'Mommy Dearest: A History of American Motherhood'

May 8, 2020

Twin mothers with their newborn babies at Columbia Maternity Hospital, Washington, D.C., April 7th, 1939.
Credit Library of Congress

Some say motherhood is the hardest job in the world; turns out, there's a lot of history to back that up. In this special Mother's Day episode, the American History Guys explore changing expectations of mothers over the centuries.

For most of American history, women were charged with raising productive citizens, even as they lacked the status of full citizens themselves. So BackStory explores this paradox, looking to the ways that motherhood was used to enhance women’s claims to a say in society, and considering how the nature of mothering itself has changed over the centuries. What has it meant to be a “good mom” in American history?

Guests include:

  • Linda Kerber, University of Iowa, on the “founding mothers” who were tasked with instilling future generations with good republican values.
  • Ann Hulbertjournalist and author of Raising America (2011), on the early 20th Century advice that mothers not smother their children with love.
  • Nate DiMeowriter and producer of The Memory Palace podcast, on the tragic story of Anna Jarvis, the “mother” of Mother’s Day.

Listen Sunday, May 10 at 7 p.m. on WRVO, on-air and online.