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Week 14

Theme Four: Medicine, science, and the family

Week 14

Making Motherhood

It’s something of a truism that we take our mothers for granted –OK, so we may spring for chocolates or flowers on Mothering Sunday, but the rest of the year, their ‘motherliness’ is assumed rather than scrutinised or celebrated. Our culture, however, and our medical culture in particular, takes ‘motherhood’ very seriously indeed. Today, we will explore the role of medicine in shaping our perceptions, expectations, and understandings of motherhood from the late 19th century to the present. Why and when did doctors get into the business of offering mothers advice on pregnancy, birth, and childrearing? And who benefited most from their interventions? Did anyone lose out? How different is the relationship between motherhood and medicine today from the one that existed in at the turn of the 20th century?


Seminar topic: NO SEMINAR


Required Reading:

  • Rima Apple ‘Constructing mothers: scientific motherhood in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ in Apple and Golden (eds), Mothers and Motherhood, 90-110 OR in Social history of medicine, Vol. 8, no. 2 (Aug. 1995), via Oxford Journals Archive online at University of Warwick Library.
  • Judith Walzer Leavitt, ‘The Growth of Medical Authority: Technology and Morals in Turn-of-the-Century Obstetrics’, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Sep., 1987), pp. 230-255
  • Michelle Stanworth, ‘Reproductive technologies and the deconstruction of motherhood’, in Stanworth, Reproductive technologies: gender, motherhood and medicine, (Oxford: Polity Press, 1987): 10-35.


Background and Further Reading:

Film: Batchelor Mother, 1939

Rima Apple, Perfect Motherhood: Science and Childrearing in America (New Brunswick, NJ; Rutgers University Press, 2006)

Margaret L. Arnot, ‘Infant death, child care and the State: the baby-farming scandal and the first Infant Life Protection legislation of 1872’ in Continuity & Change, 9, 2 (1994), 271–311

George K. Behlmer, Friends of the Family: The English Home and Its Guardians, 1850–1940 (Stanford, CA, 1998) pp. 272–315

Board for Social Responsibility, ‘Marriage and the Family’ in Ruth Chadwick (ed.), Ethics, Reproduction and Genetic Control, 2nd Edition (London: Routledge, 1992): 53-62

Sarah-Vaughn Brakman, Sally J. Scholz, ‘Adoption, ART, and a Re-Conception of the Maternal Body: Toward Embodied Maternity’, Hypatia, Vol. 21, Number 1, Winter 2006, pp. 54-73

Fenella Cannell, ‘Concepts of Parenthood: The Warnock Report, the Gillick Debate, and Modern Myths’, American Ethnologist, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Nov., 1990), pp. 667-686

Robert Griswold, Fatherhood in America: A History (New York: Basic Books, 1993)

Ellen Herman, “Families Made by Science: Arnold Gesell and the Technologies of Modern Child Adoption” Isis 92, 2001: 684-715.

Ellen Herman, ‘The Paradoxical Rationalization of Modern Adoption’, Journal of Social History, Vol. 36, Number 2, Winter 2002, pp. 339-385.

Jenny Keating A Child for Keeps: the History of Adoption in England, 1918-45 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

Beth Kohl, Embryo Culture: Making Babies in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2007) (A very funny, if blunt, first hand account of attaining ‘motherhood’ with NRTs: Compare to Batchelor Mother)

Hilary Rose, ‘Victorian values in a test tube: The Politics of Reproductive Science’, in Stanworth, Reproductive technologies: gender, motherhood and medicine, (Oxford: Polity press, 1987):151-173

Joseph G. Ryan, The Chapel and the Operating Room: The Struggle of Roman Catholic Clergy, Physicians, and Believers with the Dilemmas of Obstetric Surgery, 1800-1900’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 76, Number 3, Fall 2002, pp. 461-494

Pamela J. Walker ‘Adoption and Victorian culture’ in History of the Family, 11, 4, (2006), 211–21

Barbara Yngvesson, ‘Negotiating Motherhood: Identity and Difference in "Open" Adoptions’, Law & Society Review, Vol. 31, No. 1 (1997), pp. 31-80