campus news & events

Colby-Sawyer College to Host Mary Childers, Author of Welfare Brat

NEW LONDON, N.H., Nov. 7, 2007 — The Colby-Sawyer College Humanities Department will present a reading by Mary Childers, author of Welfare Brat, a memoir of her struggle with growing up during the 1960s in a Bronx neighborhood ravaged by poverty.

The presentation will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7 p.m., at Clements Hall in the Curtis L. Ivey Science Center. Community members are welcome to attend and admission is free.

Welfare Brat focuses on Childers' life between the ages of 10 and 16 and draws a vivid picture of a family fighting for its survival, held together by an alcoholic, but occasionally heroic, single mother. “Growing up a poor white girl in the Bronx in the 1960s, Childers endured a childhood marred by violence, poverty, neglect and shame,” wrote a reviewer in Publisher's Weekly. “In the poignant memoir, she recounts it all with astonishing honesty and grace.”

During the 1960s, New York City was undergoing dramatic change, the effects of which were felt most at the bottom of the economic ladder. Relations between the races and ethnic groups of the Bronx were tense, especially after the 1968 riots and looting.

At age 16, Childers wanted nothing more than to leave her family's cramped apartment, but her mother continued to remind her that family was the center of her universe. “Intermittently, Mom reminds us of the rules of the tribe,” writes Childers. “Family always makes room for you at the table, even if there isn't enough food to go around…No matter how energetically we jostle each other in our small space, like agitated molecules, we remember that family shields us from the world, which is a perilous place for girls and for poor people.”

From the beginning of the memoir, the reader sees the example set for Childers and her siblings by her mother, who is well on her way to having seven kids with four different men. “As the years pass,” writes Childers, “it's getting easier to focus on how hard my mother tried instead of how often she fails.” Yet, she admits that her mother did sometimes serve as a negative example.

According to Childers, her mother was always complaining that welfare did not pay enough. Without a husband to help support the family, her mother's attitude toward the government was “I made the babies; the Man (government) should pay the bills.”

From the experiences of her childhood, Childers developed a deep awareness of the shortcomings of the welfare system. She realizes that it is often abused by the people who are supported by it, but also believes that government aid for the underprivileged is necessary. She deeply regrets that we have become a “society that rigidly conserves compassion,” and is thankful that she could develop from “a welfare brat to chip-on-the-shoulder chick to contributing, dissident citizen.”

Childers now resides in Hanover, N.H., with her husband, where she mediates conflict at colleges and universities and provides discrimination-prevention training for higher education and corporations. She holds a Ph.D. in English literature and has worked at Dartmouth College in various capacities. She has also held teaching and administrative positions at Brandeis, Vanderbilt, Villanova and Oberlin universities.

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-Amber Cronin '11

Amber Cronin is a Colby-Sawyer College student who writes for College Communications.

Colby-Sawyer, founded in 1837, is a comprehensive liberal arts college located in the scenic Lake Sunapee Region of central New Hampshire. Students from 25 states and five foreign countries learn in small classes through a select array of programs that integrate the liberal arts and sciences with pre-professional experience. Visit us on the World Wide Web at

Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main Street, New London, N.H. 03257 (603) 526-3000