Mothers and Daughters in Nineteenth-Century America
The Biosocial Construction of Femininity
Theriot's first chapter proposes a methodological shift that expands the interdisciplinary horizons of women's history. She argues that social psychological theories, recent work in literary criticism, and new philosophical work on subjectivities can provide helpful lenses for viewing mothers and children and for connecting socioeconomic change and ideological change. She recommends that women's historians take bolder steps to historicize the female body by making use of the theoretical insights of feminist philosophers, literary critics, and anthropologists.
Within this methodological perspective, Theriot reads medical texts and woman- authored advice literature and autobiographies. She relates the early nineteenth-century notion of "true womanhood" to the socioeconomic and somatic realities of middle-class women's lives, particularly to their experience of the new male obstetrics. The generation of women born early in the century, in a close mother/daughter world, taught their
daughters the feminine script by word and action. Their daughters, however, the first generation to benefit greatly from professional medicine, had less reason than their mothers to associate womanhood with pain and suffering. The new concept of femininity they created incorporated maternal teaching but altered it to make meaningful their own very different experience.
This provocative study applies interdisciplinary methodology to new and long-standing questions in women's history and invites women's historians to explore alternative explanatory frameworks.
About the Author
"Theriot's work is readable, well-researched, and thoroughly interdisciplinary."—JASAT
"This book is outstanding for its discussion of how women interpreted their experience through the media of medical texts, autobiographies, and woman-to-woman advice writing."—The Reader's Review
Other Titles in SOCIAL SCIENCE / Feminism & Feminist Theory