Laura L. Lovett

Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890-1930.

(University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

Conceiving the Future critically examines how nostalgic idealizations of motherhood, family, and the home were used to promote differential reproduction by reformers advocating everything from irrigation to country life and popular eugenics.

Through nostalgic idealizations of motherhood, family, and the home, influential leaders in early twentieth-century America constructed and legitimated a range of reforms that promoted human reproduction. Their pronatalism emerged from a modernist conviction that reproduction and population could be regulated. European countries sought to regulate or encourage reproduction through legislation; America, by contrast, fostered ideological and cultural ideas of pronatalism through what Laura Lovett calls “nostalgic modernism,” which romanticized agrarianism and promoted scientific racism and eugenics. 

Conceiving the Future looks closely at the ideologies of five influential American figures: Mary Lease's maternalist agenda, Florence Sherbon's eugenic “fitter families” campaign, George Maxwell's “homecroft” movement of land reclamation and home building, Theodore Roosevelt's campaign for conservation and country life, and Edward Ross's sociological theory of race suicide and social control. Demonstrating the historical circumstances that linked agrarianism, racism, and pronatalism, Lovett shows how reproductive conformity was manufactured, how it was promoted, and why it was coercive. In addition to contributing to scholarship in American history, gender studies, rural studies, and environmental history, Lovett's study sheds light on the rhetoric of “family values” that has regained currency in recent years.

Reviews of Conceiving the Future

Holly Allen,  H-Amstdy (November 2007).

Rebecca Edwards, Kansas History (2007) 30 (3)

Nancy Folbre, Population and Development Review. 33, No. 4 (Dec., 2007), pp. 827-82.

Jennifer Fronc, “Pronatalism, “Positive Eugenics,” and Social Reform,” Reviews in American History (2007) 35 (4), 630-635.

Susan Currell, The Journal of American History (2007) 94 (3): 950-951.

The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society (2007) 105, 517–19

Brooke Speer Orr, The New England Quarterly 81, No. 1 (Mar., 2008), pp. 140-142.

Pablo Mitchell, Gender and History (2008) 20 (1), 193-194.

Alexandra Minna Stern, Isis 99, No. 2 (June 2008), pp. 431-432.

E. S. Watkins, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (2008) 39 (1), 144-145.

Lynne Curry, Social History, 33:4 (2009)

Elizabeth Bennion, Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy (2009) 30 (1), 95-96.

Andrea Kay Ryan, Rural Sociology (2009) 74 (1),  144-146.

Wendy Kline, Journal of Social History, (2009) 42 (2),  pp. 1055-1056.

Cecelia Benoit, “Historical Linkages between Reproduction, Pronatalism, and Professional Institutions in North America,” Journal of Women’s History (2010) 22 (3), 224-234.