In the second half of the eighteenth century, motherhood came to be
viewed as women's most important social role, and the figure of the
good mother was celebrated as a moral force in American society.
Nora Doyle shows that depictions of motherhood in American culture
began to define the ideal mother by her emotional and spiritual
roles rather than by her physical work as a mother. As a result of
this new vision, lower-class women and non-white women came to be
excluded from the identity of the good mother because American
culture defined them in terms of their physical labor.
However, Doyle also shows that childbearing women contradicted the
ideal of the disembodied mother in their personal accounts and
instead perceived motherhood as fundamentally defined by the work
of their bodies. Enslaved women were keenly aware that their
reproductive bodies carried a literal price, while middle-class and
elite white women dwelled on the physical sensations of
childbearing and childrearing. Thus motherhood in this period was
marked by tension between the lived experience of the maternal body
and the increasingly ethereal vision of the ideal mother that
permeated American print culture.