This essay analyzes inequality and the construction of childhood in the early US juvenile justice system. Although the juvenile justice movement’s best intentions focused on protecting children from neglect and the criminal justice system, historians have argued that protective juvenile justice was unequal and ephemeral. I critically summarize three histories of juvenile justice: Anthony Platt’s The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency (1969), Geoff Ward’s The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice (2012), and Tera Agyepong’s The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899–1945 (2018). I argue that the common thread in these studies is the construction of poor and black youth as unchildlike. Because the juvenile court arose in a context where not all youth were considered children, it never treated all youth as innocent or in need of protection.