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Motherhood on a Mission: Missionaries, "Heathens," and the Maternal Ideal in the Early American Republic

Motherhood on a Mission: Missionaries, "Heathens," and the Maternal Ideal in the Early American... <p>abstract:</p><p>This essay examines motherhood in the context of the United States&apos; first foreign missionary movement. In the early nineteenth century, as the first generation of missionaries departed for foreign locations—including India, Burma, and the Sandwich Islands—concern began to mount over the behavior of foreign mothers who were neither white nor Christian. In popular texts, such women were frequently depicted as harmful mothers who abused, neglected, or killed their own children, and their conversion to Christianity was touted as the only path toward their reformation. This trope of the purportedly harmful, "heathen" mother served as powerful motivation for American women who hoped to evangelize overseas by marrying missionaries. In joining missions, they planned to convert foreign women, transform family and gender relations, and protect supposedly vulnerable children. Yet as their own writing frequently revealed, missionary wives themselves largely failed to conform to the rigorous strictures of early republican maternity. Using the edited and published memoirs of missionary wives as a lens, I argue that maternity served a far more complex role in American public life than has previously been acknowledged.</p> http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal University of Pennsylvania Press

Motherhood on a Mission: Missionaries, "Heathens," and the Maternal Ideal in the Early American Republic

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Publisher
University of Pennsylvania Press
Copyright
Copyright © The McNeil Center for Early American Studies.
ISSN
1559-0895

Abstract

<p>abstract:</p><p>This essay examines motherhood in the context of the United States&apos; first foreign missionary movement. In the early nineteenth century, as the first generation of missionaries departed for foreign locations—including India, Burma, and the Sandwich Islands—concern began to mount over the behavior of foreign mothers who were neither white nor Christian. In popular texts, such women were frequently depicted as harmful mothers who abused, neglected, or killed their own children, and their conversion to Christianity was touted as the only path toward their reformation. This trope of the purportedly harmful, "heathen" mother served as powerful motivation for American women who hoped to evangelize overseas by marrying missionaries. In joining missions, they planned to convert foreign women, transform family and gender relations, and protect supposedly vulnerable children. Yet as their own writing frequently revealed, missionary wives themselves largely failed to conform to the rigorous strictures of early republican maternity. Using the edited and published memoirs of missionary wives as a lens, I argue that maternity served a far more complex role in American public life than has previously been acknowledged.</p>

Journal

Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary JournalUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: Oct 10, 2019

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