Maternal Bodies

In the second half of the 18th century, motherhood came to be viewed as women’s most important social role, and the figure of the good mother was celebrated as a moral force in American society. In Maternal Bodies: Redefining Motherhood in Early America (University of North Carolina Press, 2018), Nora Doyle ’06, assistant professor of history at Salem College, shows that depictions of motherhood in American culture began to define the ideal mother by her emotional and spiritual roles rather than by her physical work as a mother. As a result of this new vision, lower-class women and nonwhite women came to be excluded from the identity of the good mother because American culture defined them in terms of their physical labor.