Social Attitudes

Family Tradition and Personality

Ernest W. Burgess
Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago

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THE personality is formed in its earliest and perhaps in its basic traits in the family group. Whatever its biological inheritance from its parents and other ancestors, the child receives also from them a heritage of attitudes, sentiments, and ideals which may be termed the family tradition, or the family culture.

Professor Freeman and his associates of the University of Chicago recently completed an interesting and significant study of the effect upon intelligence of children of rearing them in foster homes. They find that the intelligence of the adopted child is very markedly higher than if it had been reared by its natural parents, far higher than most psychologists and other students of mental life had previously been prepared to admit. They also report that brothers and sisters when brought up in the same foster family showed closer resemblance in intelligence than when brought up in separate homes.

While the findings of this study throw new light on the old question of the relation of heredity and environment, its major significance may well lie in causing us to reconsider the rôle of family life in personal development in all its aspects, emotional, mental, and social. The part played by the family in the emotional growth of children, particularly with reference to maladjustments, has been stressed repeatedly by psychoanalysts and psychiatrists. At the Conference on Family Life, held in Buffalo in October, 1927, Professor W. F. Ogburn, as a sociologist, emphasized the unique place of the family in providing for the emotional development of its members. In fact, he asserted that the essential function of the family at the present time inhered in relationships of affection about which it is organized and through which it endures.


The study of the changes in the intelligence of adopted children suggests that in addition to the expression of affection, the family has an equally significant function as the primary medium for the transmission of the cultural heritage. For certainly it is not so much in the nature of affection as in differences in cultural level that foster homes are superior to those of the natural parents.

By family tradition is meant the handing down from generation to generation of culture within the home. The word "culture" has a well-defined use in the literature of anthropology. It includes not only customs, but material objects as well, like tools, ornaments, and utensils. But from the standpoint of personality development the so-called "non-material" objects of culture are the more significant as gestures, manners, languages, folklore, literature, social standards, art, and religion.

It is at once evident that within any modern society the differences in cultural level between families is far greater than the differences in cultural levels between societies. For example, it is doubtless true that in the United States certain individuals have lived out their allotted three-score years and ten without having used one thousand different words; while there are many persons who within a year have spoken or read ten or twenty times that number. The child who is born or adopted into a one-thousand-word family is certainly at a disadvantage on an intelligence test, all other factors being equal, when compared with a child who has been brought up in a family with a 10,000 word vocabulary. More important than the number of words are the meanings of words and their construction into idioms that express attitudes and customary behavior. Language is thus a measure of social-cultural participation.

It is through case studies of personality development that the röle of family tradition may be concretely portrayed. The first case is taken from fiction because it presents the interesting situation where a boy drew up in a cultureless, or practically cultureless, home; if the shack in which he was reared may be properly characterized as a home. The boyhood life of Hugh McVey is realistically described in the book Poor White, by Sherwood Anderson:


Hugh McVey was born in a little hole of a town stuck on a mud bank on the western shore of the Mississippi River in the State of Missouri. With the exception of a narrow strip of black mid along the river, the land for ten miles back from the town-called in derision by river men "Mudcap Landing"-was almost entirely worthless and unproductive, and was tilled, in Hugh's time, by a race of long, gaunt men who seemed as exhausted and no-account as the land on which they lived. They were chronically discouraged, and the merchants and artisans of the town were in the same state. Only the town's two saloons prospered.

Hugh McVey's father, John McVey, had been a farmhand in his youth, but before Hugh was born had moved into town to find employment in a tannery. The tannery ran for a year or two and then failed, but John McVey stayed in town. He also became a drunkard. During the time of his employment in the tannery he had been married and his son had been born. Then his wife died and the idle workman took his child and went to live in a tiny fishing shack by the river. How the boy lived through the next few years no one ever knew. John McVey loitered in the streets and on the river bank and awakened out of his habitual stupor only when, driven by hunger or the craving for drink, he went for a day's work in some farmer's field at harvest time or joined a number of other idlers for an adventurous trip down river on a lumber raft. The baby was left shut up in the shack by the river or carried about wrapped in a soiled blanket. Soon after he was old enough to walk he was compelled to find work in order that he might eat. The boy of ten went listlessly about town at the heels of his father. The two found work, which the boy did while the man lay sleeping in the sun. At fourteen Hugh was as tall as his father and almost without education. He could read a little and could write his own name; had picked up these accomplishments from other boys who came to fish with him in the river, but he had never been to school. For days sometimes he did nothing but lie half asleep in the shade of the bush on the river bank. The fish he caught on his more industrious days he sold for a few cents to some housewife, and thus got money to buy food for his big growing indolent body.

In his fourteenth year and when the boy was on the point of sinking into the sort of animal-like stupor in which his father lived, something happened to him. A railroad pushed its way down along the river to his town and he' got a job as man of all work for the station master. Hugh began a little to awaken. He lived with his employer, Henry Shepard, and his wife, Sarah, and

(191) for the first time in his life he sat down regularly at table. His life lying on the river bank through long summer afternoons or sitting perfectly still for endless hours in a boat, had bred in him a dreamy, detached outlook on life. He found it hard to be definite and to do definite things. In his new place, the station master's wife, a sharp-tongued, good-natured woman, who hated the town and the people among whom fate had thrown her, scolded at him all day long. She treated him like a child of six, told him how to sit at table, how to hold his fork when he ate, how to address people who came to the house or to the station. The mother in her was aroused by Hugh's helplessness and, having no children of her own, she began to take the tall, awkward boy to her heart.

Hugh got little money for his work at the railroad station, but for the first time in his life he began to fare well. Henry Shepard bought the boy clothes, and his wife, who was a master of the art of cooking, loaded the table with good things to eat. Hugh ate until both the man and the woman declared he would burst if he did not stop. Then when they were not looking he went into the station yard and crawled under a bush and went to sleep. The station master came to look for him. He was annoyed at what he thought the boy's indolence and found a hundred little tasks for him to do. "We must keep the big lazy fellow on the jump. That's the secret of things," he said to his wife.

The boy learned to keep his naturally indolent body moving and his clouded sleepy mind fixed on definite things. For hours he plodded straight ahead, doing over and over some appointed task. One morning he was told to sweep the station platform, and as his employer had gone away without giving him additional tasks he continued to sweep for two or three hours. The station platform was built of rough boards, and Hugh's arms were very powerful. The broom he was using began to go to pieces. Bits of it flew about and after an hour's work the platform looked more unclean than when he began. Sarah Shepard came to the door of the house and stood watching. She was about to call to him and to scold him again for his stupidity when a new impulse came to her. Tears came into her eyes and her arms ached to take the great boy and hold him tightly against her breast. With all her mother's soul she wanted to protect Hugh from a world she was sure would treat him always 3S 3 beast of harden. Her morning's work was done, and without saying anything to Hugh she went out at the front door of the house and to one of the town stores. There she bought a half dozen books. She had made up her mind to become Hugh McVey's school teacher. When she got back to her house

(192) and saw the bay still going doggedly up and down the platform, she spoke to him with a new gentleness in her manner. "Well, my boy, you may put the broom away now and come to the house. I've made up my mind to take you for my own boy, and I don't want to be ashamed of you. If you're going to live with me, I can't have you growing up to be a lazy good-for-nothing like your father and the other men in this hole of a place. You'll have to learn things and I suppose I'll have to be your teacher. It's going to be hard work to make an educated man out of you, but it has to be done. We might as well begin on your lessons at once."

Professor Ellsworth Faris has defined personality as "the subjective aspect of culture." [1] In the language of this conception, Sarah Shepard proposed to remold Hugh according to the New England cultural pattern. It was, however, one thing to drill habits of industry into him and to fill his ears with tales of the superiority of her people, and quite another to win his inner allegiance. There arose the inevitable conflict within him between the two modes of life

Sarah Shepard had come from a people and a country quite different in its aspect from that in which she now lived. Her own people, frugal New Englanders, had come west in the year after the Civil War to take up cut-over timber land in the southern end of the State of Michigan.

The ambitious, energetic little woman, who had taken the son of the indolent farmhand to her heart, constantly talked to him of her own people. She worked upon the problem of rooting the stupidity and dullness out of his mind as her father had worked at the problem of rooting the stumps out of the Michigan land. After the lesson for the day had been gone over and over until Hugh was in a stupor of mental weariness, she put the books aside and talked to him. With glowing fervor she made a picture of her own youth and the people and places where she had lived. In the picture she represented the New Englanders of the Michigan farming community as a strong and godlike race, always honest, always frugal, and always pushing ahead. His own people she utterly condemned.

Sarah Shepard looked upon what she called Hugh's laziness as a thing of the spirit. "You have got to get over it," she declared. "Look at your own people-poor white trash-how lazy and shift-

(193) -less they are. You can't be like them. It's a sin to be so dreamy and worthless." Swept along by the energetic spirit of the woman, Hugh fought to overcome his inclination to give himself up to vaporous dreams. He became convinced that his own people were really of inferior stock, and that they were to be kept away from. During the first year after he came to live with the Shepards he sometimes gave way to a desire to return to his old lazy life with his father in the shack by the river. When neither the station master nor his wife was about he slipped away and went with his father to sit for a half day with his back against the wall of the fishing shack, his soul at peace. For the moment he thought of himself as completely happy and made up his mind that he did not want to return again to the railroad station and to the woman who was so determined to arouse him and make of him a man of her own people. Hugh looked at his father asleep and snoring in the long grass on the river bank. An odd feeling of disloyalty crept over him and he became uncomfortable. The man's mouth was open and he snored lustily. From his greasy and threadbare clothing arose the smell of fish. Flies gathered in swarms and alighted on his face. Disgust took possession of Hugh. With all the strength of his awakening soul he struggled against the desire to give way to the inclination to stretch himself out beside the man and sleep. The words of the New England woman who was, he knew, striving to lift him out of slothfulness and ugliness and into some brighter and better way of life, echoed dimly in his mind. When he arose and went back along the street to the station master's house, Sarah Shepard looked at him reproachfully and muttered words about the poor white trash of the town.

Hugh began to hate his own father and his own people. He connected the man who had bred him with the dreaded inclination toward sloth in himself. "Well," he said to Sarah Shepard, speaking slowly and with the hesitating drawl characteristic of his people, "if you give me time I'll learn. I want to be what you want me to be. If you stick to me I'll try to make a man of myself." [2]

This conversion of Hugh to the New England culture exemplifies a process that takes place more gradually and often without struggle in the life of the child in the family. As Professor Robert E. Park has pointed out, "man is not born human." Personality, in so far as it means one's role in society, is an

(194) achievement. The next case, that of Frank Radcliffe, clearly shows how the father shaped his son in his own cultural image

After eleven years of married life, my mother introduced me into the Radcliffe family, as member number three. My parents had waited a long time, and I was more than welcome. Although my mother was only thirty-one, my father was then fifty-one, and this was just about the greatest thing that could have happened to him. He worshiped me from the start and, like other long wanted first born, I was king and ruler of the house.

My memories of these early days are very few, but with one big exception, and those are memories of my father. My play life, my school, and even my mother fall back into the shadows. I loved my mother, it is true, but my father stands out most clearly, and it was he who shaped my life.

My earliest memories are of sitting in my father's arms in front of the stove of an evening, and of his singing me to sleep. He used to sing "Way Down Upon the Swanee River," "Darling Nellie Gray," and other lullaby songs, many with a Negro dialect added. I would lie in his arms for a long time listening, and trying to play with the ends of his long mustache. Several years later he began to tell me stories and to read to me. Most of the stories were of Indian fights, and of pioneer adventures, and I would ask for the same stories over and over again. In these early years a regular ceremony was developed. First my father had to sit and read to me, generally for a good share of the evening. Then he would undress me and get me ready for bed. His next step was to go into the kitchen and prepare me a glassful of weak grape juice. After having my drink he would take me to my bed, and, standing beside the bed, swing me a specified number of times in his arms, and finally let me fly head over heels into bed. If he did not swing me the required number of times, he had to go through the procedure all over again. Once in bed he would lie down beside me in the dark, put his arms around me, and tell me another good Indian story. Following this I cuddled close to him and repeated the Lord's prayer. I then gradually drifted away into slumberland, but he never left me until I was asleep. This kept up until I was nine or ten years old.

How I did loge my father! Even yet, he is one of my fondest memories. Sometimes thoughts of how I would feel if I lost one of my parents would come into my mind. I always thought I would rather lose my mother than my father, if it should be a case of losing either of them. I loved my mother, but somehow she

(195) was different. She never read to me nor told me stories. Sometimes she would become cross, and once or twice she slapped me. Most of all, she would sometimes insist on my doing things I didn't want to do. Father always did as I wished, and I became angry when opposed. It was mother who called me in at night, when I wanted to play outside for a while longer. It was mother who imposed any discipline. Father seemed more like a comrade and playmate.

Another way in which my father greatly influenced me was in the matter of family pride and of race prejudice. Despite the fact that he had lived in America all his life, father was English to the backbone. He always referred contemptuously to "dutchmen," "wops," "hunks," and "dagoes." He was proud of the Radcliffe family, and I soon became proud of it, too. While the family claimed to be entirely democratic, it was only democratic in thinking of itself as being on the same level as noble or rich men. There was much family pride, and a close family organization. The grandfather and grandmother, their nine children with their husbands and wives and children, formed a group of between thirty and forty people. Every Christmas the entire group gathered at the old homestead for a big reunion, and thus family organization remained intact. Quite a bit of control was assumed over the various members, but when it came to a quarrel with outsiders, a Radcliffe was always upheld, whether he be right or wrong.

As I look back upon these early years I see more and more the way my family environment shaped my life. From my father I acquired a taste for literature and a hungering for knowledge. Along with it came family pride, racial prejudice, and a sarcastic tongue. It was not until I went away to college that I really became "Americanized," and stopped being pro-British. According to my wife, I am still English in all my characteristics and actions.

Both of my parents were church-going Methodists, and my mother was very devout. I grew up in the church, and that was the only place I was ever taken except to visit friends. I liked to go to church, for there I met other children; I was given recognition in little church plays, and I had every opportunity in the world to torment other people and make myself a nuisance. This close contact with the church turned my thoughts to religion, and I was early told of Heaven and Hell and who went to each place. I thought it over, and decided I would not be very bad nor very good. I would just have a good time, and, therefore, would not

(196) go to either place after I died. This viewpoint toward religion lasted till I was thirteen.

Three weeks before my twelfth birthday, and a few days before Christmas, my father was taken sick with pneumonia. I thought there was no cause for worry, and neither did anyone else. My only thought was that probably I would not get so many Christmas presents this time. A week later my father died.

My mother, to support us, bought a small rooming house. For two years we struggled along, trying to make both ends meet. When all our rooms were filled we had an income large enough to pay our payment on the house, to pay taxes, and to live. When part of our rooms were vacant we had long periods of worry, and oftentimes we wondered where the next dollar was coming from.

Just before my father died I had begun to run with a gang; and to enjoy the company of other boys. Here in the rooming house district I found myself a stranger in a strange land. The street on which we lived was very cosmopolitan, and many nationalities were represented. Rooming houses stretched from one end of the street to another. There was no community spirit, and practically no neighborly visitation. People did not buy homes on L Street to really live-they bought there to make money in the rooming house game. And people on the nicer streets a little farther south disdained to mix very intimately with the cosmopolitan group on L Street. I finally found one boy chum, and we were together quite a little for three or four years.

The high school that I attended was a very large school, and a student could very easily slip in and be forgotten. I was one of those who was forgotten. Many of the boys came from well-to-do families, were well dressed, and drove their own cars. I had none of these advantages. Being forgotten in school did not bother me during the first two years. My main interest was still in books, and I became a regular bookworm and day dreamer. After a year I got a job "hustling sheets" on a corner, and this took up my time on afternoons. I did not associate with other newsboys, but I did hear my share of dirty stories from men who bought papers.

It was impossible to live in a house with a number of men of all nationalities very long without coming face to face with sex. One roomer taught the masturbation, and I practiced it quits extensively for about a year. Some of the men would tell dirty stories of their own experiences when I was around, and these stories made such an impression that I can still remember them. I never told my mother, and she never found out my bad habits.


I would ask her for information on sex matters, but she would turn the questions aside. She did not seem to know just how to inform me. But I was not to be denied. I got hold of the old family doctor book, and read it on the sly every opportunity I got. Much of it was not understandable, but I picked up quite a little. My information was added to by stories told by men, out of which I would try to dig scraps of real information. Another help was in the custom of small foreign children of both sexes to appear on the streets without much clothing.

We continued to go to church every Sunday, and my religious consciousness began to reawaken. I heard preachers preach about "hell fire," and exhort people to get saved. My old plan to go to neither place became untenable, as I realized that I must go either way. I became frightened. I would listen to an evangelistic appeal and then come home and pray and try to get "saved." The question of religion was uppermost in my mind. Billy Sunday came to town and held a series of revival meetings, and mother and I went to a number of them. One Sunday afternoon I was sitting with an adult friend from our church when the appeal was made. He asked me if I would like to go forward and give myself to Jesus. I replied that I would, and up I went. This was a serious step to me, even if I was only thirteen years old. I began to read a chapter in the Bible every day, and to pray more. In looking through the doctor book I found a description of something which was just like what I was doing (masturbating) and it was called a secret "sin." If it was a sin, and I had never thought of it that way before, I must stop it if I was to be a Christian. I prayed about it, and quit. I also tried to stop thinking about sex matters, and I was fairly successful. I also tried to be more kind and Christlike in every way, but it did not seem to me that I was very successful. In recent years a number of my father's folks told me that at about this time I changed from a very bad boy into quite a good boy. They never knew about my "conversion." In the face of this evidence, I believe that my emotional religious experience did have rather marked effect on my conduct.

During this period I did not go out with girls. I used to look with longing eyes at one or twos and have idealistic love affairs with them in my day dreams. I would do the same with heroines in books I read. It was a very idealistic type of love; and in these day dreams about girls, sex never entered in. Most of my day dreams were about adventure, especially in soldier life. G. A.

(198) Henty's war stories were still my favorite, and I would imagine myself as a soldier leading in some dangerous adventure.

My mother and I were drawn closer together after my father's death, and I got really to know her. I found that she was not nearly so intellectual as my father, but that she was utterly unselfish, a true friend, and one that I could trust. I took great delight in earning money selling papers and in turning it over to her, though she never asked it of me. We became almost like pals during these days.

This case brings out into sharp relief the way in which the subjective life of the person, his desires and his attitudes become culturally conditioned. It also raises the question of what is the relation between the culture of the family and the culture of the environing society. In moving into the rooming house district Frank is thrown into contact with influences in conflict with his family tradition and his former neighborhood surroundings. It is the church and to a lesser extent the school, in this instance, that crystallize the trends of personality development into a philosophy of life and into certain governing principles which Thomas and Znaniecki term "life organization."

In general, it may be said, although there are, of course, exceptions that the force of the family tradition in moulding the personality varies directly with the degree of community support. In immigrant communities, for example, family tradition may fail to be transmitted because of its inadaptability to the modern urban situation. Accordingly, members of the older generation are at a loss how to act, because a pattern of behavior that worked in the old world utterly fails in the new. The success of parental rule by the rod in Greece, even by the father over his married sons, in contrast with its breakdown here is feelingly told by the grown-up brother-in-law in Mr. Shaw's case of Angelus

My father was strict with me in Greece. He knowed how t'lick. There the kid has t'mind or be killed by beatin'. My father's word was the law there.

There the married sons usually live at home with the father. It is like one big family, but the father rules everything. Believe me, he rules, too! Mine did! All the money that is earned

( 199) is turned over to the father. The father is very strict and whips his kids lots if they don't mind. If I had done like this kid [pointing to Angelus] my father would beat me t'death! That's the reason they obey over there and don't steal and get into trouble. They're afraid of their father. I was terribly afraid of mine. When the old man dies, the oldest son runs things. If he is good and the brothers like him, they stay, but if he is too mean, or their wives don't like to obey him, they all leave.

There the boy has t'work. Why should this kid [Angelus] play ball all day and not work and help his father? If we don't beat him he won't mind, and will grow up to be a thief or kill somebody. He already is a bum! I've tried to help the parents out by whipping him. I've given him several good beatings for quarreling and fighting. He needs more of it, and harder.[3]

This case indicates how in the patriarchal family in Greece, traditional control was effective because the life of its members was entirely confined within it. In the United States, wherever the child comes into contact with conflicting standards outside the home, conflict tends to arise, as in this case. In a period of social change, the standards of the parents, particularly with reference to love and marriage, tend to be widely at variance with the situation confronted by modern youth. The following case presents the social backgrounds of the parents, which explains their insistence upon roles of behavior which seem impracticable to the daughter, now that she is in contact with the social life of young people in the large American city

My parents are both Russian Jews. During the first twenty-six years of her life my mother had little or no schooling, very hard labor, and extremely limited contacts in the ghetto of one of the smaller cities of Russia, passively accepted and later tenaciously clung to all the traditions, customs, and attitudes of her people. My father, parentless at an early age, tossed about as an apprentice, finally found some sort of solidity and joy in the life of a soldier. The two met without the help of a shatchen, the man decidedly the aggressor; the courtship prospered and was finally brought to an untimely culmination by news of approaching front service. My mother gave him funds to flee to a sister in America,

(200) and about six months later joined him there, where they were married. They set up housekeeping in this country about twentyfour years ago.

My father, although self-taught, has been a wide reader and always a wide mixer, and so has rubbed off completely the religious attitudes of his group, and has gradually, later with the help of the children, persuaded my mother to do so too. By virtue of his position as a man of the world and also, I suspect, merely as a man, it is an uncontested fact that my father is the head of the household, the lord and master; that the woman's place is to listen and sympathize, not to comment; that woman's work is the house and the children only. All these facts my mother accepts unrebelliously. The double standard before marriage was unthinkingly accepted by both as a natural thing. My mother is also a club widow, and although I am told that the first few years of marriage she rebelled, she now accepts her position with quite good grace.

It is very interesting, surprising, with reference to my father, and often very disconcerting to observe how they try to foist their attitudes upon me. Neither of them-and here my father turns tail on all his emancipated ideas; something which I don't believe I can ever completely reconcile-can see no reason why a woman should have any sort of higher education. It is all right in the case of a rich man's daughter who is beating time until marriage, but for no others. A woman-always thought of in terms of wife and mother-has no need for more than at the most a high-school education. It plays no part in cleaning a home, cooking a meal, or raising children, they reason. Furthermore, they reason, it has many bad effects; it results, first, in a general discontentment of the girl with the men who ordinarily fall to her lot as husbands, she becomes too fussy; there is danger of postponement of the marriage age; she is likely to think herself equal or superior to the husband and disrupt family harmony; she will consider it beneath her dignity and interest to perform the menial tasks which must be done to preserve the family and home. For these reasons, higher education is indeed dangerous to the familial welfare of any girl but a true daughter of the rich. These arguments have been hammered at me again and again, both with subtle taps and bludgeoning blows.

Their attitude toward the proper method of conduct of a maid among men is also very interesting. One should not go out with a boy one does not know much about-his family, his attitude of possible marriage, and so on. It has taken me years to convince

(201) them that in this city life today it is impossible for me to know their parents or them in any other way except through going out with them first. Furthermore, it gets a girl a very bad reputation to go out often or with many fellows; it is much better to go out with only one or two alone for long periods. There is no sense, no use, and no reason in establishing friendships with men with whom for some reason there is definitely no possibility of ultimate marriage. The double standard applies again. The boy is forgiven-as long as he is not with good girls-for men will do such things-it's natural-but for a woman to adopt such standards immediately places her with the ranks of the prostitutes, or for her to object to the man's attitude is indulging fussiness too far.

Their strong antipathy to intermarriage [Jew and Gentile] I realized only when I was in a situation where there was a possibility of it. Their arguments to me first-on the ground that a Gentile boy went out with a Jewish girl only for a "hot time" and then that the two could never be happy, they were too different, I discounted largely. But because I felt that my parents could never outlive the shame and disappointment of an only daughter's marriage to a Gentile, could never reconcile and perhaps never forgive me for it, could never overcome a strong antipathy to a halfGentile grandchild of theirs, and also perhaps because they frightened and almost convinced me by their positiveness of the incompatibility of Jew and Gentile, I resolved never to marry a non-Jew. Perhaps that is the strongest, most direct, and most tangible expression of the force and influence of my family's attitudes, actions, and ideals upon mine.

Ever since my childhood, in my bitterly unhappy moments in the dark closet, rebelling against my mother's lack of understanding, aching for encouragement and appreciation, wearied with perpetual conflict, I would formulate my revenge and strengthen myself-"Well, my child won't suffer like this; my child is going to be loved and understood and appreciated; there is going to be an educational fund before she is born so she won't have to struggle as I am for my education. She's going to have a pal and a comrade." And even today I find myself when in the homes of friends of mine who have a beautiful relationship with their parents, where the children are warmed in an atmosphere of books.

MUSIC, intellectual discussions, stimulating suggestions, comradeship between man and wife as well as children, even today I find an almost unconscious inner self murmuring, "That's the kind of home my children are going to have." When asked seriously by friends who could understand why I was going to college, one of

(202) the two fundamental reasons I gave immediately was, "So that I can be a better mother to my children." So deeply ingrained has this attitude now become that it is today a fundamental part and the basis of many of my unwitting reactions to situations.

In the patriarchal family, as in ancient Israel and modern China, powerful factors make for the continuity of the family. The married sons and their wives and children grow up within the large family group. The common business enterprise and the joint ownership of property tends to family solidarity. The head of the large family group and the family council exert a unifying control. The members of the family are considered more as representatives of the kinship group than as independent individuals. Even with the modern family, much of this cultural continuity is maintained. In the professions especially there is the succession from father to son, as in the law, the ministry and in medicine.

For England, Bishop Welldon long ago pointed out The continuous renown of such families as the Yorkes and Coleridges in the law, of Wordsworths and the Summers in the Church, of the Darwins in science, of the Arnolds in literature, is familiar to students of modern English life. As literary men have in large proportion been of literary men, politicians of politicians, lawyers of lawyers, and actors of actors, so have clergymen habitually been born and bred in clerical homes. I find that 350 more or less well-known men have not only been sons of clergymen but have themselves been clergymen.

In our modern society, the family pattern is no longer the sole factor, and not always the chief one, in determining the vocational choices and standards of conduct of young people. In a neighborhood of second immigrant settlement in Chicago only six out of over four hundred boys planned to follow in the occupational footsteps of their fathers. In a residential community of well-to-do Americans of native ancestry a considerably higher proportion but still a small fraction of sons were planning to follow the same pursuits as their fathers:

Certain brief excerpts from cases may be presented to indicate the different ways in which tradition is transmitted and modified in the modern American family. The telling of sto-

(203) -ries of the family history, of the exploits of ancestors, of romantic adventures, of acts of bravery, makes for the identification of the child with the values of the family traditions

When I was a little boy my father's father used to take me on his knee and tell me stories of the battles he had been in, or some one of his brothers or uncles. He told how from the wars of the Seminole Indians straight down to the Spanish-American War our family has always acquitted itself with honor on the battlefield. My grandfather's sword which he carried in the Civil War for four years is my choicest possession. I can see him now proudly showing me the wounds he received in the first battle of Bull Run and marks from a terrible hand-to-hand sword duel at the Battle of Gettysburg. It has always been an honor in our family that we have always answered the call of our country upon first notice. When we declared war against the Central Powers in 1917, I enlisted within four days, and the telegram that I received in reply to my announcement from my father is one of the few things I have had from him since a boy of ten that has ever shown me the depth of his feeling toward me.

It would be interesting to know how far the potential strength of militarism in this country rests upon family tradition.

Often the cultural attitude implanted in the child is a frustrated ambition of a parent, as the mother who brought her daughter up to go to college and become a teacher as she herself had planned but circumstances prevented. Or the parent may have aspirations of a great career or noble service for the child

Before I was born my mother dedicated me to God in case I should turn out to be a man, and she interpreted this to mean that I should enter the ministry. Going to a university widely known for its unorthodox teaching was a severe shock to this faith and promise, yet it remains unshaken. My mother is fairly well satisfied now that she knows that I shall enter some kind of educational work, though I still think she feels that her debt to the Lord will not be fully paid unless I enter the ministry 1 am firmly convinced that this attitude of hers, linked as it is with my earliest childhood memories and teachings, has had a controlling effect upon my life. On several occasions I have nearly entered business, for example, and have always at the last moment given it

(204) up, my decision in each case being determined by some unconscious feeling, and not by rational considerations.

In this last case it seems plausible to infer that influences outside the family came into conflict with the tradition implanted in his thought of himself by his mother. Often the family, or the father and mother as the guardians of the family tradition, have to meet these conflicts with outside influences. How the imputed superiority of the family and indeed the family tradition may be used, though not always successfully, to control the behavior of the members of the family is evident in the next case.

In the general atmosphere of our home was the feeling that we, the Kimballs, had a history and status superior to the Johnsons and Martins and others who lived near-by. We had both English and Welsh blood in our veins. This fact was appealed to when Scott, the oldest son, desired to marry the Martin girl. There were certain things which the neighbors might do but which a Kimball would never stoop to do, as the drinking of alcoholic liquors and smoking.

But when Scott was fourteen he began to use tobacco "on the side." It was the custom in this community to chew as well as smoke, and he took up both of these habits. Father talked with him. One argument was that he was spoiling the family record, since neither father nor his father nor any of father's brothers had ever used tobacco. Scott argued in justification that it was no worse for him to use tobacco than for father to raise it. He also called attention to his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named, who used tobacco.

The family as an institution exists not only to transmit, but also to interpret, modify, and re-create the cultural heritage. This function and its relation to the personality development of its members is well stated by Helen Bosanquet”

The mind of the child is . . . deeply rooted in the family as its center; his earliest words, ideas, modes of thought, are those he gathers from parents and brothers; and each day he takes back to them the new words and ideas which he gathers in the outside world, and they again are molded and interpreted by the family. He recounts his exploits, tells of his companions and teachers, is subjected to praise or criticism, and listens to similar narratives from other members; and next day he returns to the outside

(205) world to collect fresh material to be thrown into the family mold. Even in families where there is less than the normal share of affection, the habits formed in this way are so strong that they do not break without some special stress being put upon them.[5]

But what is the practical bearing of our consideration of these cases of the rôle of family tradition in personality development?

First of all, these cases show that the life organization and the character of the person take their first and often permanent form under the impress of the family cultural heritage.

Secondly, these cases reveal that conflicts between parents and children, as well as mental and moral conflicts within the person, are almost always the result of the clash between family and community standards.

Accordingly, these cases disclose the close relation between personality problems and problems of community organization. In dealing with the person and the family, it is always important to find out what are the cultural values cherished by the family and its members; what efforts they are making to realize them and what frustrations prevent their achievement. Those engaged in neighborhood and community work have a special interest in the study of the interrelations and the conflicts between family traditions and community standards. For the work of all institutions with a cultural motivation like the school, the church, the settlement, and the playground deal essentially with the character formation of their members and at the same time with the social standards and traditions of the community. The fuller recognition of this cultural function may provide the basis needed for a more vital approach to group work with persons and families.

The preceding discussion of the process of family tradition in the conditioning of the basic attitudes of the child suggests the following hypotheses for further exploration, and ultimately, it may be, for the formulation of research projects.

Family tradition and community standards. It would be of interest to make studies of family tradition in its control over the conduct of children and youth in the following different social situations: (a) where the family tradition and the coma munity standards are practically the same; (b) where the fam-

(206) -ily tradition and community standards are widely different; (c) where the culture of the family is well defined but the community is disorganized; ( d ) where the family is without welldefined traditions but in a community with well-developed standards. The hypothesis is that the homogeneity of family and community traditions and standards makes for family integration, while the disparity between the culture of the family and that of the community tends to result in the disruption of family control and in personal disorganization.

Conflicting patterns of family tradition. The fund of tradition of the small family has two origins in the paternal and maternal ancestry. To what extent and under what circumstances is one dominant and the other suppressed, or does a blend in cultural patterns take place. To what extent are the children affected differently by the family tradition from the different sides of the house? What are the conflicts and the accommodations between these cultural patterns? To what extent do the conflict of personalities within the family take form within or outside the field of the family tradition?

Family tradition and occupational choices. Under what conditions does the son follow in the occupational career of the father? When filial occupational choices are divergent from the paternal, what are the controlling factors?

Factors in the transmission of family traditions. What are the interrelations between affectional responses and the cultural conditioning of the child? What is the rôle played by ceremonies, ritual, story telling, celebrations? What are the subtler factors of familial control upon the behavior of the members of the family? What is the effect of the radio and the motion picture in the early introduction into the experience of small children of non-family culture?

Cultural levels of family life in the United States. The enormous differences in the culture of different families in this country has not, perhaps, been fully appreciated. It is not merely the difference between the family life of our numerous immigrant groups nor the wide variation between urban end rural families. The observable differences in culture seem to be correlated with regions within both rural and urban areas; with differences in occupations, with variations in urbanization, and with divergences in philosophies of life.


Comparative studies of family culture. In what ways does the rôle of family tradition differ in various cultures? Among contemporary peoples it would be feasible to describe and analyze comparatively the cultural conditioning of the large patriarchal family, as in China, India, and Japan; the semi-patriarchal family, as in Germany, France, and Italy; the changing family, as in England, Russia, and the United States.

The family in social change. The city offers a laboratory in which there is taking place an increasing differentiation in forms of familial and sexual relationships. Young people are conducting experiments with varying results, but no adequate study is being made to analyze this experience for the light it might throw upon the problem of familial relations under conditions of social change. In China and in Russia, the family appears to be undergoing profound changes, which offer unusual opportunity for the study of the interrelations of human nature and institutional forms.


Bosanquet Helen, The Family, London, 1906.

Burgess, E. W., "The Family as a Unity of Interacting Personalities," The Family, 1926, Vol. VII, pp. 3-9.

Burgess, E. W., Personality and the Social Group, Chicago, 1929, Chap. X, "The Family and the Person," pp. 121-33.

Faris, Ellsworth, "The Nature of Human Nature," Publications of the American Sociological Society, 1926, Vol. XX, pp. 15-29. (Printed as American Journal of Sociology, July, 1926, Vol. XXXII, No. 1, Part 2.)

Freeman, Frank N., "The Effect of Environment on the Intelligence; School Achievement and Conduct of Foster Children." Twenty-seventh Yearbook o f the National Society for the Study of Education 1928, Vol. I, pp. 102-217.

Mowrer, E. R., Family Disorganization, Chicago, 1926, Chap. VI.

Ogburn, W. F., "Social Heritage and the Family," in Rich, Margaret E. (editor) Family Life To-day, New York, 1928, pp. 24-42.

Park, R. E., and Miller, H. A., Old World Traits Transplanted, New York, 1921.

Shaw, Clifford R., "Case Study Method," Publications o f the American Sociological Society, 1927, Vol. XXI, PP. I49-57.

Sumner, W. G., The Folkways, Boston, 1906.

Thomas, W. L, and Znanieeki, F., The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (2nd edition), 2 vols., New York, 1927.

Thrasher, F. M., The Gang, Chicago, 1926.

Wissler, Clark, Man and Culture, New York, 1923.

Wirth, Louis, The Ghetto, Chicago, 1928.


  1. Previously, W. I. Thomas had defined the field of social psychology as "the subjective aspect of culture."
  2. Quoted by permission of the publishers, The Viking Press, New York, 1920.
  3. Clifford Shaw, "Case Study Method," Publications of American Sociological Society, 1927, Vol. XXI, pp. 155-56.
  4. Quoted by Bosanquet, The Family, 1906, p. 208.
  5. The Family, 1906, pp. 204-05.

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