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

authoritarian parenting styles

Authoritarian parenting styles in the 60’s – From Conformity to Rebellion

Authoritarian Parenting Styles, most of the time

There were all kinds of shades of authoritarian parenting styles in the Sixties: from Dr. Spock‘s positive parenting philosophy, to the popular Donald Winnicott and experts Loise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg with TV show “Parents Ask”

The 1960’s were a time of great social change. One of the most important changes was that birth control became widely available for women, which made family planning possible. Another important change was a post-WWII society in which mothers had more time to spend with children due to modern conveniences such as the washing machine. A post-war mentality focused less on the discipline and conformity necessary for the military, and more on individuality.

At the forefront of this more positive parenting mentality was Dr. Benjamin Spock, and his 1946 book Baby and Child Care. This popular book was republished several times, The 1968 edition, published during the Viet Nam war after Spock having spoken openly against it, sold half the number of copies of previous editions.

In agreement with Dr. Spock’s less rigid philosophy was the equally popular Donald Winnicott, who began a series of BBC radio broadcasts on the subject of parenting that endured for 20 years. Although experts were moving away from strict and harsh parenting styles, they are considered today as part of authoritarian parenting styles.

Other less well-known  experts of authoritarian parenting styles of the 1960’s include authors Loise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg , who hosted a popular television show called “Parents Ask”. They also wrote a newspaper column and many educational books that focused on the stages of child development. They continued the work of their mentor, Dr. Arnold Gesell, of Yale University, founding the Gesell Institute of Child Development.

Varieties of authoritarian parenting styles

However, not everyone was in agreement with these new philosophies or that child-rearing practices should be less rigid and more focused on developing a child’s individual talents. During the 1950’s, when modern forms of birth control were being developed, the average age that parents introduced their children to solid foods went from 7 months to 7 weeks.

Classic authoritarian parenting styles

One of the leading child care “experts” responsible for this trend was Miami pediatrician Walter W. Sackett, Jr. He is a fine example for more classic authoritarian parenting styles. Authoritarian parenting involves usually high parental demand; the parents tend to demand obedience without explanation and focus on status. Corporal punishment is a common choice of punishment. Yelling is another form of discipline for authoritarian parents.

In 1962, pediatrician Walter W. Sackett Jr. published “Bringing Up Baby” in which he stated that breast milk and formula were deficient, and that babies as young as 2 days should be started on cereal. He claimed that by 10 weeks, babies could eat bacon and eggs, and even suggested giving them coffee to acclimate them to adult eating habits. Profits of companies that manufactured formula and baby food skyrocketed as a result, which today, would likely not be viewed as a coincidence.

Regarding the need for schedules, he offered the opinion that parents who didn’t impose strict schedules on their babies were unpatriotic.

“If we teach our offspring to expect everything to be provided on demand, we must admit the possibility that we are sowing the seeds of socialism.”

He also compared what he considered indulgent parents to Stalin and Hitler.

Unfortunately, according to historian Howard Markel, much of the parenting advice of the time lacked any real scientific evidence of results, first because of the ethical problems associated with experimental trials on babies, and second, that if

“there’s no drug, no procedure, there’s not likely to be funding”.

While there was profit to be had in the baby formula and baby food industries, there was no profit to be gained by learning the long-term effects of rocking versus ignoring a crying baby.

However, some still attempted to utilize the methodology of science to improve child care practices. For example, T. Berry Brazelton, author of “Infants and Mothers created the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale. This scale evaluated physical and neurological responses to 28 behavioral and 18 reflex items in infants up to two months old. These items measured an infant’s autonomic, motor and social-interactive systems, as well as individual differences and level of emotional well-being. The results described the baby’s adaptive responses, strengths and potential vulnerabilities, information that was used to formulate care-giving strategies that would provide maximum benefits to the child’s development.

This was an innovative approach towards popularizing the now widely accepted view that infants are uniquely individual social beings able to affect their environments by communicating through behaviors. Children had previously been viewed as passive recipients of influences in the environment.

Mothers today have the benefit of more research as well as far more resources for information on positive parenting than mothers of the 1960’s. For example, little was known about fetal alcohol syndrome in the 60’s, and it wasn’t uncommon to see mothers-to-be enjoying a relaxing cocktail with a cigarette. Consequently, today’s mothers are also much more likely to question the source of any new “discoveries” regarding parenting than they were in the past. One thing hasn’t changed, though. Mothers still want to be the best mothers they can be for their children, and rather like the 60’s, instead of competing, they are cooperating to find the best ways to accomplish that together.

Head over here, if you want to know more about the seventies and how they brought more social change for women and the concept of Negative Motherhood.

authoritarian parenting styles

Maternal Ideals

Maternal Ideals – Mothers in Literature and Film

The definition of mother has changed a lot over time, especially since the birth of the nation-state, and America is no exception. Throughout history, literature and film have provided us with representations of motherhood and maternal ideals that reflect the social realities of the time and place. The book Motherhood and Representation: Feminism, Psychoanalysis and the Material American Melodrama” takes a look at some of the ways in which literature and film have presented society’s changing notions of motherhood and maternal ideals.

Nineteenth Century Motherhood

In Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, set during the civil war, Mrs. March is portrayed as the quintessential lady of the time period. She doesn’t have a career of her own, but she is not a lady of leisure. She spends most of her time outside the home doing charitable work such as tending to those less fortunate and helping with the war effort. Mrs. March is very religious, a perfect housekeeper, and a role model of maternal ideals who always has patience with her four daughters, safeguarding them while allowing them enough freedom to grow. Tireless and unfailingly kind, she represents more of an ideal than a real person, yet her character provides insight into how motherhood was defined in the nineteenth century. Those who deviated from these maternal ideals, like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, were portrayed as committing social, and sometimes physical, suicide.

Kate Chopin, author of The Awakening a novel still taught in universities today, was herself a mother on the forefront of the women’s rights movement. In addition to her novels, she also wrote feminist essays and kept a journal about parenting, which provided enormous insight into what motherhood was like in the late 19th century. She wrote about the sacrifices she made to care for her five sons as well as her ailing mother. She was one of the first women to say publicly that motherhood and maternal ideals should include providing children with a role model of women’s true capabilities.

Maternal Ideals in the Twentieth Century

The twentieth century ushered in the suffrage movement, with women winning the right to vote in Tennessee in 1920. That was partially thanks to Pheobe Burns, the influential mother of Harry Burns, the young member of the state legislature tasked with voting on the issue. With the vote, the voice of motherhood became stronger.

In the 1950s play A Raisin in the Sun“, by Lorraine Hansbury, a widowed mother living with her family in a small apartment, receives an insurance check from the death of her husband. She decides to buy a house in a middle-class white neighborhood and resists efforts of residents to bribe them to stay away. Her strong convictions and courage convince her family to take the house and live according to their principles rather than in fear. This was one of the first modern literary and dramatic representations of a mother and different maternal ideals, this time represented as strong decision-maker and social activist.

By the time the two-income household was commonplace, mothers were expected to play as big a part in society and the world as they did in their homes. Simultaneously, divorce rates were sky-rocketing and single-parent homes becoming more common. One of the best portrayals of ideal motherhood and maternal ideals during this time period was the 1998 film “The Parent Trap”. While the story follows two twin girls, the mother is young, beautiful, divorced, and financially successful. Other movies with motherhood as the theme began to focus more on the strengths of women.

Motherhood in the Twenty-First Century

Modern movies tend to portray a much more realistic definition of mother. The 2012 novel-turned-movie The Fault in Our Stars provides a great example of modern motherhood. The main character, Hazel Lancaster, is diagnosed with cancer at the age of 13. Her mother sets aside her career to be her caregiver and teacher. She encourages Hazel to follow her dreams and never lets her act like a victim even though she has cancer. In the end of the novel, it is revealed that Hazel’s mother has been so moved by the experience that she begins working towards a master’s degree in counseling in order to help other families with similar struggles.

However, modern society, through the widespread media coverage of celebrity moms like Kim Kardashian, still puts a great deal of pressure on women to remain sex sirens despite childbirth and 2 a.m feedings. Celebrity moms like Melissa Joan Hart, former star of Sabrina the Teenage witch, who write about the difficult realities of working parenthood receive far less media attention.

Is today’s definition of mother a self-sacrificing lady, a professional role model or a superwoman? The answer seems to be yes. Rather than one view being replaced by another, it seems that more aspects are being added. Perhaps, over time, dramatic representations of mothers and maternal ideals will more truly reflect the complexity, and diversity, of actual mothers.

Maternal Ideals
Mamma Mia ABBA 2008 By Daniel Åhs Karlsson CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
role of women in society

Why Franz Boas, Father of Modern Anthropology, was a Champion of Equality

“There are two things to which I am devoted: absolute academic and spiritual freedom, and the subordination of the state to the interests of the individual; expressed in other forms, the furthering of conditions in which the individual can develop to the best of his ability—as far as it is possible with a full understanding of the fetters imposed upon us by tradition; and the fight against all forms of power policy of states or private organizations. This means a devotion to principles of true democracy. I object to teaching of slogans intended to befog the mind, of whatever kind they may be.” (From a letter from Boas to John Dewey on 11/6/39)

Although he’s called the “Father of Modern Anthropology”, Franz Boas (1858-1942) isn’t as famous as some of his contemporaries, or even some of his students, like Margaret Mead, who once gave George W. Bush a B+ in her class. That’s largely because he cared much more about scientific and personal integrity than about fame or personal ambition. His refusal to accept the limited role of women in society is another reason that his theories are still relevant today.

One of the most important concepts he introduced was cultural relativism, which holds that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or better than others because we all view and judge the world with a perspective created by our own cultural conditioning. In Boas’ day, orthogeneticists believed that all societies progressed through the same sequential stages towards “progress”. For example, they argued that although the Intuit and German cultures were contemporaries, the German culture was at a later, more advanced stage of cultural evolution.

Boas, in opposition to many other scientists of his day, adhered to three scientific principles. The first was that science begins with questions, not answers or value judgments. The second was that science is dispassionate inquiry rather than ideology tinged with emotional prejudice, and the third was that the nature of science is inferential and judicious. He used these principles in scientific inquiry to make a great contribution to the social debate between nature and nurture.

In an experiment he conducted to determine whether bodily forms are also subject to processes of change, he studies 17, 821 people of seven ethnic/national groups. He found that the average cranial sizes of immigrants were significantly different from members of the same group who had been born in the United States. He also found that the cranial sizes of children born within ten years of their mothers’ arrival to the U.S. were different from those born more than ten years after their arrival.

This experiment clearly demonstrated that traits such as cranial size were not only inherited, but could also be affected and influenced by the environment. The results of this experiment led to his argument that any differences between races were not immutable. In a 1963 book titled “Race: The History of an Idea in America, author Thomas Gossett wrote that

“It is possible that Boas did more to combat race prejudice than any other person in history.”

Boas proved himself to be a man who lived according to his convictions on more than one occasion. For example, in 1892, he and another member of the Clark College faculty resigned to protest infringement of academic freedom by its president, G.Stanley Hall. In 1897, while with the American Museum of Natural History, he attempted to organize Native American exhibits according to cultural context rather than along evolutionary lines. That brought him into conflict with the President of the Museum, Morris Jesup, and its director, Hermon Bumpus who wanted the exhibits to express how much further behind in the evolutionary scale those cultures were compared to U.S. culture. Unable to reform the system or increase its educational potential, he resigned from the museum and never worked at another.

To his credit and the great benefit of science, Boas remained critical of his own work, and often, upon discovering new evidence, modified his own theories. For example, his study of the Tsimshian and Tlingit tribes on the northern coast of British Columbia revealed that their social organization consisted of matrilineal clans. The Nootkaand Salish tribes on the southern coast had a patrilineal social structure. The Kwakiutl tribe lived between the two and had a mixture of elements within their social structure. Before marriage, a man assumed his wife’s father’s name and family crest, his children taking them on as well. Boas at first thought that the Kwakiutl were evolving towards a patrilineal social structure, but later reversed himself, concluding that the evolution was in fact AWAY from a patrilineal structure towards a matrilineal one, learned from their northern neighbors.

Boas spent the final years of his career as a beloved and highly influential professor at Columbia University. Through his students, many of whom went on to found anthropology departments and research programmes inspired by their mentor, Boas profoundly influenced the development of anthropology. Among his most significant students were  A. L. Kroeber, Ruth Benedict, Edward Sapir, Margaret Mead, and Zora Neale Hurston, who all had their impact on Motherhood.

Because in much the same way that his work disproved many racist theories, his actions also helped discredit sexist ones, thereby changing the role of women in society. Before his death in 1942, he entrusted his female colleague Helen Codere with editing and publishing his manuscripts.

You can find more on this period of history, also greatly influenced by Emile Durkheim, the Father of Sociology, here.

role of women in society
Franz Boas, performang a Hamatsa dance. Hamatsa is Kwakwaka’wakw secret society of British Columbia, most likely a cannibal society


baby care methods

Sir Truby Kings’ Baby Care Methods: Teaching an Infant to Stick to Your Schedule

“Children should be seen, not heard.”

said Sir Frederick Truby King (1858 –1938). He is credited as a child welfare reformer as well as a surgeon specializing in baby care methods. From a young age, King did not appreciate undisciplined behavior. He was able to change the model parenting style by emphasizing the ideals of discipline and detachment. Although he retired in 1927, his baby care methods continued in popularity, finding favor in post-war Western countries at least until the 1950s.  What were his theories and why did he have lasting influence, even today?

King carried out his ideals by emphasizing the importance of keeping a schedule for a child’s daily routine. Additionally, he was instrumental in implementing many advancements that were able to improve childhood nutrition. However, despite the advancements King made, many of his baby care methods were controversial. Unlike most parents of the day, King believed that the formative months of a child’s development were for eating, sleeping and growing rather than for bonding with the child.

A Routine of Discipline and Detachment Were the Pillars of His Baby Care Methods

Truby King’s method of raising children involved doing everything according to a routine, ignoring the wants of the child and sticking solely to the routine in place. In order to utilize baby care methods as a means to regulate behavior, King suggested implementing a uniform schedule in which each aspect of the baby’s life was controlled. This included specific times for feeding, sleeping, bathing and bowel movements. Jock Mc Culloch states in his book “Colonial Psychiatry and the African Mind“, that King believed that at the age of six weeks, toilet training should commence and be continued until the child was sufficiently trained.

Cuddling with an infant was not to exceed 10 minutes per day and there was a specific hour set aside for holding the child; this was the only time the parent was allowed to hold the child. If an infant started crying, the parents were supposed to let him or her cry without giving additional attention. The concept behind these baby care methods is that after a few days, the baby would fall into this routine and would sleep through the night, making the parent’s lives much easier. Other aspects of Truby King’s method include letting the child play by himself and bringing the child outside for some fresh air, regardless of the temperature outside.

According to McCulloch, King believed that children should be subjected to unrelenting discipline, as exhibited by his strict schedule for infant care. Without discipline children would become spoiled, leading them to develop into

“unproductive and self-indulgent adults,”

and without regulation of bowel movements, constipation would lead to

“sexual precocity and possibly to masturbation”

While it may seem that King’s methods of infant care were harsh and emphasized few interactions between the mother and child, King also stressed the importance of these interactions. He believed that without any parental interactions, babies would become flabby and inert and could develop rickets or marasmus (Bryder 2003, ), Linda Bryder states in her book “A Voice for Mothers“,  that according to King’s method  the amount of care given by a parent to their child should not be lacking but rather controlled and consistent.

The Importance of Childhood Nutrition in His Baby Care Methods

Within the framework of his baby care methods, nutrition was an extremely important aspect of helping a child develop into a successful adult. King’s developed a very strict method of infant feeding. It required feeding the child every three or four hours, without allowing any food in between or at night. This procedure was to begin a few hours after the mother gave birth to her child. Nurses in hospitals were taught to encourage recent mothers to breastfeed their infants, as King believed that breastfeeding

“foster[ed] the highest development of maternal love and devotion”.

One of King’s slogans was

“breast fed is best fed”

Norah Lewis states that in addition to breastfeeding, King emphasized a modified form of cow’s milk produced specifically in order to fit the growing needs of babies. He was able to persuade milk companies to produce this modified milk product. A composure of four formulas of artificial milks designed to be scientifically identical to the mother’s milk were recommended by King. These four included top milk, fresh milk, sweetened condensed milk and dried milk (Lewis 1979).

King also stressed the dangers of overfeeding an infant, which he believed was more common and more detrimental than underfeeding, although his views on this subject were considered controversial.

Influence of Truby King on generations to come

Sir Frederick Truby King’s baby care methods have proved to be efficient over the years. He was after all a famous health reformer in New Zealand and Director of Child Welfare. He and his work at the The Plunket Society have been credited with lowering infant mortality, though it has since been argued that this was due less to its specific baby care methods than to its general raising of awareness of childcare.

But many of his methods were highly controversial. Even back in his days.  For instance, his beliefs on “humanized” milk where the protein is reduced to 1.4% to match breast milk. The general pediatric consensus was against him at the time.  But he was controversial on other levels. In 1914 the physician Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd Bennett already publicly opposed his stance that higher education for women was detrimental to their maternal functions and hence to the human race.

It is now quite painful to observe that he has greatly influenced several generations of women, particularly with his ‘guidelines’ on the restriction of mother-child bonding…

You can find more on the history of baby care, also greatly influenced by Emile Durkheim, the Father of Sociology, here.

baby care methods
Frederic Truby King. Source Wikimedia
child abuse cases

Molestation, battering and child abuse cases through time

While it is certain that children have been the victims of sexual and physical abuse for millennia, it is only recently in the modern era that laws and norms specifically prohibiting such behavior have been enacted.

Throughout most of history, children were considered to be the property of their parents and child abuse cases did not exist. Children were awarded very few rights and could be legally abused at will by their parents. In Ancient Rome, as well as many other ancient cultures, a father could legally kill their children.

Today, modern societies have outlawed such practices. Experts divide child abuse cases into four categories: physical, sexual, psychological and neglect.

An Evolution of Compassion in Society

In the United States, the modernization of laws to protect children from abuse began in 1874. After a young girl was found badly abused by her parents in a New York slum in one of the worst child abuse cases ever reported, and a neighbor found that there was no one to turn to for help, a group of activists came together to found an organization to help abused children.

Modeled after the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals that he founded six years earlier, Henry Bergh founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children after meeting with Etta Wheeler, a religious missionary. Wheeler had discovered the abused girl in the New York slum and supported her as she fought to gain help from the authorities, culminating in a court trial that became a media sensation.

In the next 20 years alone, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children investigated more than 100,000 suspected child abuse cases. In a grim tale of horror, they discovered thousands of cases where children had been beaten, starved, frozen, drowned, knifed, bitten, burned and smashed into floors and walls. They also found cruel stories of children being forcefed vinegar, alcohol, urine and other noxious substances.

Nonetheless, the child abuse cases were far more numerous than the investigators initially discovered. It was only in 1945, after the development of X-ray technology, that doctors began noticing unusual bone injuries in children. In 1962, a landmark paper by Henry Kempe in the Journal of the American Medical Association outlined the definition of ‘battered children syndrome’, defined as the chronic physical abuse of a child.

According to the Tennyson Center for Children, child abuse cases are reported in America every 10 seconds today. Five children die every day in the United States as a result of child abuse. Furthermore, it is reported that about 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children.

Child Abuse Cases and the Law

Most modern societies currently have laws that strictly prohibit the sexual or physical abuse of a child. Therapists, social workers and family support nurses currently work with thousands of child abuse cases per year. A wide range of law enforcement agents are currently working to identify and apprehend people who abuse children and prevent future child abuse cases.

The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that protects children’s rights signed in 1989. Articles 34 and 35 of the convention specifically protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. As of December 2014, 195 countries have ratified the Convention. Every modern, western country has ratified the Convention except for the United States.

The United States has aggressive laws in place to protect children from all forms of abuse. Most forms of abuse of children are violations of federal law, which means they are uniformly mandated throughout all 50 states and American territories. The United States is unique, however, in that it allows religious exemptions to some of the laws on child neglect.

In India, a 2012 law named the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences took effect, protecting children from primarily sexual forms of abuse.

In South Africa, a 2007 amendment to the country’s criminal law banned a number of sexual offenses against children, including grooming children for sexual contact, displaying pornography to children and forcing children to witness sexual acts.

In Britain, a 2003 update to the Sexual Offences Act criminalized a number of forms of abuse against children.

In the European Union, the Convention of the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse is in effect for all of its 28 member nations.

In Africa, a Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is the first step towards protecting children in the continent not just from physical and sexual abuse, but also from being forced to serve in the military.

The Minimum Age Convention, adopted by the United Nations in 1973, seeks to limit the abuse of children by the complete abolition of juvenile labor. Various exemptions still exist that permit young children to work on farms or as performers in the entertainment industry.

The existence of infanticide throughout time, is very much linked to the topic of child abuse. And again while society was and is opposed to infanticide and demanded that these monstrous mothers be prosecuted, there was not much done to create parental bonds.

Some additional sources

  • UN Child Rights
  • HG.org, one of the world’s largest non-subscription legal information site, has a list of child abuse laws here
  • Childsafe International Laws
  • Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse with summary and full texts, here
  • child abuse cases
parental bonds

Parental bonds in 18th Century England: Infanticide and Mind Control

“The principal destination of all women is to be mothers.”

This was an ever present concept in the 18th century. Parental bonds were solely with women. No longer was becoming a mother seen as an option for women; rather, it was the very thing that defined their femininity. If a woman chose to be single or not to have children, she was judged as being “unnatural,” as it was believed that the main purpose of a woman’s life was to bear children. These views likely influenced many women who were not longing to be mothers to bear children, in order to avoid the ridicule and judgment that came with being a childless old-maid.
Additionally, excessive pressure was placed on mothers to be the perfect parent and raise compliant children, resulting in often poor parental bonds.

The Absence of Parental Bonds: Infanticide

“Infanticide has typically been defined by the rhetoric of monstrosity,”

and those who commit infanticide have been called “Mothers of Inhumanity” (Francus, 1997). Infanticide, which demonstrates the enormous lack of seriousness some women had for parenting or parental bonds, was a relatively common occurrence of the 1700s. Two hundred women were indicted for murdering their new-born children in the courts of Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland between 1720 and 1800. However, of these two hundred, only six women were found guilty (Jackson, 1996). The leniency displayed by the courts may be due to the fact that infanticide did not qualify as a legitimate crime until 1922. Many times, the reason infanticide was committed by a mother was in order to maintain her ability to work. This was somewhat accepted when it occurred in the lower-class, and it has been suggested that

“the willingness of society to recuperate these women—most of whom were single and working-class—back into the work force, suggests that socio-economic realities were of greater concern than the ethics and psychology of infanticide” (Francus, 1997).

While society was opposed to infanticide and demanded that these monstrous mothers be prosecuted, there was not much done to create parental bonds or care for unwanted children. The first effort to care for these children came with the establishment of Coram’s Foundling Hospital in the mid-1700s, however there were many restrictions on the children that they would take in. The main concern of many recent mothers in the 18th century was not raising their children with love and care, but rather to use any means necessary to rid themselves of the responsibilities of having a child.

Authoritarian Parenting Styles Used to ‘Train’ Children

Bad parenting was exhibited throughout the 18th century through an authoritarian parenting style in which parents aimed to control each factor of a child’s life. Obedience and appropriateness were seen as the most important traits of a child and proof of parental bonds and were taught through harshness rather than love.

The main goal of parental bonds in 18th century England was to train their children and shape their minds. A great deal of mothers wrote diaries detailing their hesitance in their ability as a parent, primarily concerned with their capacity to train the child. Mothers indicated in these entries that

“the child was not depraved but pliable and their duty as a parent was to bend the child’s will in order to achieve respect and obedience.” (Pollock, 1983)

An additional goal was to

“conquer a child’s mind ‘in order to control its insides’”.

This strict and rigorous style of parenting resembles the ideologies of Locke, who believed that children should not be coddled or raised tenderly, and that each aspect of the child’s development should be determined by the parent. Parents did not long for warm, strong parental bonds but rather aimed to control the minds, feelings, and needs of children through use of guilt, threats, and harsh punishments. As society has departed from the strict, authoritarian parenting styles of the 1700s and moved towards an authoritative parenting model, much more freedom in both parent and child behaviors is observed.

Today, we encourage our children to make their own decisions and choose their own pathways in life to follow. No longer do mothers aspire to ‘train’ their children; nowadays this term is reserved for pets or husbands ;).
In addition, women are able to decide for themselves whether or not they choose to become mothers, and there is less judgement based on their decisions. We learn how we came to think about parental bonds and about parenting. For instance that parenting styles are seriously determined by culture and historic setting.

If you feel inspired, you can find here some references that treated the topic in more depth. The last two are out of print but captured on Google.books.
Monstruous Motherhood: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Ideology of Domesticity. 2012. By Marilyn Francus
The Making of the Modern Self. 2004. By Dror Wahrman
Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900. By Linda A. Pollock.
New-born Child Murder: Women, Illegitimacy and the Courts in Eighteenth Century. 1996. By Mark Jackson

If you want to deep dive into the 19th century, you will have too choose between the spiritual education style during 1800 and 1850 or the more disciplinary education during 1850 and 1900.

parental bonds
La bonne mere (The good mother), Jacques Gabriel Huquier, 1770 Paris. Metropolitan Museum of Art
permissive parenting

The 1950s: The Age of Permissive Childcare

In today’s hyper-vigilant, overly cynical world, a world which doesn’t involve allowances for and indoctrination against the constant fog of economic and geopolitical instability, terrorism threats, or the ever-present monolith of technology seems distant. The events of September 11, 2001 drew a sharp, clear line of demarcation between the relatively innocent and prosperous twentieth century and the roller coaster of the new millennium.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, then, to note that the overwhelming parental strategy nowadays seems to be the crossing of fingers and the burial of our youth’s collective nose in the comforting glow of the latest smartphone. After all, perhaps there’s some chance, however remote, that if little Johnny or Susan is busy with Candy Crush IV, their parents can insulate them from the outside world. It’s a helicopter-esque strategy born out of fear and uncertainty, but things weren’t always this way. In fact, in the halcyon days of the 1950s, permissive parenting was all the rage. To learn what permissive parenting is and why it was so popular (and some would say, so much better and more effective than the current paradigm), just keep reading.

Permissive Parenting: A Brief Overview

Whatever the reason, in the 1950s, permissive childcare was all the rage. Somewhat paradoxically, it involved a high level of trust granted from parent to child along with the simultaneous enforcement of a rigid, top down rule structure. For instance, parents would often send their sons to the market to buy Dad a pack of smokes or give their children free reign of the neighborhood with relatively few questions about what they did, where they did it, or with whom, but kids in violation of their no questions asked curfew could expect punishments that today’s child psychologists would deem to be downright barbarous.

In its essence, permissive parenting is a child rearing style based upon trust – trust of one’s children (and of their good judgement and senses of morality & self-preservation) and trust of the community as a whole. In those days, after all, it wasn’t uncommon for everyone to know everyone, and for folks to spend a lot more time in community interaction than is common nowadays. In other words, this style of upbringing was quite laissez-faire and communal in the “it takes a village” sense of things.

Factors Contributing to the Rise and Maintenance of Permissive Parenting

The 1950s were a very unique time in world history, especially with regard to the people and culture of the United States of America. It is the confluence of post-war values, affluence, and cultural mores that allowed for the parenting style discussed in this article, and as such, it may not be something that’s possible to duplicate in modern times, no matter how much some people might wish it. In any case, the mainstays of permissive parenting aren’t hard to pin down; a brief list follows.

Patriarchal Family Structure

In the 1950s, a man’s word was law as far as most things were concerned. This isn’t to say that women had no role or voice – the opposite is actually true – but with very limited exceptions, men were in charge, and what they said was the way things went. That such a philosophy would permeate the home was only natural.

Husbands and wives each had clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and spheres of influence. Men were the strong, silent, bread-winning leaders of the family while women were the sensitive, nurturing soil in which the children of the household were left to grow and thrive. Indeed, the only time a father would actively parent would be during the passage of / instruction in explicitly masculine traits to his sons, in matters of discipline (which usually took the form of corporal punishment), or under exceptional circumstances on the order of single fatherhood. While this might seem counterproductive or wrongheaded, children raised in this atmosphere were often quite mature and well-adjusted, a factor which no doubt contributed to the levels of parental confidence which allowed for such permissive childcare.

Generational Self Sufficiency

One thing that many people investigating the phenomenon of permissive parenting tend to gloss over, if not overlook altogether, is the fact that the people raising children in the 1950s had lived through some of the most remarkable, most turbulent times in history. In America, for example, the average 1950s parent would’ve been born around 1920, +/- two years. That means they would’ve been brought up during the stark privation of the Great Depression, given a brief respite of a year or two as a sort of cosmically macabre coming of age present, then hurled bodily into the meat grinder of World War Two. It wasn’t that the parents of the Greatest Generation were cruel or unfeeling in how they raised their own children, rather, they expected their offspring to embody the same virtues with which they themselves were instilled: Common sense. Virtue. Self-reliance. In other words, to be a so-called “helicopter parent” would’ve been, in the eyes of the 1950s parent, an insult and a hobble to their children. Their jobs, as these new fathers and mothers saw it, was to raise their kids to be capable, worthy adults, not to necessarily protect them from every bump, scrape, and eventuality of life.

Pseudoscience vs Modern Thinking

The final constituent factor in this parental style might be the fact that Freudian thought and similar schools of socio-medical belief were still relatively common. Modern medicine was largely unknown; back then, your doctor was quite likely a two pack a day smoker. Psychiatry was regarded as quackery, and much of the overprotective softness that marks today’s youth simply wasn’t present in those days – to have displayed or employed it would’ve been deemed to be a disorder on the part of the parents.

While the pros, cons, and overall efficacy of permissive parenting is still debated to this day, there’s no doubting its one-time popularity. Will it ever see a resurgence? Who can say? Maybe one day. In the meantime, hopefully you understand a little more about the parenting ethos of the 50s and are better for the knowledge.

permissive parenting