Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kane, Brian


This dissertation examines how children’s music, children’s theater, and media (e.g., radio and film) contributed to safety education from 1918 to 1939. During this time, technologies such as automobiles radically changed everyday life, leaving death and tragedy in their wake. These hazards fundamentally challenged the safety of family life, recreation, and work. As deaths from preventable accidents rivaled the number of American soldiers who died in World War I, governments and trade associations created new safety initiatives to prevent death and injury. Scholars have examined the economic, engineering, and workplace aspects of safety. However, overlooked is the revolutionary role of the arts in defining safety and educating the public on these deadly consequences. My research asks: what did it mean for something or someone to be considered safe? By attending to music and media, I show that safety required active community-wide participation and that prejudices based on age, class, ethnicity, gender, and race undergirded safety. I examine the biases portrayed in safety lessons, placing close readings of media sources in conversation with archival documents, music analysis, and contemporaneous studies from the social sciences. An introduction constructs a historical model of safety. Chapters explore accident prevention in the school; the work of mothers as arbiters of safe content for child listeners; the tension between public service and the commercial music industry; and crime prevention and police surveillance. An epilogue reflects on public health, safety, and sonic media today. This research provides the historical context for debates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the role of the arts in education during times of crisis, the history of remote learning, and gendered labor in the home. As this dissertation examines the shaping of both childhood and parenthood by the media, it places debates on the potential dangers of music technologies and the early maturation of children’s tastes in the early twentieth century. This research locates a historical precedent for uses of music in public health and safety efforts in America before color television and music streaming. In using the arts to examine the relationship between safety and prejudice, this dissertation shows how music and media both help and harm society.