WOMAN'S PROPER PLACE: A History of Changing Ideals and Practices, 1870 to the Present by Sheila M. Rothman

WOMAN'S PROPER PLACE: A History of Changing Ideals and Practices, 1870 to the Present

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An essay undertaken for the Rockefeller Commission on Critical Choices has grown into this fine book on ""the guiding principles of American social policy toward women."" Rothman describes shifting societal assumptions about woman's ""proper place"" from 1870 to the present, discusses their effect on formulating social policies, and analyzes the effects (not often those intended) of some specific programs. She traces four major changes in the ideal of womanhood. The late 19th-century principle of ""virtuous womanhood"" both constrained middle-class women and impelled them to their civic reformist duties--mostly ""rescuing"" willy-nilly the less fortunate. The Progressive era brought the ideal of ""educated motherhood""--relying upon training over maternal instinct--and focused reforms (the playground movement, kindergartens, child health clinics) on the child. The 1920s' shift to the model of the ""wife-companion"" is illustrated by the career of Margaret Sanger who preached beautiful relationships as well as birth control. After the ""interruptions"" of the Depression and World War II, the stifling wife-companion role returns to the desolate suburbs--a set-up for women's liberation. Three current issues of that movement come in for incisive analysis: the ERA, child care, and women's health care (including reproductive freedom). Placed in this historical context, Rothman's forecasts (ERA is inevitable, agreement on child care next to impossible) are persuasive. This is a book that radical feminists will want to prod here and there, but it is eminently informed, judicious, and interesting all the way.

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1978
Publisher: Basic Books