Mothers and Motherhood

Readings in American History

Edited by Rima D. Apple and Janet Golden

This collection of essays brings together some of the most exciting recent scholarship on mothers and motherhood. Motherhood is a significant experience for the overwhelming majority of American women, and the work of mothering—in individual families and in communities—has shaped the lives of all Americans. Although mothers have always been present in American history, scant attention has been paid to the phenomenon of mothering, the meaning of motherhood, or the lives of mothers. And it is only recently that historians have begun to examine mothers and motherhood as a phenomenon distinct from, yet deeply intertwined with, family history and women’s history.

Organized into four sections, this collection opens with several articles that examine how society constructs images of motherhood and how the social definition of mothering changes over time, how it varies by race, class, and religion, and how cultures convey ideas about motherhood through a variety of media. The next section examines the theme of reproduction, which encompasses efforts to prevent and to achieve pregnancy, as well as the termination of pregnancy through abortion and the completion of pregnancy through birth, demonstrating how ideas about fertility shape the meaning of motherhood. The third section explores how social variables—such as slavery and ethnic and religious backgrounds—affect the mothering experiences of women. The essays in the final section examine the links between mothers, mothering, and public policy, looking at how different groups of women have used their status as mothers to inaugurate, sustain, and achieve the aims of various political programs.

Designed for the general reader as well as students of women’s history, women’s studies, family history, sociology, and American studies, this volume should also be of great interest to politicians and policy makers. This book endeavors not only to teach about the history of mothers and motherhood but to inspire others to undertake their own research projects on the subject.

Rima D. Apple is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, School of Human Ecology and Women’s Studies Program. She is the author of Mothers and Medicine: A Social History of Infant Feeding, 1890–1950.  Janet Golden is assistant professor of history at Rutgers University–Camden. She is the author of A Social History of Wet Nursing in America: From Breast to Bottle.

605 pp., Illus., 7 x 10

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