Preparing For Motherhood -- By: Tim Bayly
Preparing For Motherhood
A Christian Response To The Cultural Attack On Domesticity
My mother-in-law studied for her degree in Home Economics during the late thirties and early forties, graduating summa cum laude from Oregon State University. After marrying her childhood sweetheart, she gave birth to ten children in fourteen years. Her husband, engaged for most of the years when the family was young as editorial director of a religious publishing house, brought home low wages, so frugality was a necessity and the degree served this young mother and her family well.
Food preservation, hygiene, cooking, sewing, and home budgeting were part of the home ec curriculum and, along with the liberal arts training which came with every bachelor’s degree at the time, these young women graduated with specialized training for their profession of choice—motherhood. Other women took similarly helpful majors in Elementary Education, Bible, Christian Education (my own mother’s major), and Nursing.1
Then came the frontal assault on housewifery and motherhood carried out largely by a new and powerful aristocracy, the “Information Class.”2 During the late sixties and early seventies this assault reached fever pitch and the academy was ground zero. College and university students were assigned propagandistic tracts such as Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and joined the ranks of those determined to liberate the “Noras” of the world.3 Oxford historian Paul Johnson provides interesting historical details on A Doll’s House, noting that both Karl Marx’s youngest daughter, Eleanor, and George Bernard Shaw took part in its first private reading in London, Eleanor playing the title role of Nora. Johnson writes, the “clear message” of A Doll’s House was that “marriage is not sacrosanct, the husband’s authority is open to challenge, [and] self-discovery matters more than anything else.” Johnson concludes, “[Ibsen] really started the women’s movement.”4
The discipline of Home Economics (also known as “household arts”) was an early casualty. Traditionally, Home Economics had enjoyed a comfortably apolitical niche in the world of higher education, and the guardians of this discipline had every reason to trust their academic peers would continue to be favorably disposed toward a curriculum so integrally tied to domestic tranquillity. It was taken for granted that a dignified and competent wife and mother, devoted to her home and family, was a highly desirable constant in American culture.
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