Childbirth, Motherhood, and Social Networks in the Old South
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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As I wrote about the social networks formed by people in the Old South, I could not help but think about those who encouraged my own endeavors and tied me to a larger sense of community. At the University of Western Ontario and at the University of Lethbridge I have benefi ted from the generosity of many people. I am particularly grateful for the ...
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Mahala and Henrietta lived in the same household in antebellum Vicksburg, Mississippi. In July of 1856 Mahala, who kept a daily diary of her activities, recorded the birth of her fifth child: “Little John, born this morning at 5 am—before 5—he is a delicate poor baby, only weighs 3- 1/2 pounds—Mother came down, but no one was here when he arrived but Margery and Henrietta.” About nine months ear-...
1. Idealizing Birth and Motherhood in the Antebellum South
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In 1835, Thomas Dew wrote of a mother’s love for her child. Having given the baby life, he suggested, she “feels the deepest sympathy with all its pains and wants, and carries in her heart, the most unbound and unremitting affection for it”; in her devotion “she notices with a tender anxiety all its little movements, and administers to all its wants.” While still a schoolgirl in North Carolina, Mary Ezell echoed these sentiments ...
2. Conception and Pregnancy: Southern Women’s Experiences of Reproduction
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On April 2, 1854, Mary Lydia Hauser wrote a letter of sympathy to her sister- in- law, Julia Conrad Jones, on hearing that she was pregnant again: “[W]ell do I recollect how I used to trouble myself about such things and how I suffered from the time that I was aware of my condition until I was delivered from it.” And although she recalled that “many have been the tears that I have shed on that account,” she coun-...
3. Childbirth: Commonalities and Divisions
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The events of labor and delivery were both pivotal points in the lives of women and parts of a broader continuum in their reproductive histories. This time of physical and emotional peril generated the potential for mutual dependence and the creation of a community of women across race and class lines. The birthing room became a space where normal social rules did not always apply. Birth assistants were ...
4. Motherhood: Infant Nurturing and Identity
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In 1799, Eleanor Lewis observed: “The idea of being a Mother, of watching over & forming the mind of Our little infant is a source of delight which none but those in similar situations can experience.” Alabamian Sarah Anne Gayle suggested a similar pleasure when she wrote about a friend in 1833: “what a thrilling and interesting occasion is the birth of a first child, especially in one who feels so tenderly and thinks as ...
5. Fatherhood and the Southern Patriarchy
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When Caroline North Pettigrew of North Carolina gave birth to her second child in 1855, many in her extended family expressed disappointment that the baby was a girl. Her husband’s brother, Johnston Pettigrew, summed up these sentiments when he wrote that he could not “refrain from regretting” the infant’s sex since boys were “the thing for the world.” ¹ The ideals of patriarchy, male domi-...
6. Birth and Professional Identity in the Antebellum South
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Dr. D. Warren Brickell, a noted New Orleans physician, complained in 1856 that “we must condemn the almost universal practice, on the part of owners and overseers, of tampering with their sick negroes for one, two, or more days before applying for medical aid.” Increasingly, doctors such as Brickell included childbirth as one of the “sicknesses” with which lay people ought not to tamper. Although agri-...
7. Birth, Motherhood, and the Sectional Crisis
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In the wake of John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia native Mrs. M. J. C. Mason and anti-slavery writer Lydia Maria Child began an exchange of letters. Among the issues they discussed, the treatment of birthing women became a key indication of the moral well-being of their respective societies. Mason began the exchange by querying of Child: “Do you soften the pangs of maternity in those around you by all ...
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In 1860, the Reverend Benjamin Morgan Palmer of South Carolina asserted his loyalty to an emerging southern nation, writing that “born upon her soil, of a father thus born before me—from an ancestry that occupied it while yet it was a part of England’s possessions—she is in every sense my mother.” Nearly four decades later, Victoria Clayton of Alabama made a similar link between her birth and her sense of south-...
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Essay on Sources
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The narratives that southern women created about their own birth experiences are at the core of this book. Fortunately, archival repositories throughout the South have preserved many of the diaries and letters in which southern women recorded and shared this information. My research is based on archival collections held in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Caro-...
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2010