Managing Literacy, Mothering America

Women's Narratives on Reading and Writing in the Nineteenth Century

Offers insightful applications of historical materialist standpoint theory, discourse analysis, genre theory, and Jane Thompkin's 'cultural work' model. . . . Robbins's precisely focused analysis is illuminating. . . . [She] is to be commended for scrutinizing both the 'empowering vision' and the 'troubling limits' of domestic literary narratives.
The New England Quarterly
Winner of the 2006 Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title

Managing Literacy, Mothering America accomplishes two monumental tasks. It identifies and defines a previously unstudied genre, the domestic literacy narrative, and provides a pioneering cultural history of this genre from the early days of the United States through the turn of the twentieth century.
Domestic literacy narratives often feature scenes that depict women-mostly middle-class mothers-teaching those in their care to read, write, and discuss literature, with the goal of promoting civic participation. These narratives characterize literature as a source of shared knowledge and social improvement. Authors of these works, which were circulated in a broad range of publication venues, imagined their readers as contributing to the ongoing formation of an idealized American community.
At the center of the genre's history are authors such as Lydia Sigourney, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and Frances Harper, who viewed their writing as a form of teaching for the public good. But in her wide-ranging and interdisciplinary investigation, Robbins demonstrates that a long line of women writers created domestic literacy narratives, which proved to be highly responsive to shifts in educational agendas and political issues throughout the nineteenth century and beyond.
Robbins offers close readings of texts ranging from the 1790s to the 1920s. These include influential British precursors to the genre and early twentieth-century narratives by women missionaries that have been previously undervalued by cultural historians. She examines texts by prominent authors that have received little critical attention to date-such as Lydia Maria Child's Good Wives–and provides fresh context when discussing the well-known works of the period. For example, she reads Uncle Tom's Cabin in relation to Harriet Beecher Stowe's education and experience as a teacher.
Managing Literacy, Mothering America is a groundbreaking exploration of nineteenth-century U.S. culture, viewed through the lens of a literary practice that promoted women's public influence on social issues and agendas.

about the author

Sarah Robbins

Sarah Robbins, a professor of English at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, is the author of The Cambridge Introduction to Harriet Beecher Stowe and coeditor of Writing America, Writing Our Communities, and Teachers’ Writing Groups.

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Sarah Robbins