From Carolina Watchman, January 25, 1845
Historian Suzanne Lebsock has noted that "antebellum women were barraged with literature assuring them that their work (as wives and mothers) was essential to the nation's well-being" (Lebsock, The Free Women of Peteresburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784–1860 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984), p. 162). So a scholar interested in comparing this source to other primary source accounts of a mother's expected role should have little trouble finding a text from the nineteenth century. Many of the ideas in this article are echoed in an 1875 book aimed at young wives and mothers by Mary Ann Bryan Mason of Raleigh. Ms. Mason is in agreement with this article about mothers' care for their children's physical well-being and constitution. As she states in an example, a "certain careful mother watched over the health and comfort of her children, regardless of the sneers of her fashionable neighbors," also taking care that her children received fresh air, sunshine, and exercise, and, as a result, "These children, every one of them (a goodly number), arrived at maturity with good constitutions, and with principles creditable to their parents." (pp. 72–73) Mason also notes that the mother in this case attended to the habits and moral principles of her children -- "Their food was always simple, their habits were regular, their manners and morals studiously attended to." (p. 73) She further places the temperament of a child squarely on the shoulders of his mother: "We wonder not that there are so many awkward, ungainly men in society -- they have all been trained by women who knew not, nor cared not, for the holy nature of their trust." (p. 76) She also reminds mothers, "As soon as your children can lisp their Maker's name, teach them to bend the knee to their Father in heaven." (77-78) On most subjects, Mason seems to be quite in agreement with the author of this article, although she does mention "parents" a bit more often, even as she continues to place the vast majority of her emphasis on the mother's role. On the topic of education, she seems somewhat less keen for mothers to take early advantage of schools, arguing instead for delayed formal instruction in favor of more nature-based learning: "From five to twelve years clothe your children warmly in winter, and let them live out in the open air as much as possible. Do not force the intellect by means of books and a close school-room too soon. Let the skies, the fields, the garden, animals, plants, etc. be their teacher for a time, and gradually introduce them to the love of books. They will learn then the faster, and make up for the seeming lost time."
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