Mother’s Day became a national holiday on May 9, 1914 to honor all of the work mothers do to raise children.
But what precisely is the work that mothers do to raise children? Has the nature of mothers, motherhood, and the work mothers do changed over time?
Nora Doyle, an Assistant Professor of History at Salem College in North Carolina, has combed through the historical record to find answers to these questions. Specifically, she’s sought to better understand the lived and imagined experiences of mothers and motherhood between the 1750s and 1850s.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.
Nora Doyle, an Assistant Professor of History at Salem College in North Carolina, helps us investigate the lived and imagined experiences of mothers and motherhood between the 1750s and 1850s.
Using details from her book Maternal Bodies: Redefining Motherhood in Early America, Nora reveals how early Americans thought about mothers and motherhood between the 1750s and 1850s; How early American women experienced pregnancy and childbirth; And the legacies and impact early American views of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood have had on our own present-day views of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.
What You’ll Discover
- How early Americans thought about mothers & motherhood
- Ideas about women’s physical ability to reproduce
- The experience of pregnancy in early America
- Childbirth mortality rates
- How and why men came to join the process of early American pregnancy & childbirth
- Historical records that discuss early American motherhood
- The lived experiences of early American mothers
- Ideas early Americans had about mothers and motherhood
- Networks of assistance for mothers
- Breastfeeding, wet nurses, and formula
- The notion of “sentimental motherhood”
- Ideas girls came to have about pregnancy and childbirth in early America
- Experiences of pregnancy and childbirth for free and enslaved African and African American women
- Legacy of early American views and portrayals of pregnancy and motherhood
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Nora Doyle
- Nora Doyle, “How Motherhood in America became White and Middle Class”
- Nora Doyle, “Breastfeeding and American Culture: Idealizing Maternal Virtue in the Eighteenth Century and Today”
- Maternal Bodies: Redefining Motherhood in Early America
- Omohundro Institute
- Ben Franklin’s World Shop
- The Double-Edged Sword of Motherhood Under American Slavery
- Episode 027: Lisa Wilson, A History of Stepfamilies in Early America
- Episode 120: Marcia Zug, A History of Mail Order Brides in Early America
- Episode 150: Woody Holton, Abigail Adams: Revolutionary Speculator
- Episode 205: Jeanne Abrams, First Ladies of the Republic
In your opinion, what might have happened if women had been the chief authors of early American medical texts, parenting manuals, and other popular print materials representing mothers and motherhood? How do you think early American motherhood might have been portrayed differently?
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