The Empty Cradle: Infertility in America from Colonial Times to the Present

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Is infertility on the rise because women are delaying childbearing in order to pursue careers? Has it reached "epidemic" proportions among affluent and educated Americans? Does infertility affect the well-off more than the poor, or white Americans more than black Americans? Have the new reproductive technologies dramatically increased the success of infertility treatment? Most Americans would answer "Yes" to these questions - and most Americans would be wrong. In The Empty Cradle, Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner ...
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Overview

Is infertility on the rise because women are delaying childbearing in order to pursue careers? Has it reached "epidemic" proportions among affluent and educated Americans? Does infertility affect the well-off more than the poor, or white Americans more than black Americans? Have the new reproductive technologies dramatically increased the success of infertility treatment? Most Americans would answer "Yes" to these questions - and most Americans would be wrong. In The Empty Cradle, Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner delve into the origins of these and other misconceptions as they explore how medical and cultural beliefs about infertility emerge from its history. Drawing on a wide variety of sources - including intimate diaries and letters, patient records, memoirs, medical literature, and popular magazines - The Empty Cradle investigates the social, cultural, scientific, and medical dimensions of infertility over the past three hundred years. Telling a story that begins long before infertility was viewed as a medical problem, Marsh and Ronner show how generations of women responded both to their own desire for children and to the enormous pressure placed on them by the cultural expectation that all women should want to be mothers. In colonial America, a woman's inability to bear children was explained as the will of God or, perhaps, the work of the devil. By the middle of the nineteenth century, infertility was increasingly seen as a medical condition calling for therapeutic intervention - but also as a condition for which women themselves were held responsible. The authors describe how physicians in the late 19th century argued that women who attended college, or had intellectual interests beyond marriage and motherhood, brought infertility upon themselves, because women who put energy into mental pursuits had none left for reproducing.

Is infertility on the rise because women are delaying childbearing in order to pursue careers? Has it reached "epidemic" proportions among affluent and educated Americans? Does infertility affect the well-off more than the poor, or white Americans more than black Americans? Have the new reproductive technologies dramatically increased the success of infertility treatment? Most Americans would answer "Yes" to these questions:and most Americans would be wrong. In this book the authors delve into the origins of these and other misconceptions as they explore how medical and cultural beliefs about infertility emerge from its history. Drawing on a wide variety of sources:including intimate diaries and letters, patient records, memoirs, medical literature, and popular magazines:the book investigates the social, cultural, scientific, and medical dimensions of infertility over the past 300 years.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
A gynecologist and a cultural historian trace the changes in the way people have understood infertility over the past three hundred years, drawing on sources including diary entries, letters, patient records, medical literature, and popular magazines. They also examine emerging scientific evidence that infertility is equal among men and women and the fact that infertility rates have remained surprising consistent for more than a century. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Rima D. Apple
Marsh and Ronner have sought to go beyond the published medical literature to disclose the voices of those most affected by the physiological and cultural condition of infertility...they have restored to the historical record the anguish and the hopes of women who expereienced infertility. -- American Historical Review, The Henry E. Sigerist Series in the History of Medicine
Journal of the Social History of Medicine
[Marsh and Ronner make for a] highly successful combination in which faultless clinical detail and a broad social and cultural approach are seamlessly woven to produce a very impressive and beautifully written historical work of the first importance.

— Irvine Louden

American Historical Review
Marsh and Ronner have sought to go beyond the published medical literature to disclose the voices of those most affected by the physiological and cultural condition of infertility... they have restored to the historical record the anguish and the hopes of women who experienced infertility.

— Rima D. Apple

Journal of the American Medical Association
The book's lucid explanations of medical terms and procedures will allow me to recommend it to my infertility patients. I plan to do so, trusting that it will give them a new perspective on their predicament. Knowing that it provided me a new perspective on both infertility and the practice of gynecology, I will also assign it an honored place in my medical library.

— Janet E. Shepherd, M.D.

Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Demonstrates the profound impact of politics as well as culture on the development of medical practice. It is an excellent model for future scholarship on the complex relationship between science and society.

— Elaine Tyler May

Journal of the Social History of Medicine - Irvine Louden
[Marsh and Ronner make for a] highly successful combination in which faultless clinical detail and a broad social and cultural approach are seamlessly woven to produce a very impressive and beautifully written historical work of the first importance.
American Historical Review - Rima D. Apple
Marsh and Ronner have sought to go beyond the published medical literature to disclose the voices of those most affected by the physiological and cultural condition of infertility... they have restored to the historical record the anguish and the hopes of women who experienced infertility.
Journal of the American Medical Association - Janet E. Shepherd
The book's lucid explanations of medical terms and procedures will allow me to recommend it to my infertility patients. I plan to do so, trusting that it will give them a new perspective on their predicament. Knowing that it provided me a new perspective on both infertility and the practice of gynecology, I will also assign it an honored place in my medical library.
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences - Elaine Tyler May
Demonstrates the profound impact of politics as well as culture on the development of medical practice. It is an excellent model for future scholarship on the complex relationship between science and society.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Margaret Marsh, Ph.D., the author of Suburban Lives and Anarchist Women, 1870-1920, is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and and professor of history at Rutgers University, Camden.Wanda Ronner, M.D., is an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 Denied "a Blessing of the Lord": Living with Barrenness in Early America 9
2 "Purely Surgical"? Technology, Instrumentation, and Redefinition of Sterility at Midcentury 41
3 The "Degeneracy of American Womanhood": Gynecology Redefines Infertility, 1870-1900 75
4 Framing Infertility: Sexuality, Marriage, and Parenthood in Twentieth-Century America 110
5 Degrees of Infertility: From the Sterile Woman to the Infertile Couple, 1900-1945 131
6 "Such Great Strides": Reproductive Technology in Postwar America, 1945-1965 171
7 "The End of the Beginning"? From Infertility Treatment to Assisted Reproduction, 1965-1981 210
Epilogue: The Past in the Present: Putting Reproductive Technology in Perspective 243
Appendix: How Reproduction Occurs 257
Note on Sources 261
Notes 265
Index 317
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