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A Social History of Wet Nursing in America: From Breast to Bottle

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Overview

A Social History of Wet Nursing in America: From Breast to Bottle examines the intersection of medical science, social theory, and cultural practices as they shaped relations among wet nurses, physicians, and families from the colonial period through the twentieth century. It explores how Americans used wet nursing to solve infant-feeding problems in the eighteenth century, shows why wet nursing became controversial in the nineteenth century as motherhood slowly became medicalized, and elaborates how the development of scientific infant feeding eliminated wet nursing by the beginning of the twentieth century. Setting these changes in the context of women's history and the history of medicine, the book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the cultural authority of medical science, the role of physicians in shaping child-rearing practices, the social construction of motherhood, and the profound dilemmas of class and culture that played out in the private space of the nursery.

The book contains no figures.

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Editorial Reviews

Sallie Page-Goertz
This scholarly work chronicles the social history of wet nursing in America from 18th century through the early 20th century. The intertwining forces of culture, society, economics, science, and medicine and their effect on what happens in the nursery are elucidated. As these forces change, the practice of wet nursing evolves as well. This evolution is described via a wide variety of sources, including first-person accounts from diaries and early texts on childrearing. This book seeks to answer the question ""... why Americans rejected wet nursing, assuming that what 'science' produced was superior to what 'nature' provided."" The author seeks to look at the broadest framework for the evolution of wet nursing—changes in social class divisions, society's views of motherhood, and the authority of physicians. Those wanting to know more regarding the history of infant feeding will enjoy this exploration of one spectrum of childrearing. These might include practitioners in family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, history of medicine, dietitians, nurses, and lactation consultants. The book is extensively referenced. Footnotes direct one to other sources that provide more detail, as well as making pertinent asides. The index is detailed. This is a well-written and interesting chronicle of a phenomenon not well understood today. Exhaustive research, which includes fascinating vignettes from diaries of families, documents the enmeshment of forces on childrearing practices throughout American history. This book provides a wonderful historical perspective from which to view the profound influence of societal change on infant feeding practices and mothering today. The roleplayed by physicians and the infant formula industry on women, families, and childrearing at the closing of the twentieth century has its roots intertwined in the history of wet nursing so skillfully described by Golden. The book is a welcome addition to the library.
Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Sallie Page-Goertz, MN, PNP, IBCLC (University of Kansas School of Medicine)
Description: This scholarly work chronicles the social history of wet nursing in America from 18th century through the early 20th century. The intertwining forces of culture, society, economics, science, and medicine and their effect on what happens in the nursery are elucidated. As these forces change, the practice of wet nursing evolves as well. This evolution is described via a wide variety of sources, including first-person accounts from diaries and early texts on childrearing.
Purpose: This book seeks to answer the question "... why Americans rejected wet nursing, assuming that what 'science' produced was superior to what 'nature' provided." The author seeks to look at the broadest framework for the evolution of wet nursing — changes in social class divisions, society's views of motherhood, and the authority of physicians.
Audience: Those wanting to know more regarding the history of infant feeding will enjoy this exploration of one spectrum of childrearing. These might include practitioners in family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, history of medicine, dietitians, nurses, and lactation consultants.
Features: The book is extensively referenced. Footnotes direct one to other sources that provide more detail, as well as making pertinent asides. The index is detailed.
Assessment: This is a well-written and interesting chronicle of a phenomenon not well understood today. Exhaustive research, which includes fascinating vignettes from diaries of families, documents the enmeshment of forces on childrearing practices throughout American history. This book provides a wonderful historical perspective from which to view the profound influence of societal change on infant feeding practices and mothering today. The role played by physicians and the infant formula industry on women, families, and childrearing at the closing of the twentieth century has its roots intertwined in the history of wet nursing so skillfully described by Golden. The book is a welcome addition to the library.
From the Publisher
"...a cogent analysis of the complicated and changing relationships among wet nurses...rich with fascinating details." Journal of Human Lactation

"Janet Golden's history of wet nursing tells an important story....This book is well worth a close reading both for its contributions to the history of medicine and for its illustration of these tensions." Ellen S. More, Johns Hopkins University Press

"Overall, Golden's book is an enjoyable read. Her work provides a thoughtful and detailed discussion of the complexities involved in various wet nursing arrangements....Golden's book is useful for those who are interested in the historical regulation of women's bodies and lives, especially for those who want to learn more about the historical regulation of poor, single mothers." Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association

"One of the more interesting chapters in human history is that of the feeding of infants by breast or bottle [and] Golden has gone a long way in explaining this necessary aspect of human behavior in this well-written and fascinating book." Ray Browne, Journal of American Culture


4 Stars! from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814250723
  • Publisher: Ohio State University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Series: Women and Health Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

List of tables
Acknowledgments
List of abbreviations
Introduction 1
1 Public discourse and private relations: Wet nursing in colonial America 11
2 The new motherhood and the new view of wet nurses, 1780-1865 38
3 Finding "just the right kind of woman": The urban wet nurse marketplace, 1830-1900 64
4 "Victims of distressing circumstances": The wet nurse labor force and the offspring of wet nurses, 1860-1910 97
5 Medical oversight and medical dilemmas: The physician and the wet nurse, 1870-1910 128
6 "Obliged to have wet nurses": Relations in the private household, 1870-1925 156
7 "Therapeutic merchandise": Human milk in the twentieth century 179
Epilogue: From commodity to gift 201
Index 207
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