skinned Mexicans. What ensued was a custody battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The astonishing story Gordon has recovered considers vexed intellectual questions about race, class and gender in a dramatic, accessible fashion.
In her gripping book, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, Linda Gordon has written a model study of the creation and maintenance of race relations that manages to capture both the breathless sensationalism of the era's tabloids and the complexity of social status, shifting racial codes and the multiple uses of sex roles in social action...Gordon divides her story into six scenes, most of them devoted to some portion of the four days when the orphans' arrival engulfed Clifton-Morenci in a near riot followed by a mass kidnapping. Spliced between each scene is the history--long-term and proximate--of the towns' sociocultural landscape. It is an ingenious narrative device that enables her to reconstitute the distinct social structures of the area while rendering a taut journalistic account of the unfolding drama...The magnificence of her achievement [is] her masterly assembly of historical detail and acute sensitivity to the intricacies of human relations as mediated by power, prejudice and the passing of time. Stephen Lassonde
If Gordon's book did nothing more than redeem from obscurity the story of the Arizona orphans, it would be an extraordinary contribution to social history. But Gordon has gone beyond that scanty written record, mainly from the court proceedings, to explore the motives of the Mexican and Anglo women...Gordon's achievement is that she so effectively and fair-mindedly delved into the site and unearthed this appalling and poignant story. New York Times Book Review
This is an unusual and interesting work of history, whose chief strength lies in the way it lovingly recreates the spirit of a particular Arizona community and, through its insistence on micro-historical detail, gives the reader a clear sense of how racial assumptions and antagonisms operated within everyday life. Michael Kenney - Boston Globe
A story of racism, vigilantism, and injustice that retains its grim fascination after nearly a century...The sordid but suspenseful story is told against a background that encompasses the mining industry, labor unions and even a waffling U.S. Supreme Court. Paul Giles - Times Literary Supplement
Gordon's extraordinary achievement in this book lies in her narrative strategy as much as in her insights as a social historian: she alternates dramatic short chapters detailing the events in the mining communities of Clifton-Morenci from the first to the fourth of October 1904 with longer, denser ones that reconstruct the conflation of class, gender, racial, religious, and economic interests that initiated the children's journey west from New York City and underlay their distribution by Father Mandin, the local priest. Parade Magazine
Linda Gordon has used [the orphan abduction's] events to explore issues of race, gender, class, economics and theories of the family in a beautifully constructed narrative and analysis of a flashpoint in American domestic history...Gordon uses her multiplicity of sources with great skill, all the time reminding us that some participants in the story have left no record of their experiences, particularly the children's birth mothers, the children themselves, and the Mexican families with whom they were to be placed. She contextualises the event superbly, giving us a well-rounded portrait of Clifton-Morenci at the time, as well as taking us through the ideological and emotional processes which moved people to act as they did. Gay Wachman - Women's Review of Books
Historian Linda Gordon has unearthed a small, forgotten story, and told it exceptionally well...[The] astonishing story, less than a century old, contains much to ponder. Gordon does a masterful job probing class and race, gender and religion, family and border economics to shed light on conflicts unresolved to this day...She has crafted both an exhilarating yarn and a sober morality tale. Catriona Crowe - Irish Times
It is both fascinating and disturbing to delve into specific events of American history: Cultural biases explode, exploitation simmers, and religious identity is challenged. Linda Gordon's book confronts all these issues...Delving deeper and deeper into the American conscience, Gordon shatters layer upon layer of assumption. She has done her research, and the story she has written breathes life as a dragon breathes fire, burning sometimes accidentally, though oftentimes intentionally. As a challenge to preconceived notions of American history, as a reflection of cultural, religious and economic realities and as a how-to guide for retrieving important historical lessons, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction is fascinating, repelling and completely engrossing. JoAnn Wypijewski - Lingua Franca Book Review
In 1904, a group of New York nuns delivered 40 mostly Irish but entirely Catholic orphans to a remote Arizona mining town to be adopted by local Catholics. What happened next is the subject of historian Linda Gordon's compelling new book: For their act of Christian charity, the nuns were rewarded with near-lynching and public vilification of an intensity hard to fathom today. As Gordon makes clear in writing so alive it makes the reader smell sagebrush and white supremacy, the Eastern nuns didn't realize that, in turn-of-the-century Arizona, Catholic also meant Mexican, and Mexican meant inferior. Ian Graham - The Star-Ledger
In this remarkable history of an obscure event, Gordon skillfully casts light on myriad important subjects...[She] has done an extraordinary amount of research and has completely contextualized the orphan abduction. One finds learned chapters on the history of the Southwest, the copper mining industry, vigilantism, Mexican women, labor relations, and Catholicism. Especially informative are Gordon's lengthy discussions of historical definitions of whiteness and how the orphan abduction was instrumental in destroying the fluidity of race relations. Debra Dickerson - salon.com
Economics, religion, and racial and sexual politics intersect in this account of the social upheaval caused when Mexicans in a small Arizona mining town in 1904 adopted 40 abandoned Irish Catholic children from New York. Gordon's compelling account of the incident traces the legal challenges by a Catholic charity group that went all the way to the Supreme Court. E. W. Carp - Choice
Gordon, drawing on interviews, newspapers, and the court transcript, recreates the kidnapping and the ensuing courtroom drama in intoxicating detail. Along the way, Gordon cracks open a number of hot issues, from labor relations to women's roles. At the center is her examination of the social construction of race; you won't find a more illuminating or nuanced discussion of the invention of whiteness than Gordon's...Gordon has written the rare history book that readers won't be able to put down. Booklist, an "Editor's Choice 1999" selection
In 1904, New York nuns brought forty Irish orphans to a remote Arizona mining camp, to be placed with Catholic families. The Catholic families were Mexican, as was the majority of the population. Soon the town'sAnglos, furious at this "interracial" transgression, formed a vigilante squad that kidnapped the children and nearly lynched the nuns and the local priest. The Catholic Church sued to get its wards back, but all the courts, includingthe U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in favor of the vigilantes.
The Great Arizona Orphan Abductiontells this disturbing and dramatic tale to illuminate the creation ofracial boundaries along the Mexican border. Clifton/Morenci, Arizona, was a "wild West" boomtown, where the mines and smelters pulled in thousands of Mexican immigrant workers. Racial walls hardened as the mines became big business andwhiteness became a marker of superiority. These already volatile race and class relations produced passions that erupted in the "orphan incident." To the Anglos of Clifton/Morenci, placing a white child with a Mexican family wastantamount to child abuse, and they saw their kidnapping as a rescue.
Women initiated both sides of this confrontation. Mexican women agreed to take in these orphans, both serving their church andasserting a maternal prerogative; Anglo women believed they had to "save" the orphans, and they organized a vigilante squad to do it. In retelling this nearly forgotten piece of American history, Linda Gordon brilliantly recreates anddissects the tangled intersection of family and racial values, in a gripping story that resonates with today's conflicts over the "best interests of the child."
In 1904, New York nuns brought 40 Irish orphans to a remote Arizona mining camp, to be placed with Mexican-Catholic families. The town's Anglo-Americans, furious at this "interracial" transgression, formed a vigilante squad that kidnapped the children. The church sued but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the vigilantes. Gordon tells the gripping story of this tangled intersection of family and racial values.
2000 Bancroft Prize, Columbia University
Finalist, 2000 Willa Cather Literary Awards, Women Writing the West
2000 Albert J. Beveridge Award, American Historical Association
About the Author
Linda Gordon is Professor of History at New York University. She is the author of the now classic history of birth control in America, Woman's Body, Woman's Right, and of Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, winner of the Joan Kelly Prize for the best book in women's history.
Professor of History, New York University
Table of Contents
- Cast of Principal Characters
- October 2, 1904, Night, North Clifton, Arizona
- September 25, 1904: Grand Central Station, New York City
- 1. King Copper
October 1, 1904, 6:30 p.m.: Clifton Railroad Station
- 2. Mexicans Come to the Mines
October 1, 1904, around 7:30 p.m.: Sacred Heart Church, Clifton
- 3. The Priest in the Mexican Camp
October 2, 1904, Afternoon: Morenci Square and Clifton Library Hall
- 4. The Mexican Mothers and the Mexican Town
October 2, 1904, Evening: The Hills of Clifton
- 5. The Anglo Mothers and the Company Town
October 2, 1904, Night: Clifton Hotel
- 6. The Strike
October 3–4, 1904: Clifton Drugstore and Library Hall, Morenci Hotel
- 7. Vigilantism
January 1905: Courtroom of the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court, Phoenix
- 8. Family and Race
- Sonoran Highlands Mining Region in 1903
- Old Clifton and Morenci