gina ford

On Gina Ford Attempts to Rescue Parents from Chaos and The True Measure of Contentment

As every parent knows, children are as individual as snowflakes. For optimum growth and learning, some require more structure than others. If your child is one of those, one of the nine popular books on parenting that Gina Ford has written might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Parenting Philosophy of Gina Ford

Here is a quote from “The Contented Little Baby Book”, which was published in 1999.

“I personally believe that the majority of babies thrive and are happier in a routine. But I certainly realize and respect that following a routine is not a choice for all parents. There is already so much advice out there for ‘baby-led parenting’; therefore the advice I give in my books is for those parents who believe that they and their baby will be happier in a routine.”

Part of her wide appeal is that she doesn’t insist that her way is the only way. Too often, the advice of child care experts results in parents’ feeling as if they are “doing it wrong”. Gina Ford recognizes and respects the individual choices of parents, as well as the fact that when it comes to raising children, there really is no single philosophy that’s right for everyone.

Gina Ford: Controversy and Criticism

Despite the popularity of Gina Ford’s books, one of the most common criticisms levied against her is that she herself is not a mother. Such critics insists only mothers who have experienced it themselves can fully understand the emotional and behavioral effects of the hormonal changes that take place within a mother’s body. Further, they insist that these hormonal changes sensitize them to a baby’s needs, and that therefore, rigid routines are contrary to nature’s guidelines. Gina Ford, however, did spend several years as a maternity nurse, which provided many opportunities for observing a great many mothers and infants.

According to an article in the Guardian, her detractors, including liberal politician Nick Clegg, argue that it is “nonsense” to expect a hungry infant to conform to an adult’s time-table. The public controversy sparked by her parenting philosophy resulted in a court case in which Gina Ford accused a parenting website of publishing defamatory remarks by readers. The case was settled out of court, but the controversy remains.

One of the key concepts in Gina Ford’s parenting philosophy is the importance of maintaining a consistent schedule. She goes so far as to recommend breaking up days into five minute blocks. A great deal has been written about the psychological benefits of structure. They include an increased sense of safety and security and less anxiety due to clear expectations.

However, much has also been written about the psychological dangers of over-structuring children’s lives. For example, too many structured activities can result in decreasing creativity and the ability to be spontaneous. It can also affect children’s ability to develop and use their imaginations. One study showed that children with too many structured activities were also less able to use their executive function to make choices for themselves.

Achieving Balance

Gina Ford has presented parents with another valuable perspective to consider in the constant struggle that all parents experience in trying to achieve a balance that works for their individual families. Her work reminds us that while the well-being and development of infants and children must be a prime consideration, there are other factors to consider as well.

One of those factors is that working parents must themselves adapt to schedules imposed from without, and there are potentially severe consequences that result from a prolonged lack of sleep. Therefore, most experts tend to recommend a balance between structure and free time, consistency and spontaneity.

Parents can all agree that ideally, they want their parenting to result in their children becoming happy, secure, creative adults. They picture their grown children with great imaginations, but also capable of adapting to a work schedule in order to succeed in their chosen careers. Whatever the limitations of her methodology, Gina Ford has succeeded in providing parents with some valuable information and suggestions that they can adapt to suit their own individual family circumstances.

If you want to know more about more general foundations upon which many of our present child rearing philosophies and parenting styles are built, then head over here.

gina ford

parenting styles

Parenting Styles And How We Come to Know Truth through Parenting Books

Have you ever wished that there was one book where you could find all the scientific parenting advice and parenting styles contained in all the parenting books written in the last century?

Well, Perfect Motherhood: Science and Child Rearing in America comes pretty close. This vast array of information, compiled and analyzed by author Rima Apple, does a good job of revealing the foundations upon which many of our present child rearing philosophies and parenting styles are built.

The following excerpt from the book demonstrates the authors’ belief that mothers have learned to utilize the benefits of science and medicine without giving their power away to the scientific community.

“The struggle to remove authoritarian physicians but importantly, not medicine and science from the center of child-care advice and to insert mothers as active participants in decision-making about their families’ health was not a simple change. It resulted from a complex of social and medical developments that encompassed women pushing against contemporary medical practices and a changing medical system pulling women more deeply into health care. “

The Growing Influence of the Medical Community

According to Rima Apple, this wasn’t always the case with parenting books. In her book, she points out that a number of factors contributed to women ceding their power in the parenting realm to medical “experts“.

Some of those factors included a decline in birth rates corresponding with higher infant mortality rates, the discovery of vaccines, and a rise in hospital births. Because scientific advancements such as vaccines had the power to save thousands of children’s lives, mothers responded with a willingness to concede that the medical community was perhaps more qualified to make decisions regarding the health and welfare of their children than they themselves were.

Parenting styles and books

Parenting books written by doctors and scientists began to exert more influence on mothers and a variety of parenting styles emerged throughout the 20th century. This willingness to defer to the scientific community had a great impact on motherhood, in that women also began to value the opinions of scientists and medical experts over the experience and knowledge of their own mothers and grandmothers. Women grew to depend less on relatives and midwives and more on doctors and hospitals when defining their own parenting styles.

As the influence of the scientific community grew, so did philosophical debates within that community. One of the problems with this was that competing factions within the scientific community often published findings that were inconsistent with, or even contradicted, one another. The results of one study negating the results of another left mothers more confused about parenting styles than enlightened. The source of financial backing for scientific studies was also a factor in determining what kinds of experimental studies would be conducted.

Conflicting Expert Opinions on Parenting Styles

Such differences of opinion on parenting styles between authors or experts continue today. One article on the subject pointed out that because parenting is a relatively new science, the advice given in parenting books is all considered subject to change upon further investigation. Further, because such conflicting advice about parenting styles  often raises more questions than it answers, parenting books written by “experts” can result in reducing parents’ confidence in themselves.

The feminist movement in the 1970s questioned the validity of male-dominated scientific and medical institutions advocating child-rearing practices that women were largely responsible for carrying out. The validity and value of scientific contributions that could be incorporated into child-rearing practices and parenting styles was never questioned .

However, the movement did have the effect of restoring some of the former relevance of the equally valuable knowledge and experience of midwives and other child care professionals.

It also caused a shift in the way that “science” was defined in terms of motherhood. Women began to view the scientific and medical community as a source of valuable information to use when making their own decisions, rather than as the final authority on parenting. Rima Apple credits some authors of parenting books, such as Dr. Benjamin Spock as being partially responsible for the restoration of faith in their own parenting abilities and shaping their own views on parenting styles.

Parents generally agree that while parenting books can often offer valuable suggestions, in the end, it is they who must decide which ones to implement. It’s they and their children who will experience the results of their decisions. That’s why any book that increases a parent’s confidence as well as providing information is a valuable one.

parenting styles


Parental Choice

Destruction of the Concept of Motherhood: Simone de Beauvoir on Parental Choice

Although she was not a mother, Simone de Beauvoir has, as a philosopher and an author influenced the intellectual women and mothers of several generations. Her views on parental choice was clear. Simone de Beauvoir, attributed her own intellectual development to the differences in her parents’ belief systems.

“…my father’s individualism and pagan ethical standards were in complete contrast to the rigidly moral conventionalism of my mother’s teaching. This disequilibrium, which made my life a kind of endless disputation, is the main reason why I became an intellectual.”

However, the following quote perhaps best exemplifies the premise upon which she built her feminist philosophy.

“It is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills.”

Education of Simone de Beauvoir

Having grown up in an upper middle class, or bourgeois, family, she received an excellent Catholic education and even considered becoming a nun until the age of 14 (which would have led to the same parental choice she would make later on), when she instead became a life-long atheist. Intellectually precocious, after passing her baccalaureate exams, she studied languages, mathematics, and philosophy. At age 21, she was the youngest person to ever pass the agrégation exam at the Sorbonne, the scores of which were used for national ranking of scholars. She placed second, behind Jean-Paul Sarte, who placed first.

Works of Simone de Beauvoir

In her 1949 book The Second Sex”, she analyzed the phenomenon of women’s oppression and was one of the first feminists, although she did not formally declare herself one until 1972. In many ways, the book provided the framework for the later feminist movement. Other novels include She Came to Stay” and The Mandarins”. In a philosophical work titled “The Ethics of Ambiguity” she explored the concept of how freedom is affected by physical and social circumstances. Despite the lasting influence of her books, Simone De Beauvoir is as well known for her 45 year romantic relationship with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre as she is for her intellectual and literary contributions.

Controversy around the rebel Simone de Beauvoir

Simone De Beauvoir’s relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre was an open one, which caused a great deal of controversy, as did her bi-sexuality. But perhaps the biggest controversy that surrounded her was when she was formally charged with abducting a minor. She had developed an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student whose parents were outraged. They demanded that she be formally charged and as a result, her license to teach in France was permanently revoked.

Years later, in 1971, she signed the Manifesto of the 343, which was a list of famous women who’d had abortions. She defended openly parental choice. This proved to be equally controversial, but these women were willing to give up their privacy and endure public shame to legalize abortion by forcing the government to either arrest and charge them all with a crime or change the law. At the time abortion was even more controversial than it is today. Partially as a result of the controversy, abortion in France was legalized in 1974.

Simone de Beauvoir maintained that womanhood, and by extension, motherhood, were social constructs that served as tools in the patriarchal oppression of women. I have written several articles where psychologists or anthropologists would come to the same conclusion. However Simone de Beauvoir states philosophical viewpoints about motherhood, parental choice and their consequences. I believe that by who she was and what she wrote -whether I understand or agree with her personal parental choice-she has indeed influenced our beliefs and broader theoretical concept of what it means to be a mother today and in our society.

Views of Simone de Beauvoir on Parental Choice and Motherhood

Simone de Beauvoir believed that society’s definition of human being was male by default, thereby relegating women to a social construct of an inferior “other”. Further, she felt that women must elevate themselves from the position assigned them through the power of their conscious choices. In an interview with feminist Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir stated that

“No woman should be authorized to stay at home to bring up her children… because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. It is a way of forcing women in a certain direction.”

She questioned the validity of “choice” , of which the parental choice was one, within a social construct that punished women for choosing differently.

“Do you think the mothers you know chose to have children? Or were they intimidated into having them?”

She questions women’s ability to make a choice when men

“behave as if only women who stay at home are “clean” while the others are easy marks.”

To support her argument, she pointed to the increases in rape and domestic violence as evidence of male aggression expressed as punishment in response to women’s demands for equal rights.

In a 1976 interview she challenged women to examine their individual choices and how they would affect other women by saying

“Those who profit from their “collaboration” have to understand the nature of their betrayal”.

While she believed that economic systems were partially responsible for the oppression of women, she saw that the power of the patriarchal system superseded both capitalism and socialism. Therefore, she concluded that the most revolutionary act that women could perform

“to change the value system of society was to destroy the concept of motherhood.”

Legacy of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir worked for the creation of a society on which both genders were equally valued, both economically, and as parents. Most importantly, she wanted parenthood to be a true parental choice, rather than a societal expectation. When asked how long it might take to achieve such equality, she replied

“Maybe in four generations. I don’t know about the revolution. But the changes that women are struggling for, yes, that I am certain of, in the long run women will win.”

Parental Choice
Simone de Beauvoir with Jean Paul Sartre, welcomed by Avraham Shlonsky and Leah Goldberg by Flickr GovernmentPress Office
Rose Kennedy

Rose Kennedy or what it takes to be honored with the title of papal countess for exemplary motherhood

“When you hold your baby in your arms the first time, and you think of all the things you can say and do to influence him, it’s a tremendous responsibility. What you do with him can influence not only him, but everyone he meets and not for a day or a month or a year but for time and eternity. I looked on child rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demanded the best that I could bring to it.”

Needless to say, Rose Kennedy was often quoted on the subject of motherhood.

Early Life of Rose Kennedy

Of her own upbringing, Rose Kennedy said of her father

“My father was a great innovator in public life, but when it came to raising his daughters, no one could have been more conservative.”

His conservative view was reflected in his refusal to allow her to attend Wellesley College, enrolling her instead at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Boston.

Born Rose Fitzgerald, her father was John Fitzgerald, often called “Honey Fitz”, a politician who served a term as a congressional representatives before becoming the mayor of Boston. She met her future husband, Joseph P. Kennedy, when she was quite young, as their families often spent summer vacations together. Joe and Rose married in 1914 and had nine children together over the next 18 years. He had the additional distinction of becoming the youngest bank president in history.

Having been raised in the political spotlight made her very aware of, and subject to, public opinion. Her Catholic faith was also very important to her. Despite her high expectations for her children, she believed that

“children should be stimulated by their parents to see, touch, know, understand and appreciate”.

In 1951, the Vatican honored her with the title of papal countess in 1951 for “exemplary motherhood and many charitable works“. It was her faith that sustained her through the many losses she endured as a mother.

A Mother’s Anguish

Rosemary, their third daughter, was born with a mental disability, and received a lobotomy in 1941, which later resulted in her having to be institutionalized. Her eldest son, Joe, Jr., who aspired to become president one day, was killed in action in 1941 during a mission for the U.S. Navy when his plane exploded.

Kathleen, another daughter, also died in a plane crash in 1948 while on her way home from Europe. Her death was especially difficult for Rose Kennedy, as they had a great deal in common, such as a love of travel and languages. She felt that Kathleen, nicknamed “Kick” was the child most like her and admired her sense of social justice. In her diaries, Rose Kennedy quotes her daughter as having said

“… in having this high standard of living for a few people, we have trodden a lot of others under foot in this country and in other countries…”

In 1963, her son, and one of the most beloved Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Just five short years later, her son Robert, a senator, would suffer the same fate. The very next year, her youngest son Theodore was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of a young woman that resulted in a political scandal because he did not immediately report the accident.

Personal Glimpses of Rose Kennedy

A more complete picture of Rose Kennedy than the mass media and politics afforded was made possible upon the release of her letters and diaries in 2006. These documents paint a picture of a woman struggling to maintain her identity even while putting her own interests and ambitions aside to play a supportive role for her family.

Some of her diary entries make it clear that being a mother of nine was not without its frustrations as well as joys. In a 1972 diary entry, she writes

“When the children needed to be spanked, I often used a ruler, and sometimes a coat hanger, which was often more convenient because in any room there would be a closet and the hangers in them would be right at hand.”

This entry also serves to illustrate the stricter child rearing methods of the era.

Throughout her many triumphs and tragedies as a mother, she remained grateful for all of her experiences, viewing life as a balance between the two.

“…I cannot find in literature or in life many people whose lives we envy. Most of course proceed on a middling course, not many great thrills — the normal number of deaths and disappointments.”

Rose Kennedy, of course, experienced more of both than most. She lived to the age of 104, surrounded by her five remaining children, and 69 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy with her son, President John F. Kennedy in 1962. Source Wikimedia
Family Life

How Marie Curie Combined her Own Family Life while Mothering Modern Physics

“I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.”

Called the mother of modern physics , Marie Curie’s biography is an impressive one. She not only invented the term “radioactivity” but discovered two chemical elements, radium and polonium. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics and the first person to ever receive the honor twice, also being awarded the honor in the field of Chemistry. However, she valued knowledge for it’s own sake and was never motivated by the desire for fame and recognition. Albert Einstein said of her

“Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted.”

Marie Curie’s Poverty, Exlusion and Humble Beginnings

As a child, the family life of Marie Curie was clouded by poverty so severe that she lost one of her sisters to typhus and her mother to tuberculosis. Because women weren’t allowed to attend Russian Universities, she became a private tutor, learning everything her wealthy students studied at their universities. She sent part of the money she earned as a governess to help support family life back home and particularly one other sister in Paris, until she could become well established enough to send for her. In 1891, she was finally able to move to Paris to live with her sister and enrolled at the prestigious Sorbonne.

Close Family Life as a Success Factor

Family life -of the extended family rather than the nuclear family- continued to be an important source of support which enabled Marie Curie to continue her research after her marriage to Pierre Curie and the birth of her two daughters, Irene and Eva.

“It became a serious problem how to take care of our little Irène and of our home without giving up my scientific work. Such a renunciation would have been very painful to me, and my husband would not even think of it…So the close union of our family enabled me to meet my obligations.”

After the premature loss of her mother-in-law to cancer, her father-in-law moved in with the family and served as both grandfather and caretaker for the children and helped in the couple’s family life.

Her husband Pierre used their joint Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1905 to issue a warning about the potential of the destructive power of science with these words

“mankind will derive more good than harm from the new discoveries.”

Tragically, in 1906, just one year after the birth of their youngest daughter Eva, Pierre was struck by a carriage and killed, leaving Marie Curie a widow. Those words of the acceptance speech would prove to be prophetic, as the very scientific discoveries that they were being lauded for would lead to Marie Curie’s untimely death from radiation poisoning.

Despite being a widow with two small children, she took on the task of editing her late husband’s collected works, which she completed in 1908. In 1910, she published her own research in a volume titled “Traité de radioactivité” for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Discrimination against women was still such that even after having been awarded two Nobel Prizes, the Academy of Sciences refused to admit her as a member in the organization. She was, however, the first woman to hold a chair at the Sorbonne.

Marie Curie as Mother

Now as a mother, she is reported to have kept records of family life and specifically every stage of her daughters’ development as faithfully as she recorded the results of her scientific experiments.

Her daughters were home-schooled, often by some of the most brilliant scientists in the world. She was able to shape  family life as she saw fit and most conducive.

Her eldest daughter Irene became a scientist and during World War I, worked side by side with her mother using x-ray machines to locate shrapnel in the bodies of wounded soldiers. In 1926, Irene was married to Frédéric Joliot, an assistant at the Radium Institute and together, they continued Marie Curie’s research after her death in 1934. Irene won the Nobel Prize in 1935 for her work in using radioactivity to transmute chemical elements.

Eva, her younger daughter, became a writer and wrote the first of many biographies of her mother, Marie Curie. During the war, using her mother’s name to get access, she courageously visited Africa, Asia and Russia, interviewing soldiers and leaders such She published her interviews in a volume called “Journey Among Warriors” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In 1954, she married Henry Richardson Labouisse, Jr. a diplomat who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of UNICEF as its director in 1965.

The mother of modern physics proved to have created a innovative,  and inventive family life catalyzing a rather large scientific family.

If you are intrigued by women like Marie Curie you can read more here another exceptional role model and mother, Emma Willard.

Family Life
Pierre and Marie Curie at Work
Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi, Parent, Green Activist and First Mother to a Young India

Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, didn’t consider herself a feminist, but spoke eloquently for equal rights for women, as well as the elevation of their social status. In a speech she gave at a Women’s Conference in New Delhi in 1980 titled “True Liberation of Women”, she said

“I have often said that I am not a feminist. Yet, in my concern for the underprivileged, how can I ignore women who, since the beginning of history, have been dominated over and discriminated against in social customs and in laws… “

Indira Gandhi was the only child of Kamala Kaul and Jawarharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister after achieving independence from Britain in 1947 and protégée of Mahatma Ghandi. After the untimely death of her mother, Indira Gandhi served as her father’s hostess and companion at many political events all over the world. In 1942, Indira Gandhi married Feroze Jehangir Gandhi, a dedicated member of the Indian independence movement who was jailed several times for the cause. Together, they had two sons, Rajiv in 1944 and Sanjay in 1946. She suffered the loss of Sanjay in a fatal plane crash in 1980.

Indira Gandhi’s Political Achievements

Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India herself not once, but twice. She served from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 until her death in 1984. While she achieved any political and social successes during her service as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi also proved to be a very controversial figure. One of her political successes was the creation of the independent nation of Bangladesh that resulted from her diplomatic work with Pakistani President Shimla in 1971. This agreement ended the violence that had caused almost 10 million people to flee to India.

Indira Gandhi was also one of the first global environmental activists and led a movement known as the Green Revolution. This movement consisted of diversifying crops and increasing the number of food exports. These policies helped reduce food shortages while creating much needed jobs and reducing poverty.

The administration of Indira Gandhi oversaw the nationalization of banks. This accomplished the goals of increasing household savings as well as providing money for investments in small and medium-sized businesses. It also made more investment in agriculture possible, which contributed to the nation’s development.

Indira Gandhli on Losing and Winning

However, from 1975 to 1977, in response to a call for her resignation as the result of an infraction of election rules, she declared a state of emergency and suspended civil liberties for Indian citizens. As a result, Indira Gandhi lost the next election and was briefly imprisoned, but won again in 1980 by a landslide.

According to her biography, a Sikh separatist movement began in India during the 1980’s. Ghandi, to repress the movement and a potential civil war, ordered an attack by 70,000 soldiers on the Golden Temple in which 450 Sikhs were killed. On October 31, 1984, she was assassinated by two of her most trusted bodyguards and died en route to the hospital. Indira Gandhi once said

“Even if I died in the service of the nation, I would be proud of it. Every drop of my blood… will contribute to the growth of this nation and to make it strong and dynamic.”

She died as she’d wanted, in service to India.

Indira and family matters

Her son, Rajiv, a professional airline pilot with little interest in politics before the death of his brother, became Prime Minister in 1984 amidst riots after her assassination. Over a decade later, he too was assassinated. His son, Indira Gandhi’s grandson, Rahul Gandhi continues the family legacy and was a prime ministerial candidate in 2014.

Being a parent, even in a politically stable environment, is perhaps the most challenging, and most important, occupation someone can undertake. Parenting a young country, newly liberated and composed of many opposing factions capable of contributing to civil unrest is even more so. Indira Gandhi made many valuable contributions to the survival and development of her country as well as her children and family.

If you are fascinated (like me) how famous women dealt with motherhood, head over to the article on Toni Morrison, here.

Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi in 1977
positive social change

How Toni Morrison Brought Positive Social Change To Motherhood

“I was young. I started writing when I was 39. That’s the height of life. The real liberation was the kids, because their needs were simple. One, they needed me to be competent. Two, they wanted me to have a sense of humor. And three, they wanted me to be an adult. No one else asked that of me. Not in the workplace – where sometimes they’d want you to be feminine, or dominant, or cute.”

Toni Morrison’s Views on Family and Motherhood

This is what Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison had to say about motherhood in a 2012 interview with the Guardian. Because many of her novels, including “Beloved“, for which she was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988, deal with the theme of motherhood. Several books, one of them being “Politics of the Heart,  have been written regarding Toni Morrison’s views on the subject of Motherhood and how she brought positive social change.

Born Chloe Wofford, at age 12, she became a Catholic. Her baptismal saint was Saint Anthony, which was shortened to “Toni” and became her nickname. After high school, she attended Howard University, where she earned a B.A. in English in 1953. She earned her Master of Arts at Cornell University in 1955, and went on to teach English, eventually teaching at Howard, her alma mater. There, she met architect Harold Morrison, her future husband and father of her two sons, Harold (Ford) and Slade. Their marriage lasted from 1958 to 1964.

Toni Morrison‘s view of motherhood as reflected in her literary works is one of motherhood as a profound act of social and political resistance in the struggle against both racism and the oppression of women. Her belief is that motherhood is an empowering force that can transform the future for all children and can bring great positive social change. For her book Beloved, the story of a mother and child, she was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988.

Toni Morrison, the Mother of Color

As a mother of color, Toni Morrison has spoken of the added pressures of parenting that result from racism.

“There were instances, when they were teenagers. Being stopped in the car, and given a ticket because you had tinted glass or something. Little bits and pieces of police harassment…”.

Her extraordinarily powerful contributions to literature enlightened society on the subject of the effects of slavery and racism on mothers and children and successfully furthered positive social change.

Inspiring Positive Social Change

One of those changes was that, in 1993, Toni Morrison became the first woman of color to ever receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1996, she was chosen by The National Endowment for the Humanities for the honor of presenting the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. The title of her lecture was “The Future of Time: Literature and Diminished Expectations“. In the lecture, she warned of the dangers of allowing history to reduce our expectations of creating a better future and positive social change.

She was also honored in 1996 with the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. This honor is awarded to writers whose life work has enriched humanity’s literary heritage. In 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and still enjoys the honor of serving as Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. The list of awards she has earned is as long as it is impressive.

Toni Morrison’s Contribution to Our Common Definition of Motherhood

In addition to her contributions to adult literature, Toni Morrison has also written children’s books in collaboration with her youngest son, Slade, also a painter and musician. Tragically, she lost him to cancer at age 45 in 2010. Her novel “Home“, which she was in the process of writing when he died, is dedicated to him.

In a 2015 interview about her personal life, she spoke for every mother who has ever longed, yet failed, to be perfect, about regret.

“Afterwards, I remember every error, every word that I spoke that was wrong or incontinent, every form of when I did not protect them properly,”

she says.

“Now that I’m 84, I remember everything as a mistake — and I regret everything. Now, mind you, one of them is now deceased, one of them is very successful, so I don’t have any reason for this except perhaps age and regret.”

Her title of her latest book, God Help The Child published in April 2015, speaks to all parents of the impossibility of perfectly protecting our children. and our inability to perfectly protect our children. Even when writing about the inabilities and impossibilities of parents, she continues to free individuals and bring positive social change to women and mothers. It is her first book to be set in modern times.

positive social change
Toni Morrison in 2008
Emma Willard

Emma Willard’s Educational Mission: Characters of Citizens are Formed by Their Mothers

“The education of women has been too exclusively directed to fit them for displaying to advantage the charms of youth and beauty…the taste of men, whatever it might happen to be, has been made into a standard for the formation of the female character…we too are primary existences… not the satellites of men.”

So said Emma Willard  (1787 – 1870) as one of the first women to address the New York Legislature. She presented a pamphlet she’d written titled “A Plan for Improving Female Education”, in which she proposed that education for women be publicly funded, just as it was for men.

Advocate for Women’s Education

In 1918, it was commonly believed that women were incapable of learning such subjects as mathematics. However, Governor Dewitt Clinton was so impressed with her presentation that he responded by sending her a note which read

the very fact of such a production from a female pen, must dissipate all doubts on the subject”,

referring to women’s capacity for higher learning.

Although Emma Willard did not support the women’s suffrage movement, she was one of the first feminists, in that she believed in the importance of women’s education. Her brave determination to secure equal educational rights for women is evident in her description of her political activism.

“Once I had almost determined to seek permission to go in person before the legislature, and plead at their bar with my living voice; believing I should throw my whole soul in the effort for my sex, and then sink down and die from the exertion.”

Emma Willard’s family life

Emma Willard was the sixteenth of seventeen children. Her parents recognized and supported her love of learning. She was homeschooled with her siblings on the family farm until age 15, when the first school in her area opened in 1802. She learned so quickly that she became a teacher there within two years. From 1807 to 1809, she served as the principal of the Middlebury Female Seminary, but she was unhappy with the limitations of the curriculum. Inspired by subjects such as science, mathematics, philosophy, geography, and history that her nephew was studying in school, she opened her own boarding school in 1814.

In addition to becoming the mother of one son, John Willard Hart, with her husband John Willard, she also became a stepmother to his four children from a previous marriage. The concept of a working mother was still socially unacceptable. However, during the war of 1812, the Bank of Vermont was robbed. Her husband, one of the directors, was held responsible by depositors and lost his position. These circumstances allowed her to justify returning to her former position as an educator. During her many years as an educator, Emma Willard adopted two more children and served as a surrogate mother to hundreds of students.

Citizens, formed by their mothers

Emma Willard, in attempting to secure public funding for secondary education for women, pointed out that citizens are

“formed by their mothers and it is through the mothers, that the government can control the character of its future citizens, to form them such as will ensure their country’s prosperity.”

While she focused on the positive aspects of female education in terms of patriotism, she was not afraid to point out the hypocrisy and potential negative effects of educational inequality.

“How would the countenance of the intelligent mother darken, and her voice falter, should she attempt to teach her son to love a country which treats with contempt the rights of her sex”.

Her boarding school, the Troy Female Seminary, was attended by many of the wealthiest women of the state. She used these funds in part to subsidize the tuition-free education of many less fortunate women in exchange for their agreeing to teach at the school for a time after graduation. Her influence eventually reached as far as Athens, Greece, where she successfully campaigned to open a similar women’s school. She was also the author of a number of textbooks, including two that she co-authored with geographer William Channing Woodbridge.

Emma Willard’s Honors

In honor of her important contributions to women’s education, the Troy Female Seminary was renamed the Emma Willard School in 1895, as well as a statue being erected in her honor. She became an inductee into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in New York in 1905. In 1941, Middlebury, Vermont dedicated the Emma Willard Memorial.

The Emma Willard School still operates today. It remains a testament to her courage and strength as a woman and a mother. Despite a great deal of criticism of both her personal character and her educational methods, she helped to ensure the right of women to receive an equal education.

You can find more on the history of mother care and feminism, in this article.

Emma Willard

extended family

Margaret Mead and her Thoughts about the Nuclear and Extended Family

“Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation.”

This might be the first generation of women in history that could relate to that statement. Mead believed strongly in the importance of the extended family. It’s just one of the many worthwhile quotes by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. Mothers and fathers alike owe her a debt of gratitude for her pioneering work.

This post is more personal in the sense that I have for an inexplicable reason and for several years now been attracted and intrigued by Margaret Mead. While I recognize her weakness lies in the scientific side of her research, she has influenced my thoughts on specific subjects more than others and she was very present when I wrote my fictional book a couple of years ago.

Even after her death, she continued to be high controversial. Among the more debatable aspects is the fact that she was among the first women to openly address were female sexuality, patriarchy consumerism and the link between race and intelligence. Many considered her opinions to be a threat to the sanctity of the family and society.


Born to professor of finance Edward Mead and sociologist Emily Mead, she worked with Franz Boas at Columbia University to obtain her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. She was one of the first to study the role of women, when she went to Samoa in 1925 to conduct fieldwork, which resulted in her famous book “Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization”, published in 1928, and republished over and over again.

“I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?”

The book sparked religious and social controversy regarding the relaxation of sexual mores. Her two divorces further challenged patriarchy, fueling controversy.

Nuclear versus Extended Family

Rather than being a destructive force, she was actually a champion of the family, the nuclear and extended family. The term extended family  has two distinct meanings: it is synonym of consanguinal family (consanguine means “of the same blood”) and in societies dominated by the conjugal family, it refers to “kindred” (network of relatives that extends beyond the domestic group) who do not belong to the conjugal family. Based on her anthropological research, affirmed the centrality of the nuclear family in human society:

“As far back as our knowledge takes us, human beings have lived in families. We know of no period where this was not so. We know of no people who have succeeded for long in dissolving the family or displacing it … Again and again, in spite of proposals for change and actual experiments, human societies have reaffirmed their dependence on the family as the basic unit of human living—the family of father, mother and children.” Mead, Margaret and Ken Heyman. 1965. Family. New York: Macmillan. pp. 77-78.

However Mead observed as an anthropologist various aboriginal societies, where nuclear family structures did not exist in a strict sense. Children grew up within the extended family. Mead’s observations of those societies indicated that adolescents grew up and smoothly transitioned into adulthood without any major issues evident in our own culture.  Dominance of nuclear versus extended family structures have a sociological impact on different levels. Not only does this impact the values of a society such as caring and sharing. This impacts the role of women in a society as well.

Family Values

In a 1963 interview Mead spoke out against the dangers of consumerism and its adverse effects on the family by saying

“We tell people every day in the advertisements, on TV, over the radio: “This is the kind of house you ought to have. This is the kind of car you ought to drive. Are you keeping your wife a prisoner because you only have one car? Are you making a slave of your wife because you’ve turned her into a dishwasher instead of buying a dishwasher?”

In her opinion, children were being neglected in favor of maintaining social status through buying all the latest time-saving gadgets. She also spoke out against age segregation and felt that children would benefit both socially and educationally from the continued involvement of grandparents.

She and her third husband, Gregory Bateson, in 1936, had a daughter, Mary Catherine, who also became an anthropologist. She wrote a memoir ‘With a Daughter’s Eye”, on her mother and herself. Her pediatrician was none other than Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose theories were influenced by Mead’s anthropological observations regarding breastfeeding on demand rather than according to a rigid schedule. You can find more on Dr Spock, here. Their marriage dissolved in 1950, but their friendship lasted to the end of her lifetime. She did not marry again, but rather, stated that an individual’s sexual orientation may evolve over a lifetime.

Career Controversy

The many controversies surrounding her increased both her visibility and popularity, and made her one of the more famous women in history, at least in the 20th century. She was a regular columnist for Redbook magazine as well as often being asked to speak on radio shows. She served as curator of ethnology at of the American Museum of Natural History in New York from 1946 to1969 and as an adjunct professor at Columbia University from 1954 to 1978. She founded Fordham University’s anthropology department while a professor there and was also a faculty member at the University of Rhode Island.

After her death, her work was criticized by a number of people, including Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and the feminist Betty Friedan. Derek Freeman published “Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth”, in which he accused Mead of failure to apply scientific methods to her research. He negates her claims about the society’s more relaxed sexual mores. Defenders of her work point out that much of the society had been converted to Christianity during the interim.

Contribution to the Role of Women in History

In spite of the controversy that surrounded her, on January 19, 1979, President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award for her important contributions was presented to her daughter at a ceremony sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. The words on the award were as follows:

“Margaret Mead was both a student of civilization and an exemplar of it. To a public of millions, she brought the central insight of cultural anthropology: that varying cultural patterns express an underlying human unity. She mastered her discipline, but she also transcended it. Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, she remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn.”

These words speak to the truth inherent in perhaps her most well-known quote, which is

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

women in history

role of women in society

Emile Durkheim, the Patriarch of Sociology, on division of labour and the nurturing role of women

“A social fact is every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations.”

For Emile Durkheim, commonly referred to as the father of sociology, social facts were the basis of all sociological study. He succeeded in creating a distinction between social science and psychology or political philosophy. According to him, social facts constituted phenomena that could not be reduced to biological or psychological elements, but existed independently.

Biology, psychology and then women and religion

However, he also believed that one of those social facts was that women were intellectually and socially inferior to men. For him, biology and psychology were the two greatest determining factors of the role of women in society. He also differentiated between the social division of labor and the sexual division of labor. It is important to understand that motherhood was influenced by great minds like Durkheim, the patriarch of sociology and at the same time realise how Durkheim perceived women.

Religion, which he considered to be the basis for the existence of all human societies, was one of the social facts that became a subject of study for him. However, he believed that religion originated in social interactions rather than from divine proclamation. In addition to religion, he also studied the social constructs of law and education as well as the phenomenon of social deviation from social norms.

Collective consciousness

His theories regarding social stratification led to his invention of the concept of the “collective consciousness”, which can be defined as the total sum of the beliefs and emotions common to members of a society. He believed that the collective unconscious, once formed, could then exist independent of individuals within the society as a social fact.

He married Louise Dreyfus in 1887, and together, they had two children, Marie and Andre. The years shortly after his marriage were creatively productive for him. In 1892, he published “The Division of Labour in Society“, which was made possible by the division of labor in his own household. His wife oversaw domestic affairs and cared for their two children while he wrote.

Sociology and quantitative methodology

Durkheim was one of the first to use quantitative methodology during a suicide case study he oversaw while conducting research for his 1897 book “Suicide”. He also recognized the scientific value of empiricism compared to the previously common and more abstract Cartesian method of scientific inquiry.

By 1902, Durkheim was named as the chair of education at the Sorbonne in Paris. He became so influential that his classes were mandatory for all students. He taught a number of classes about the social development of the family in which he stressed the concept of structural functionalism.

Division of labour and the role of women in society

Even though he warned of its potential dangers, he argued that the division of labor was the result of higher evolution. Further, he believed that it magnified the natural biological differences between men and women, such as women being more emotionally affective and men more intellectual. For him, the increasing differences between men and women as a result of the nurturing role of women in society created a stronger marital bond between them, as neither could be whole without the other.

He viewed “anomie“, a state when rapid population growth reduces interaction and understanding between social groups, as a potential danger to society. He also viewed a forced division of labor as a potentially destructive pathology. People forced to do work they were unsuited for as a result of the greed of the powerful could result in a destabilization of society.

However, although he recognized these social facts objectively regarding society as a whole, he refuted feminist theories and did not apply the same logic to the forced sexual division of labor. Regarding equal rights for women, he said

“As for the champions of equal rights for women as those with man, they forget that the work of centuries cannot be easily abolished: that juridical equality cannot be legitimate so long as psychological inequality is so flagrant.”

Ironically, any existing psychological inequality between men and women could be attributed to the patriarchal infantilizing of women through economic dependence and relegating them to the exclusive company of children. According to Durkheim, the most highly evolved role of women in society was that of “completing” men and caring for children. The lesser value he placed on women is evident in that his grief over the loss of his son Andre in WWI was recorded for posterity, while there is no mention of his daughter, Marie.

The scientific methods he used to arrive at his conclusions regarding the inferiority of women received a good deal of criticism from colleagues. One method was the study of “totemism“, which he believed to be the most ancient religion of Australian aborigines and Native Americans. He also relied on anecdotes of priests and merchants, who’d had limited experiences in observing those cultures, when reaching his conclusions.

The useful concepts and terms he contributed to a newly emerging field of study that he himself helped create are still used by sociologists today. Happily, his theories regarding equality between men and women and parenting aren’t nearly as influential as they once were.

If you want to know why modern psychologists find that motherhood is more defined by psychology than biology, go here.

role of women in society