Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“To form a strong and populous nation”: Race, motherhood, and the *state in republican Brazil
by Otovo, Okezi T., Ph.D., Georgetown University, 2009, 309; 3350111
Abstract (Summary)

Government policies designed to protect families and public institutions dedicated to providing for the health and welfare of women and children are a relatively recent development. Child welfare, particularly high infant mortality rates, emerged as a public concern across the globe in the mid-19th century. In Brazil maternal and infant hygiene reform became part of a larger movement to improve Brazilian society through science, creating a healthy, “progressive” population. With slavery abolished and the Republic founded, Brazil began the 20th century hoping to enter the world stage with a working population strong in quality and in quantity. Reform campaigns of the period sought to improve the physical health of people on society’s margins, attempting to maximize their economic potential so as to benefit the growth of the nation. While maternal welfare advocates campaigned for “proper motherhood,” millions of poor Brazilian women negotiated family life and wage labor within the constraints of a racially unequal and gender-inequitable society. This dissertation analyzes the origins and outcomes of the movement for healthier mothers and babies in the northeastern state of Bahia from the 1880s-1945. It argues that the Bahian movement was a crucial resource for national reform that illustrated the tensions of nation-building and the deconstruction of slavery, building upon continuities and transformations in social understandings of race and gender. It demonstrates that maternal and child welfare were key aspects of the integration of the popular classes into the vision of a modern state. This dissertation explores the intellectual and political contradictions as well as the lived experiences of Brazilian families and public health institutions as motherhood was redefined and health became a corollary to citizenship. These transformations rhetorically elevated the poor family as the cornerstone of moral and social change without fundamentally disrupting long-held and carefully guarded social hierarchies.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McCann, Bryan
Commitee: McKittrick, Meredith, Tutino, John
School: Georgetown University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 70/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Latin American history, Gender studies
Keywords: Brazil, Motherhood, Race, Republican, State
Publication Number: 3350111
ISBN: 978-1-109-07211-2
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