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Conceiving the Future

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

Laura L. Lovett

Publication Year: 2007

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. Lovett examines how nostalgic idealizations of motherhood, the family, and the home were used to construct and legitimate policies that promoted reproduction in the early 20th-century U.S. In Europe, countries sought to regulate or encourage reproduction through legislation. America, by contrast, fostered ideological and cultural ideas of pronatalism through what Lovett terms “nostalgic modernism,” which romanticized agrarianism and promoted scientific racism and eugenics. She looks closely at five historical figures and policies: Elizabeth Lease’s maternalist agenda; Florence Sherbon’s eugenic “Fitter Families” campaign; George Maxwell’s “Homecroft” campaign 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. Understanding the historical circumstances that associated agrarianism, racism, and pronatalism, she demonstrates 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 also sheds light on current “family values” rhetoric. Through nostalgic idealizations of motherhood, family, and the home, argues Laura Lovett, 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 Lovett terms “nostalgic modernism,” which romanticized agrarianism and promoted scientific racism and eugenics. 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.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Contents

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pp. v-7

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-13

I began this book in the History Department at the University of California, Berkeley. My advisor, Mary P. Ryan, allowed me to complete this project by being both a model of scholarship and a model of support. Mary’s comments were always insightful and encouraging even as she tried to keep this far-ranging...

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1. Nostalgia, Modernism, and the Family Ideal

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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...

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2. New Occasions Teach New Duties: Mary Elizabeth Lease’s Maternalist Agenda

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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 1935 Idaho Farmer advocated such beauty tips for farmer’s wives as manicured nails. Hofstadter thought that most...

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3. Reclaiming the Home: George H. Maxwell and the Homecroft Movement

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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...

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4. The Political Economy of Sex: Edward A. Ross and Race Suicide

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pp. 77-108

In the March 1911 edition of Good Health magazine, 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...

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5. Men As Trees Walking: Theodore Roosevelt and the Conservation of the Race

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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...

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6. Fitter Families for Future Firesides: Florence Sherbon and Popular Eugenics

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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...

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7. American Pronatalism

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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’’..

Notes

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pp. 173-206

Bibliography

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pp. 207-228

Index

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pp. 229-236


E-ISBN-13: 9781469604725
E-ISBN-10: 1469604728
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807831076
Print-ISBN-10: 0807831077

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 7 illus.
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Gender and American Culture