How Curfews Have Changed Through History

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tags: Baltimore

... As Yvonne Vissings explains in an essay in the book Juvenile Crime and Justice, the first curfews were imposed under England’s Alfred the Great, who ruled in the ninth century. The word itself is from the French for “cover fires”; instituting a special time of night at which fires had to be doused or covered. This could have served several purposes: it lowered the risk of a spreading fire, it got townspeople who congregated around public fires to go home and it was a useful tactic in times of trouble. Emergency curfews were used in the U.S. at least as early as the Civil War.

But, as explained in a very thorough entry in the encyclopedia The Social History of the American Family, the original idea of covering fires so that townspeople would go home also meant that those in power could control the rights of lower-class populations, who wouldn’t have had private places to congregate. By the 1700s in Europe and the U.S., cities instituted permanent curfews for workers and slaves. At that time and into the 1800s, most of those curfews were aimed at controlling laborers. When child-labor laws came along, the reasoning got swapped: adults were now working in factories (often at night, making curfews unappealing to the bosses) and children were at home without supervision, getting into trouble. Curfews as a tactic to suppress crime became linked with age restrictions on movement. By the middle of the 20th century, many cities had permanent youth curfews. ...

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