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Misbehaving Mothers: Textuality, Motherhood, and Legitimacy in Early Puritan America




Qualls, Amy

Type of Degree





Single mothers, widowed mothers, abandoned mothers, impoverished mothers, and criminal mothers are just some examples of women who lived outside the normative societal standards that prevailed in colonial New England. And in an attempt to determine the ways to deal with these illegitimate practices, reactionary representations of these women began to emerge in the culture. Deviant, or perhaps even better, unregulated motherhood was in fact a space very much contested, a space that represented illegitimacy to some and empowerment to others. This space was immersed in politics and religion and in issues of race and class. Further, it was a space that was at once both private and public. This dissertation examines how mothers came to occupy a space so contested, looking at documentary and literary accounts of unregulated motherhood in seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth-century America.