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Boy and Girl Tramps of America

Boy and Girl Tramps of America

By Thomas Minehan
Introduction by Susan Honeyman
Series: Cultures of Childhood

Hardcover : 9781496843616, 186 pages, January 2023
Paperback : 9781496843623, 186 pages, January 2023

A thorough and honest picture of Depression-era young people forced to ride the rails


In 1933 and 1934, Thomas Minehan, a young sociologist at the University of Minnesota, joined the ranks of a roving army of 250,000 boys and girls torn from their homes during the Great Depression. Disguised in old clothes, he hopped freight trains crisscrossing six midwestern states. While undercover, Minehan associated on terms of social equality with several thousand transients, collecting five hundred life histories of the young migrants. The result was a vivid and intimate portrayal of a harrowing existence, one in which young people suffered some of the deadliest blows of the economic disaster.

Boy and Girl Tramps of America reveals the poignant experiences of American youth who were sent out on the road by grinding poverty, shattered family relationships, and financially strapped schools that locked their doors. For these young people, danger was a constant companion that could turn deadly in an instant. The book documents the hunger and hardships these youth faced, capturing an appalling spectacle and social problem in America’s history before any effort was made to meet the problem on a nationwide basis by the federal government.

Boy and Girl Tramps of America is a work unique in its ability to extend beyond statistical analyses to uncover the opinions, ideas, and attitudes of the boxcar boys and girls. Originally published in 1934, it remains highly relevant to the turbulent moments of the twenty-first century. This reprint features an introduction by scholar Susan Honeyman that puts the work into our current context.


"Minehan has included in his book case histories of over 500 young people as well as numerous anecdotes of the road and diaries of two travelers. Subject matter ranges from the discussion of the lives of the boys and girls before they left home to their religion, life, and morality after they had been on the road."

- The Minnesota Alumni Weekly

"Boy and Girl Tramps of America is an important book for the history of youth, and it is especially relevant in this difficult time when young people worldwide are affected by upheaval and poverty."

- Ilana Nash, author of American Sweethearts: Teenage Girls in Twentieth-Century Popular Culture

"Today, Minehan's research methods have been widely adopted, and, fortunately, Editor Susan Honeyman has revived his remarkable study. . . . What this book should have meant in 1934 can, perhaps, be understood now."

- Theodore Bain, Journal of American Culture

"This welcome new edition of Boy and Girl Tramps of American includes Susan Honeyman’s insightful introduction, which places Minehan’s work in the context of contemporary racial, class, and gender concerns."

- James Wunsch, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth