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October 13, 2005

The History of Youth Liberation

I have a pretty decent understanding of the history of YL... But now I'm wanting to do some serious research to make sure all my facts are straight. Before I go to the library again, or do another Google search, I want to briefly state what I know at present.


Around 1970, the organization "Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor" was formed.

My first exposure to the existence of this group was probably via the book "Encyclopedia Brown's Record Book Of Weird And Wonderful Facts" by Donald J. Sobol (1979):

"When Keith Hefner of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was 15, he formed Youth Liberation, Inc. The group championed kids' lib.

Among other things, it supported giving children the vote and the right to divorce their parents and get alimony.

Somehow it failed to catch on.

When last heard from, Keith was fighting the battle alone.

'I'm not giving up on this yet,' he said."
(pp. 33-34)

Since that first discovery, I have found three other books that talk about Youth Liberation, Inc.:

  • "Youth Liberation: News, Politics, and Survival Information", Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor (1972)

  • "The Children's Rights Movement: Overcoming the Oppression of Young People", eds. Beatrice Gross & Ronald Gross (1977)

  • "The Age Taboo: Gay Male Sexuality, Power and Consent", ed. Daniel Tsang (1981)

To the best of my knowledge, Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor was the first modern YL organization: a fully formed doing organization, run by youth, guided by a youth rights manifesto.

...I've been told, via Adam Fletcher of freechild.org, that Keith Hefner is still involved in YL work of some sort (although it's changed in nature). I believe I've also seen a history of the organization online -- possibly by Hefner -- that I need to hunt down again.


Around this same time period, two adult authors published their own YL manifestoes:

  • "Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children", John Holt (1974)

  • "Birthrights", Richard Farson (1974)

Abbreviated versions of their manifestoes were reprinted in "The Children's Rights Movement". eds. Gross & Gross. Misplaced, but somewhere in my collection, I know that I also have a copy of "Ms. Magazine" circa 1976 that has an interview with Farson.

Holt and Farson merit being called the "fathers of the movement" -- their books, I believe, are the enduring inspiration for the YL variety of Children's Rights. No others have been as influential -- but I've found a few leads for other authors that I need to hunt down.

Laura M. Purdy has published a book titled "In Their Best Interest? The case against equal rights for children" (1992). It's a philosophy book, and is dense as convoluted, as such books often are -- and despite being anti-YL, is surprisingly fair. One of the real benefits of this book, for me, is that Purdy identifies a bunch of authors whom she describes as "Youth Liberationists". Based on her footnotes, I think I'm most interested in hunting down:

  • "Equal Rights for Children", Howard Cohen (1980)

...I've seen this book on the shelf at Portland State University, and it has a similar feel to Holt's and Farson's manifestoes. I suspect that I missed it previously because it was published after Children's Rights' heyday in the seventies. ...It looks like most of the other texts that Purdy cites are academic, rather than polemic -- and mostly just essays contained in scholarly journals.

Another lead I've found was in the "International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family", under the heading "Children's Rights":

"In 1959, the United Nations approved a modest but much-cited ten-point Declaration of the Rights of the Child. In the early 1970s, writers John Holt and Richard Farson both promulgated bills of rights for children, as did New York attorneys Henry Foster and Doris Jonas Freed."

...I haven't heard of Henry Foster and Doris Jonas Freed before. I can only guess that I haven't run across their writings before because they did not publish full books. If they were attorneys, however, I may be able to track them down in legal journals, at Lewis & Clark college's law library.


"Re-evaluation Counseling", also known as "Co-counseling" is a form of peer-counseling-based therapy. It was founded by Harvey Jackins, a friend of L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology), and has been described by some as a psychotherapeutic cult. Nonetheless, "RC" has done a great deal to promote the concept of "adultism".

Jackins' first book was "The Human Side of Human Beings". I would cite the date -- but once again, the actual book is misplaced in my collection. The "Fundamentals of Co-Counseling Manual (Elementary Counselors Manual)", however, is at hand -- it was first published in 1962.

My understanding is that when the various liberation movements of the late 60s hit, RC leadership seized upon the oppressions of racism, sexism, adultism, etc. as things that people would need healing from -- they used interest in oppressions to promote the RC "community".

RC does not involved in social change activism (as far as I am aware) -- but promoting the idea that youth are oppressed is a contribution to YL. Youth are encouraged to do co-counseling themselves, and at least for several years there was a publication titled "Young and Powerful".


Prior to the existence of the internet, it was extremely difficult to find YL writings. Youth-run organizations typically couldn't publish books and didn't receive news coverage -- so they simply disappeared from history when they folded. Pre-1995, finding a YL pamphlet was a very precious find indeed. My two prized publications that I found during this period are:

  • "As Soon As You're Born They Make You Feel Small: Self Determination for Children", Wendy Ayotte (1986)

  • "Young and Oppressed", Brian A. Dominick & Sara Zia Ebrahimi (1996)

Sometime during the early 1990s there was a organization called the National Children's Rights Alliance (NCRA). They had a newspaper that they put out, and had interesting membership guidelines -- adults could be members, but only if they were survivors of child abuse (as I recall).

NCRA folded. Two more national organizations have appeared in its wake: Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions (ASFAR), and the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA).

Here is what the NYRA site says about the recent history of YL:

"The youth rights movement first utilized the internet to help the struggle in 1991, with the creation of the Y-Rights listserv mailing list. Two members of that original internet presence, Matthew Walcoff and Matt Herman, began a non-profit organization out of that mailing list known as AS-FAR. Not too long after AS-FAR was founded, a Rockville, Maryland high school student named Avram Hein began a youth rights group called YouthSpeak. At the same time, a third youth from Canada, Joshua Gilbert, was starting a youth rights organization for his country, CYRA. Walcoff, Hein and Gilbert all met through AS-FAR, and decided to start a non-profit corporation to help unify the youth rights movement, which at that point consisted of almost a dozen different groups around North-America and the world. They eventually joined with Herman and created NYRA, the National Youth Rights Association. By June, 1998, NYRA was incorporated as a non-profit benefit organization with intention to lead the Youth Rights political movement in the United States.

(http://www.youthrights.org/whatwevedone.shtml, accessed 10.13.05)

Posted by Sven at October 13, 2005 04:11 PM


oohh, youth rights history, my favorite topic. If you're gonna write up something on this, I'm willing to help. I've done my share of poking into our history.

Some of the stuff I've done has been put up on the Youth Rights Network: www.youthrights.net check that out, and please if you have information to add, PLEASE add it. The more that is developed the better.

I've been in touch with Jeanne Lenzer, of the National Child Rights Alliance, and she sent me her archives of a bunch of back issues of their newsletter the "Freedom Voice". I've undertaken the project of scanning them all and putting them online. I've got one issue up on YRN so far, and eventually I'll get around to putting up the others. That one issue is interesting though (its a big file though, I need to change that), cause it has a letter from Matt Walcoff in it where he discusses many of the issues that led to the creation of ASFAR and NYRA.

I consider NCRA a transition group from the very protectivist groups of the 80's and the more liberation focused groups that came in the late '90s. I've also met and spoken with briefly Jim Senter, another big person in NCRA.

Oh, and many of the folks you mentioned from the '70s like Richard Farson, the Roland & Beatrice Gross, and Keith Hefner are on the Youth Rights Leaders list. I STRONGLY encourage you to make good use of that list. There are many more folks on there than just them. Important leaders past and present.

Don't leave out Mike Males and Bob Franklin either. They are other good writers to include. While Mike's books aren't as philosophical as the ones Franklin, Farson or Holt wrote, he is definitely a support of our ideas, and a good guy. Males and Franklin are both on the list too.

And if you want to get a better sense of the internal forces that arose in the late '90s with the creation of ASFAR and NYRA there is an original source that is incredibly valuable to such research that I"ve been trying for a few months to get my hands on without success. The ASFAR mailing list was the hub of the movement for several years in the late 90's. A lot of issues were discussed there that were incredibly formative for all of us still working on this. They used to maintain a public archive of that mailing list, but they have decided to now keep it secret. I asked for a copy of it, even offered to pay for it, but they have so much animosity towards NYRA they refused. Its frustrating.

I've also been in touch with Kenneth Udut who founded the Y-Rights mailing list back in 1991. He has some archives from the list backed up somewhere, but they are on floppy disks or something and he's not sure where they are. I definitely think we need to get copies of those too. That list is what brought together the founders of ASFAR & NYRA and is the reason we're here today.

But yea, check out the YRN page for some info, and check out this paper I wrote mostly about the formation of NYRA: http://www.youthrights.org/nyrahistory.shtml

And definitely, definitely say something on the Youth Rights Leader's List. There are lots of great folks there.

Posted by: KPalicz at October 14, 2005 09:39 AM

btw, i've been posting a bunch of stuff on One and Four, check it out. Comment, write responses, use trackbacks, ya know, fun stuff.

Posted by: KPalicz at October 15, 2005 07:12 PM

Hey Alex -- thanks for the response!

Thanks, too, for prompting me to check out the Youth Rights Network for historical info. I'd forgotten about it in my first wave of new research, and it answered a couple of questions I'd had -- particularly about NCRA. ...I'm very excited about getting to peruse the old "Freedom Voice" issues when you get them up online.

Your own essay on the origins of NYRA is excellent. You did a really superb job of capturing details there -- I'm so glad that this bit of history can be transparent to all of us.

...Wow, I knew Richard Farson was on the Youth Rights Leaders list -- but not some of those other folks. Honestly, I'm a little embarrassed and humbled -- these are some folk that I've looked up to for a long time, and I'm not sure where to begin. But I'll keep the thought in mind as I get deeper into this particular project.

Posted by: sven Bonnichsen at October 22, 2005 10:05 PM

You should look for William R. George, The Adult Minor. (He also wrote two other related books of interest.) I think The Adult Minor was published in the 1930s. Really fascinating stuff that will give you new ideas that Holt and Farson don't cover. The easiest way to get hold of this is buying it used online, but otherwise, you might find it in an academic library. (It will be in the juvenile correction area -- don't be put off -- that's why you've never heard of him before, despite his having been head of the junior republic movement which included about 11 schools across this country, one in England, one in India, one in China, and perhaps several others around the world.

Posted by: catherineD at November 14, 2005 03:01 PM

Sven, are you out there? Have you written anything on the history aspect lately? I have a booklet on the history of Youth Voice that might interest you - or not. Either way, let me know. Also, FYI, I've collected several of the historical documents you've mentioned here (including several issues of "Young & Powerful" and As Soon as Your Born They Make You Feel Small) that I'd love to share with you. Also, about Hefner, his group in NYC is called "Youth Communications" and he's still at it.

There are a lot of things to catch up on, if you'd like. I've been getting connected with some groups down your way that you might be interested in; otherwise, it would just be nice to catch up. Get in touch. - A

Posted by: Adam at March 27, 2006 09:27 PM

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