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Mothers and Daughters in Nineteenth-Century America: The Biosocial Construction of Femininity

Overview

The feminine script of early nineteenth century centered on women's role as patient, long-suffering mothers. By mid-century, however, their daughters faced a world very different in social and economic options and in the physical experiences surrounding their bodies. In this groundbreaking study, Nancy Theriot turns to social and medical history, developmental psychology, and feminist theory to explain the fundamental shift in women's concepts of femininity and gender identity during the course of the century — ...

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Overview

The feminine script of early nineteenth century centered on women's role as patient, long-suffering mothers. By mid-century, however, their daughters faced a world very different in social and economic options and in the physical experiences surrounding their bodies. In this groundbreaking study, Nancy Theriot turns to social and medical history, developmental psychology, and feminist theory to explain the fundamental shift in women's concepts of femininity and gender identity during the course of the century — from an ideal suffering womanhood to emphasis on female control of physical self.

Theriot's first chapter proposes a methodological shift that expands the interdisciplinary horizons of women's history. She argues that social psychological theories, recent work in literary criticism, and new philosophical work on subjectivities can provide helpful lenses for viewing mothers and children and for connecting socioeconomic change and ideological change. She recommends that women's historians take bolder steps to historicize the female body by making use of the theoretical insights of feminist philosophers, literary critics, and anthropologists.

Within this methodological perspective, Theriot reads medical texts and woman- authored advice literature and autobiographies. She relates the early nineteenth-century notion of "true womanhood" to the socioeconomic and somatic realities of middle-class women's lives, particularly to their experience of the new male obstetrics. The generation of women born early in the century, in a close mother/daughter world, taught theirdaughters the feminine script by word and action. Their daughters, however, the first generation to benefit greatly from professional medicine, had less reason than their mothers to associate womanhood with pain and suffering. The new concept of femininity they created incorporated maternal teaching but altered it to make meaningful their own very different experience.

This provocative study applies interdisciplinary methodology to new and long-standing questions in women's history and invites women's historians to explore alternative explanatory frameworks.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A significant contribution to our understanding of white middle-class women in the 1800s." —

"Theriot's work is readable, well-researched, and thoroughly interdisciplinary." — JASAT

"This book is outstanding for its discussion of how women interpreted their experience through the media of medical texts, autobiographies, and woman-to-woman advice writing." — The Reader's Review

Booknews
**** Cited in BCL3, Sheehy, and ARBA 1992. The standard annual reference on the political economy of Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. Part I is a general survey of the region as a whole, covering such topics as population, political and economic developments, and religion. Part II contains separate chapters on each country, covering physical and social geography, history, and economy, and including a statistical survey, a directory, and a bibliography. Part III details the main regional organizations concerned with the area, with a description of their functions, publications, and key personnel. There is also a section on the major commodities of the region. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813108582
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 11/28/1995
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,426,342
  • Product dimensions: 5.99 (w) x 8.99 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy M. Theriot is associate professor of history and chair of the women's studies program at the University of Louisville

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Revised Edition
Introduction: Investigating Identities and Experience from a Generational Perspective 1
1 "Imperial Motherhood" and Its Material Roots 17
2 The Physical Roots of Ideology 40
3 Acculturation into "True Womanhood" 62
4 Daughters' Brave New World 77
5 The "Green Sickness" and Daughters' Ambivalence 101
6 A New Feminine Synthesis 114
Notes 137
Bibliography 184
Index 220
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