Macquarie University
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Breeding and feeding: a social history of mothers and medicine in Australia, 1880-1925

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posted on 2022-03-28, 19:43 authored by Lisa Featherstone
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw profound changes in Australian attitudes towards maternity. Imbibed with discourses of pronatalism and eugenics, the production of infants became increasingly important to society and the state. Discourses proliferated on "breeding", and while it appeared maternity was exulted, the child, not the mother, was of ultimate interest. -- This thesis will examine the ways wider discourses of population impacted on childbearing, and very specifically the ways discussions of the nation impacted on medicine. Despite its apparent objectivity, medical science both absorbed and created pronatalism. Within medical ideology, where once the mother had been the point of interest, the primary focus of medical care, increasingly medical science focussed on the life of the infant, who was now all the more precious in the role of new life for the nation. -- While all childbirth and child-rearing advice was formed and mediated by such rhetoric, this thesis will examine certain key issues, including the rise of the caesarean section, the development of paediatrics and the turn to antenatal care. These turning points can be read as signifiers of attitudes towards women and the maternal body, and provide critical material for a reading of the complexities of representations of mothers in medical discourse.


Alternative Title

Social history of mothers and medicine in Australia, 1880-1925

Table of Contents

Introduction: breeding and feeding -- The medical man: sex, science and society -- Confined: women and obstetrics 1880-1899 -- The kindest cut? The caesarean section as turning point -- Reproduction in decline -- Resisting reproduction: women, doctors and abortion -- From obstetrics to paediatrics: the rise of the child -- The breast was best: medicine and maternal breastfeeding -- The deadly bottle and the dangers of the wet nurse: the "artificial" feeding of infants -- Surveillance and the mother -- Mothers and medicine: paradigms of continuity and change.


Bibliography: p. 417-478

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Humanities, Department of Modern History

Department, Centre or School

Dept. of Modern History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Mary Spongberg


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Lisa Featherstone 2003.






478 p

Former Identifiers

mq:5519 1336006