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

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Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009 M11 30 - 248 pages
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.

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Contents

1 Nostalgia Modernism and the Family Ideal
1
Mary Elizabeth Leases Maternalist Agenda
17
George H Maxwell and the Homecroft Movement
45
Edward A Ross and Race Suicide
77
Theodore Roosevelt and the Conservation of the Race
109
Florence Sherbon and Popular Eugenics
131
7 American Pronatalism
163
Notes
173
Bibliography
207
Index
229
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Page 90 - You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard; we reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.
Page 33 - She stood nearly six feet tall, with no figure, a thick torso, and long legs. To me, she often looked like a kangaroo pyramided up from the hips to a comparatively small head.
Page 80 - Our people had to look upon houses that were mere shells for human habitations, the gate unhung, the shutters flapping or falling, green pools in the yard, babes and young children rolling about half naked or worse, neglected, dirty, unkempt.
Page 4 - But Home is not contained within the four walls of an individual home. Home is the community. The city full of people is the Family. The public school is the real Nursery.
Page 26 - O'er lesser powers that be; But a mightier power and stronger Man from his throne has hurled, For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.
Page 1 - TO STUDY THE HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY is to Conduct a rescue mission into the dreamland of our national selfconcept. No subject is more closely bound up with our sense of a difficult present — and our nostalgia for a happier past.
Page 113 - If there is one lesson taught by history, it is that the permanent greatness of any state must ultimately depend more upon the character of its country population than upon anything else. No growth of cities, no growth of wealth, can make up for a loss in either the number or the character of the farming population.
Page 29 - We went to work and plowed and planted; the rains fell, the sun shone, nature smiled, and we raised the big crop that they told us to; and what came of it?
Page 30 - Overproduction when 10,000 little children, so statistics tell us, starve to death every year in the United States, and over 100,000 shop-girls in New York are forced to sell their virtue for the bread their niggardly wages deny them.

About the author (2009)

Laura Lovett is assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

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