Maternalism and Feminism Discussion/April 1998


Maternalism and Feminism Discussion/April 1998


Query From Elizabeth Pagel 21 April 1998

I am looking to involve any interested members of this list in a discussion of the terms "maternalism" and "feminism" as they would be applied to early 20th century female organizations. Specifically, I am researching the activity of Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the Mississippi Health Project of the 1930s. Can anyone help me fine-tune my understanding of the above terms, the goals and intents of the AKA Health Project? How about the inapplicability of maternalism (derived from a study of white women's activity) or feminism (maybe the same source)to explain the efforts of black women? Is anyone familiar with Elsa Barkley-Brown's use of womanism to describe the activity/consciousness of black women? Is that really any better? Sort of a broad inquiry...


From Leslie Schwalm 21 April 1998

In response...about the Mississippi Health Project, I would recommend Susan L. Smith's definitive account in _Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women's Health Activism in America, 1890-1950_(1995).

From Deborah R. Grayson 21 April 1998

Your inquiry does seem a little broad. Would you say a little more about exactly what you are looking for?

Also, two things:

  1. A good place to start on background of AKA and the Miss. Health Project is Susan L. Smith's book [see above reference]. She has a chapter on the project. The book is on early twentieth century black women's health activism.
  2. I am not familiar with the term maternalism. Is this term defined in opposition to feminism/womanism?

From Janet Coryell 21 April 1998

Vol. 3 of the Southern Association of Women Historians' series on southern women's lives, _Beyond Image and Convention: Explorations in Southern Women's History_ out in June from U of Missouri Press, will have a wonderful article on the AKA Health Project by Susan Smith....

From Francesca Miller 21 April 1998

R your interest in maternalism and feminism, class and race, you might look at some of the excellent histories of women in Latin America, all of which address these issues and terms:

Hahner, June E. _Emancipating the Female Sex: The Struggle for Women's Rights in Brazil, 1850-1940_(Duke U Press, 1991).

Lavrin, Ascuncion _Women, Feminism and Social Change in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, 1890-1940_(Nebraska, 1995).

Miller, Francesca _Latina American Women and the Search for Social Justice_ (U Press of New England, 1992). Look particularly at Chapter four, "Feminism and Social Motherhood."

Stoner, K. Lynn _From the House to the Streets: The Cuban Women's Movement for Legal Change, 1898-1940_ (Duke U Press, 1991).

From Elizabeth Shanklin 22 April 1998

If you haven't already taken a look at the following, I think you may want to do so.

The debate over the use of the term "feminism" seems to be the consequence of the inclusion or exclusion of motherhood within the term. It seems from Nancy Cott's The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987) that the term excluded an identification with mothering in the United States, whereas from the work of Karen Offen and others, European women's feminism included a passionate assertion of their rights to mother. See Karen Offen's "Defining Feminism: a comparative historical approach," [Signs 14 (Autumn 1988) 119-157. There are comments by Ellen Carol Dubois and Nancy Cott and replies in Signs 15 (1989) 195-209. See also Karen Offen, "Contextualizing the Theory and Practice of Feminism in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1789-1914) in Bridenthal et al., Becoming Visible: Women in European History (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), 327-55. Offen's European Feminisms, 1700-1950 will be published this year.

You may also want to examine Cott's "What's in a Name? The Limits of 'Social Feminism'; or, Expanding the Vocabulary of Women's History," Journal of American History 76 (Dec 1989), 809-29.

The term "maternalism" was first introduced by Sonya Michel and Seth Koven in the October 1990 AHR to refer to ideologies that "exalted motherhood." Koven and Michel used the term to refer to women's efforts to institute state provision for mothers and children, as the title of their article makes clear: "'Womanly Duties': Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States, 1880-1920." Subsequently, Koven and Michel edited a book exploring maternalism, Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States (1993).

A Social Science History Association panel entitled "Maternalism as a Paradigm" examining the usefulness of the term was subsequently published in the Journal of Women's History 5 (Fall 1993) 95-131.

Linda Gordon's debate with Theda Skocpol "Gender, State and Society," in Contention, Vol. 2, No. 3, Spring 1993 may also be useful to you. Gordon discusses the neglect of Black women's organizations in Skocpol's construction of maternalism.

From Jillian Dickert dickert@BINAH.CC.BRANDEIS.EDU 22 April 1998

For a very good conceptualization and illustration of "maternalism," I would recommend that Elizabeth take a look at the book *Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States,* by Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, eds.

almost forgot to mention that the *Mothers of a New World* book I recommended contains an article by Eileen Boris called "The Power of Motherhood: Black and White Activist Women Redefine the 'Political'" -- which should be especially helpful for Elizabeth's topic.

From Deborah Elizabeth Whaley 22 April 1998

I am doing my Ph.D dissertation on Alpha Kappa Alpha and I have a lot that could help you;too many sources to mention in this thread. The Alpha Kappa Alpha history book will help you by Marjorie Parker_Alpha Kappa Alpha Through The Years_Chicago: Mobium Press. See also John Naisbett's master's thesis_In the Spirit of Black Women's Clubs_ done for Syracuse University. He devotes an entire chapter to this health project. You may also find my own undergraduate thesis at the University of California, Santa Cruz helpful_By Culture, By Merit: Alpha Kappa Alpha and the African American Sorority Movement. I have a lot information about this project from A.K.A. archives, minutes of meetings, interviews and magazines. I would be careful about applying "feminism" and "womanism" to these women and their causes; it is more accurate to discuss things like agency, subjectivity, or practices that may be construed as feminist *practices.* Feel free to email or call me personally and good luck.

From Lynn Weiner 22 April 1998

For a comparative discussion of the term, you might find useful the set of papers in "Maternalism as a Paradigm, Defining the Issues," published in the Journal of Women's History (fall 1993).

From Eileen Boris 21 April 1998

For maternalism, see the roundtable edited by Lynn Weiner in _The Journal of Women's History_Fall 1993. See also my piece in Michel and Koven, Ed., _Mothers of A New World_(Routledge, 1994): "The Power of Motherhood: Black and White Activist Women Redefine the 'Political'"--though of a slightly earlier period. We need to distinguish between mother talk and discourse of motherhood and 'maternalism' (counterpart to paternalism). Social motherhood and maternalism need not be the same either. I sense that historians of reform and gender and the state are moving away from maternalism because it has become too encompassing.

From Maria Elena Raymond 12 May 1998

For those of you wanting to conact others interested in these topics, or to just peruse the discussions from the past year or so, check the H-Women website for both discussion threads and biblios on maternalism, maternalism/feminism, et al. We're at