Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness

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Chronicling astonishing shifts in public attitudes toward reproduction, from the association of barrenness with sin in colonial times, to the creation of laws for compulsory sterilization in the early twentieth century, from the baby craze of the 1950s, to the rise in voluntary childlessness in the 1990s, to the increasing reliance on startling reproductive technologies today, Elaine Tyler May reveals the intersection between public life and the most private part of our ...

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1st Edition, VG+/Fine Ink owner name/date on Title Page, o.w. clean, bright & tight. DJ not chipped, torn etc. Rest of book in Fine condition. ISBN 0465006094 Price is ... unclipped. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Chronicling astonishing shifts in public attitudes toward reproduction, from the association of barrenness with sin in colonial times, to the creation of laws for compulsory sterilization in the early twentieth century, from the baby craze of the 1950s, to the rise in voluntary childlessness in the 1990s, to the increasing reliance on startling reproductive technologies today, Elaine Tyler May reveals the intersection between public life and the most private part of our lives—sexuality, procreation, and family.

In the first book to explore the experience of being childless throughout our country's history, the author of Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era chronicles the astonishing shifts in public attitudes toward every aspect of childlessness, from voluntary childlessness to compulsory sterilization, infertility, and adoption. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``Do we want children?'' This major question has only recently been asked in our society. As May, professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota, points out in this well-thought-out analysis, childbearing was an economic necessity until this century. After WWII, the family became the center of social status and stability. ``Procreation shifted from a matter of survival and necessity to a source of expansion, national identity, and personal happiness.'' In the domestic ecstasy of the '50s, those without were considered at best handicapped, at worst deviant. And now the pendulum swings back. In the '70s, the concept of ``childfree'' emerged, preferred over the term``childless'' because the latter ``implies that one's natural state is to have children.'' May cites Ellen Peck (The Baby Trap), who claims, ``The men I meet who don't have children talk about their wives. The men who have kids ask me out.'' May takes readers through the shifts in opinion over the centuries, from barren women being perceived as witches to childfree women being accused of hedonism and self-indulgence; from pregnancy as a life-threatening state to designer genes and contemporary couples unwilling to accept the prospect of no children. She doesn't take sides but places the available information at the disposal of her readers. Photos. (June)
Library Journal
Voluntary childlessness, compulsory sterilization, contraception, abortion, infertility, and childbearing have all played significant and sometimes shameful roles in America's social development. This book examines reproduction as a tool of political and social control from Colonial times to the present. Children were an economic necessity and a communal responsibility during the Colonial period, but an expanding economy and a changing society made family life private and parenthood the province of the worthy. May, a social historian, uses historical sources and responses to an author's query to illustrate changing attitudes toward childlessness. Unlike Susan S. Lang's Women Without Children (Pharos Bks., dist. by St. Martin's, 1991), which deals only with the psychological aspects, this book places childlessness within a social and historical context, providing an added dimension. An interesting addition to women's studies and social science collections.-Barbara Bibel, Oakland P.L., Oakland, Ca.
Booknews
May (American studies, U. of Minnesota) debunks myths surrounding infertility in this history of childlessness, chronicling shifts in attitudes toward voluntary childlessness, compulsory sterilization, infertility, and adoption. Some of the revelations include the first recorded case of artificial insemination in 1884, US compulsory sterilization as a model for the Nazis' eugenics program, and the fact that an infertile couple's chances of giving birth to a child today are about the same as in the 1950s. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Patricia Hassler
Over 500 childless people responded to an author's query to share first-person accounts of child-free lives. The majority of responses came from women, 60 percent of whom were childless by choice. Combining their stories of nonreproduction with that of America's reproductive history, May's discussion of our country's reproductive trends is a cohesive picture of a place where children were, at first, an economic necessity. Later, Theodore Roosevelt favored eugenics when faced with "race suicide" in a country overrun by the "wrong" immigrants. The couple-centered childlessness of the 1920s eventually gave way to the patriotic baby boom of the postwar years. From the free love of the 1960s through the child-free 1970s, May brings us to the 1990s where childlessness is no longer considered pathological and her respondents freely admit nurturing their own "child within" in favor of the pain of bringing a new life into a ruined world. A fecund view of every aspect of childlessness, including sterility, infertility, and "designer genes" in a country that has moved from sex without children to children without sex.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465006090
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/1995
  • Pages: 336

Meet the Author

Elaine Tyler May is Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: The Public and Private Stake in Reproduction 1
Ch. 1 Barren to Infertile: Childlessness Before the Twentieth Century 21
Ch. 2 The "Race Suicide" Panic: Eugenics and the Pressure to Procreate 61
Ch. 3 Unfit for Parenthood: Class, Race, and Compulsory Sterilization 95
Ch. 4 The Baby Craze: The Rise of Compulsory Parenthood 127
Ch. 5 Infertility: Freud in the Bedroom, Sex at the Clinic 151
Ch. 6 Childfree: The Revolt Against the Baby Boom 181
Ch. 7 Designer Genes: The Baby Quest and the Reproductive Fix 211
Appendix: A Note on the Sample of Letters 261
Notes 267
Index 307
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