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Maternalism is the theoretical viewpoint that incorporates a common idea of femininity and applies it as a support for women’s involvement in society.


Emerged in the late 19th Century, as a companion to progressive reform. The theology followed the idea that women had in-born qualities based on their maternalistic instincts. These in-born qualities qualified women to operate outside the home. Women of this time argued that women were uniquely qualified for certain jobs and places in the political sphere based on their domestic abilities and child rearing qualities. [1] This political mindset continued into the 20th century, influencing government reform and females in the workplace.


Progressive reform[edit]

Social settlements, founded mainly by middle class women, became popular in urban environments in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. They provided public housing and resources to working class people and newly arrived immigrants. Middle class women who ran these settlements worked with immigrants for progressive reform, such as the regulation of workmen’s compensation and child labor laws. Major settlements included the Hull House in Chicago and Toynbee Hall in New York City. [2]

New Female Professions[edit]

Traditional female work during this time included school teachers and nursing Women achieved greater success in creating female oriented jobs than breaking into male dominated jobs during this time. [1] In 1910, 5%-6% of Doctors are female 1% of Lawyers are female 1% of Clergy are female. Women had much more success creating professions designed around their domestic and maternal qualities. - Home Economics emerged in the 1890’s at MIT and the University of Chicago. Studied science and used experiments to influence politics. Female headed labs studied ways to create cleaner water and better American sewers. - Public Health Nursing was created as an alternative to traditional nursing. This allowed women to have their own private practices and to not have to work under men. However, most women served communities who couldn’t pay, which limited their resources and income. - Social work primarily operated in social settlements, serving immigrant women and children. Since many of their clients could not pay, social workers were key players in pushing for progressive reform. [1]

Major Players[edit]

Ellen Swallow Richards was a chemist who graduated from Vassar College and founded Home Economics. Richards set up labs at Universities across the country aimed at sanitation and teaching women the sciences. Richards was a key player in maternalist politics as she applied her scientific knowledge to domestic issues in politics, pushing for good nutrition and sanitation. [4] Lugenia Burns Hope was one of the first professional social workers. In 1908 in Atlanta Georgia she founded the Neighborhood Union, which aimed to mobilize and enfranchise poor black neighborhoods in the city. [3] Jane Addams co-founded the Hull House in Chicago in 1889. [2] A strong proponent for maternalist politics and progressive reform, she started many initiatives such as clean food and clean drinking water, which gained momentum in the social movement. [1]


- Said to keep women out of male dominated professions - creates a normalized idea of femininity without considering the fluidity of gender. [6] - Used by advertisers after World War II to push women out of the workforce and back home. Women nurturing demeanors would be better served waiting on their husbands and children. (note advertisement) - Excludes any concept of paternal responsibility for meeting needs of children (perhaps because paternity was not provable/disprovable until 1970)


[1] Muncy, Robyn. Lecture, University of Maryland, February 27, 2014. [2] "Social Settlement." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed March 30, 2014. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/551438/social-settlement. [3] Cardoza-Oquendo, Juan. "Lugenia Burns Hope." In New Georgia Encyclopedia. N.p.: n.p., 2010. Accessed March 30, 2014. http://www.georgianencyclopedia.org. [4] "Ellen H. Swallow Richards." Chemical Heritage Foundation. Last modified 2010. Accessed March 30, 2014. http://www.chemheritage.org. [6] http://www.ub.uib.no/elpub/1996/h/506002/eirinn/eirinn-Feminist-2.html

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