Conceiving the Future

Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890-1938

LAURA L. LOVETT
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807868102_lovett
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  • Book Info
    Conceiving the Future
    Book Description:

    Through nostalgic idealizations of motherhood, family, and the home, influential leaders in early twentieth-century America constructed and legitimated a range of reforms that promoted human reproduction. Their pronatalism emerged from a modernist conviction that reproduction and population could be regulated. European countries sought to regulate or encourage reproduction through legislation; America, by contrast, fostered ideological and cultural ideas of pronatalism through what Laura Lovett calls "nostalgic modernism," which romanticized agrarianism and promoted scientific racism and eugenics.Lovett looks closely at the ideologies of five influential American figures: Mary Lease's maternalist agenda, Florence Sherbon's eugenic "fitter families" campaign, George Maxwell's "homecroft" movement of land reclamation and home building, Theodore Roosevelt's campaign for conservation and country life, and Edward Ross's sociological theory of race suicide and social control. Demonstrating the historical circumstances that linked agrarianism, racism, and pronatalism, Lovett shows how reproductive conformity was manufactured, how it was promoted, and why it was coercive. In addition to contributing to scholarship in American history, gender studies, rural studies, and environmental history, Lovett's study sheds light on the rhetoric of "family values" that has regained currency in recent years.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0472-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 NOSTALGIA, MODERNISM, AND THE FAMILY IDEAL
    (pp. 1-16)

    The United States invested heavily in the reproduction of its citizenry during the early twentieth century. However, these investments did not take the form of legislated child allowances or baby bonuses. Instead, national campaigns for reclamation, conservation, country life, and eugenics became prominent expressions of American pronatalism. Recognizing them as such is not a matter of understanding how they altered the birthrate but a matter of understanding how reproduction was associated in each campaign with nostalgic ideals of the family, motherhood, or the home. In the United States, reproduction was regulated as much by social pressure and created conventions as...

  5. 2 NEW OCCASIONS TEACH NEW DUTIES: MARY ELIZABETH LEASE’S MATERNALIST AGENDA
    (pp. 17-44)

    In one of his few discussions of women and the political reforms of the Populist and Progressive Eras, historian Richard Hofstadter contrasted ideals of feminine beauty from 1860 and 1935. Where an 1860 farm journal satirized the refinement and affected beauty of the city girl, the 1935Idaho Farmeradvocated such beauty tips for farmer’s wives as manicured nails. Hofstadter thought that most farm women probably found such advice ludicrously out of place in a farm magazine, but he thought that the presence of such an ideal was significant. To mark that significance Hofstadter invoked Mary Elizabeth Lease, the most...

  6. 3 RECLAIMING THE HOME: GEORGE H. MAXWELL AND THE HOMECROFT MOVEMENT
    (pp. 45-76)

    Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1915 novel,Herland, begins as three male explorers discover a utopian country inhabited only by women and children.Drawing a connection between the Edenic landscape and the civilized nature of its inhabitants, Gilman’s misogynist antihero first notes the ways in which the women of Herland have managed their forests: ‘‘Talk of civilization. . . . I never saw a forest so petted, even in Germany. Look, there’s not a dead bough—the vines are trained—actually! And see here . . . the kinds of trees. . . . Food-bearing, practically all of them. . . . The...

  7. 4 THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF SEX: EDWARD A. ROSS AND RACE SUICIDE
    (pp. 77-108)

    In the March 1911 edition ofGood Healthmagazine, Ellen Swallow Richards claimed that she had discovered the ‘‘true cause of race suicide.’’ As a founder of the field of home economics and an instructor of ‘‘sanitary chemistry’’ at MIT, Richards was a pioneer in the study of nutrition, and it was naturally in the field of nutrition that she found the real roots of what was seen as a pressing issue of the day, race suicide. Commenting as much on social habits as on nutrition, Richards argued that leisure and lack of ‘‘interesting occupations’’ allowed women the time to...

  8. 5 MEN AS TREES WALKING: THEODORE ROOSEVELT AND THE CONSERVATION OF THE RACE
    (pp. 109-130)

    The first National Conservation Congress in 1909 featured what in retrospect may seem like a surprising variety of papers on subjects ranging from conservation in lumber and electricity production to the conservation of child life and manhood. In addition to the expected papers on forestry, the public health and child labor efforts undertaken by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were both represented at the congress.¹ The DAR speaker was Mrs. J. Ellen Foster, chair of the DAR Committee on Child Labor. In her address on the conservation of child life, Foster...

  9. 6 FITTER FAMILIES FOR FUTURE FIRESIDES: FLORENCE SHERBON AND POPULAR EUGENICS
    (pp. 131-162)

    The 1911 ‘‘Million Dollar Parade’’ of prize livestock and other agricultural products at the Iowa State Fair concluded with an automobile filled with preschool children. A runner on the side of the car proclaimed them to be ‘‘Iowa’s Best Crop.’’ A later report on the event noted that these children had participated in a preschool health examination competition in which the examiners followed the only criterion available to them at the time: the methods of observing used by stock judges for determining prize livestock.¹

    Charles Davenport, head of the Eugenics Record Office, wrote a post card to the Iowa contest-organizers...

  10. 7 AMERICAN PRONATALISM
    (pp. 163-172)

    On October 18, 1940, the Leathers family of Clarendon, Texas, became the ‘‘nation’s most typical American family’’ as judged by a committee at the New York World’s Fair. White, with two children, nineteen-year-old John and sixteen-year-old Margaret Jean, the Leathers were described as ‘‘champion stock farmers’’ living on a ‘‘200-acre homestead’’ in Texas. A photograph in theChristian Science Monitorshowed them gathered around the family tractor. The Leathers had been chosen in May by theFort Worth Star-Telegramas part of a contest to represent the typical American family from West Texas. Like forty-seven other families from across the...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 173-206)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 207-228)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 229-236)