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Motherhood and the Periodical Press: The Myth and the Medium

Susan A Malcom, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In this study, I utilize close readings of the periodically published works of three women writers – Kate Chopin, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Elia Peattie –through the lenses of historical/biographical, affective, and biosocial theories. Examining these works against the backdrop of America’s mythologized mother exposes the social ubiquity of the myth and the realities of motherhood nineteenth-century women experienced. Chapter one examines the mythological nature of American motherhood as it evolved from a politically and socially nuanced Republican Mother and the role of American periodicals as a medium of perpetuating that myth. Historically, American motherhood was an extended function of the biological reality women experienced, but colonial mothers soon accepted the higher calling of political guardianship, a calling that demanded piety, purity, and domesticity. The systematic layering of these motherly expectations through domestic literacy practices, female education, and reinforcement in the pages of America’s ever-growing periodical press immortalized this mythological mother as the standard bearer for American women. Chapter two addresses the editorial constraint of America’s mythic mother that Kate Chopin faced. The mothers Chopin observed in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana expressed passion and desire, a sharp contrast to the mythical mother of the South. Tracing Chopin’s publishing pursuits reveals her authorial purpose in crafting a publishable motherhood until the real mothers she observed could make their appearances. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper grasped the power of America’s mythic mother to bring about social reform. An affective reading of Harper’s Christian Recorder fiction in Chapter three reveals her purposeful revocation of white maternal benevolence and grants full rights of the mythic mother to her black sisters with the charge to bring about racial uplift. In Chapter four, I focus on the geographical and cultural realities of motherhood Elia Peattie observed and experienced while writing from the frontier borderlands of Omaha, Nebraska. From a biosocial perspective, Peattie and her heroines engage in rewriting the gendered script they inherited to match the realities they experienced.

Subject Area

American literature|African American Studies|American studies

Recommended Citation

Malcom, Susan A, "Motherhood and the Periodical Press: The Myth and the Medium" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI27666936.