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

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Univ of North Carolina Press, Nov 30, 2009 - History - 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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1 Nostalgia Modernism and the Family Ideal
Mary Elizabeth Leases Maternalist Agenda
George H Maxwell and the Homecroft Movement
Edward A Ross and Race Suicide
Theodore Roosevelt and the Conservation of the Race
Florence Sherbon and Popular Eugenics
7 American Pronatalism

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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.

About the author (2009)

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

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