- All Children Matter:Motherhood, Nation Building, and Empire in Enlightenment Russia, Colonial France, and Mandate Palestine
"Forward, my sisters, forward, and whoever shakes the cradle with her right hand, rocks the world with her left," said Augustine Tleel to the 1925 graduating class at the Greek Orthodox Girls' School in Jerusalem. As Ela Greenberg shows in Preparing the Mothers of Tomorrow, this speech expressed a growing acceptance of education, activism, and leadership for women of all faiths in early twentieth-century Palestine (167). Whether in governmental, Christian missionary, or private Islamic schools, education empowered Palestinian women as teachers and actors in the public sphere, including radio and print media. Yet, despite this consensus, British Mandate officials denied many young Muslim women such opportunities, notably in rural Palestinian villages and towns. As Greenberg demonstrates, British Mandate officials refused to invest in their education.
As in the other books under review, despite differences in time and place, the transformative potential of social welfare and educational initiatives was limited by underlying anxieties over gender, race, and class. Anna Kuxhausen's From the Womb to the Body Politic explores the nascent discourse on childrearing and education in eighteenth-century Russia, which benefitted mostly men and women of the upper classes. In Regeneration through Empire, Margaret Cook Andersen examines how the transnational debate on pronatalism impacted child welfare and women, not always positively, [End Page 197] in the French colonies of Madagascar and Algeria, as well as in its protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco.
Women, in their roles as mothers, professionals, and activists, have been central to building national identity and strength. Images and discourses of motherhood tie together these three scholars' works as they explore the role of education and family policy in nationalist and imperialist politics. These studies showcase the ways in which maternalism shaped the reform agendas of women, and sometimes men, who were preoccupied with the health and welfare of mothers and children across the globe. Extolling women's capacity to nurture, maternalists opened up new spaces of influence for educated women to assist mothers and children in emergent welfare states. The empowerment of women and their maternalist efforts from cradle to grave were, however, often overshadowed by political, economic, and racial inequality.1 These books thus contribute to an ongoing debate about how to expand economic and political opportunities for women in the fight against power and privilege.
Greenberg challenges the rhetoric of "backwardness" that justified the British Mandate, showing that "the seeds of girls' education already had been germinated during the nineteenth century" (43). The schools in late Ottoman Palestine were built on the legacy of the traditional Islamic school or kuttah. Classes at the Ottoman and, later, the British government schools whether for girls or boys were often held in the same building as the kuttah. Although the government made elementary education compulsory in 1869, only 1,480 girls were enrolled by 1914. The four-year curriculum at the Ottoman government school included reading and writing in Turkish, math, sciences, geography, and religion. In addition, to attract students, a few Protestant missionary schools taught in Arabic and hired Arabic-speaking teachers. Some elite Muslim families, drawn to the discipline and charity of the Catholic schools, to the nuns as models of upright behavior, and to the French language as a signifier of status shifted away from education at home. By 1912, there were forty-eight French schools, and those in Jerusalem enrolled 5,800 girls and 2,400 boys (71).
After World War I, Greenberg argues, the British government gradually expanded facilities for female education but failed to...