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What do I still not know — and where can I find that information?

From Carolina Watchman, January 25, 1845

For What is a Mother Responsible?After reading this source, we may want to know whether all of the literature on motherhood from this period was in agreement — modern articles on parenting certainly disagree quite a lot, and it would be worth analyzing other newspaper articles, books, and pamphlets about motherhood to determine whether there was general agreement or any dissenting views. Readers may be wondering about fatherhood, given this article’s exclusive focus on the mother’s role, and it may be worth seeking out primary sources discussing fathers’ roles. One might also wonder how this idealized version of a responsible mother compared to women’s day-to-day realities. Reading diaries and letters of parents and children might give a sense of how closely daily realities matched this detailed list of mothers’ responsibilities. One might also wonder how the daily experience of motherhood varied by by economic circumstances, by slave/free status, and by region — reading widely in a variety of primary sources (newspapers, diaries, letters, census data, and slave narratives or oral testimonies) might allow the researcher to gain a fuller picture of motherhood in the antebellum period, allowing the researcher to place this article in a stronger and more detailed context.

A mother is usually also a wife, and has the management of a family and a direct influence over subordination to her head, has the seat of authority and wields the sceptre of government. From a position of entire dependence, she has risen to power and rank, and though her throne may be in a cottage, and her dominion the little work of household affairs, yet is she not the less really responsible, than is that youthful queen who now sways a sceptre over the four quarters of the earth. But for what is she responsible?

She is responsible for the nursing and rearing of her progeny; for their physical constitution and growth; their exercise and proper sustenance in early life. A child left to grow up deformed, bloated, or meagre, is an object of maternal negligence.

She is responsible for a child's habits; including cleanliness, order, conversation, eating, sleeping, manners, and general propriety of behavior. A child deficient or untaught in these particulars, will prove a living monument of parental disregard; because generally speaking, a mother can, if she will, greatly control children in these matters.

She is responsible for their deportment. She can make them fearful and cringing, she can make them modest or impertinent, ingenious or deceitful; mean or manly; clownish or polite. The germ of all these things is in childhood, and a mother can repress or bring them forth.

She is responsible for the principles which her children entertain in early life. For her it is to say whether those who go forth, from her fireside, shall be imbued with sentiments of virtue, truth, honor, honesty, temperance, industry, benevolence, and morality, or those of a contrary character -- vice, fraud, drunkenness, idleness, covetousness. These last will be found to the most natural growth; but on her is devolved the daily, hourly task of weeding her little garden -- of eradicating these odious productions, and planting the human with the lily, the rose, and the amaranth, that fadeless flower, emblem of truth.

She is to a very considerable extent responsible for the temper and disposition of her children. Constitutionally they may be violent, irritable, or revengeful; but for regulation or correction of these passions a mother is responsible.

She is responsible for the intellectual acquirement of her children, that is, she is bound to do what she can for this object. Schools, academies, and colleges open their portals throughout our land; and every mother is under heavy responsibilities to see that her sons and daughters have all benefits which these afford and which circumstances permit them to enjoy.

She is responsible for their religious education. The beginning of all wisdom is the fear of God; and this every mother must teach. Reverence for God, acquaintance with His word, respect for the duties of ordinance of religion are within the ability of every parent to implant, and if children grow up ignorant or regardless of the Bible and the Saviour, what mother, when she considers the wickedness of the human heart, can expect them to rise up and call her blessed?

-- Mother's Journ

 

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