Mother Knows Best?
“Today as much as ever, mothers and motherhood are categories to be reckoned with in political debates,” write Rebecca Jo Plant and Marian van der Klein in the introduction to a new collection of essays, ‘Maternalism Reconsidered: Motherhood, Welfare, and Social Policy in the Twentieth Century’ (Berghahn Books, 2012). Lori Weintrob, associate professor and chair of the Wagner history department, co-edited this volume along with Plant, van der Klein, and Nichole Sanders.
“Maternalism” is a concept that scholars use to describe how ideas about motherhood shaped the social welfare policies of many nations, beginning in the late 19th century. In all kinds of states and among all kinds of organizations — whether they were liberal or conservative, feminist or anti-feminist — the needs and concerns of mothers became central concerns.
Weintrob writes a chapter about maternalism in France’s familial welfare state of 1890–1914, while other contributors cover the same movement during different time periods and in places as diverse as Argentina, Italy, the Soviet Union, and the United States. These scholars show how various states, reformers, and their poor clients used maternalist ideologies, with many political and social ramifications.