Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream

Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream

Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream

Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream

Synopsis

This compelling book destroys the derogatory images of single mothers that too often prevail in the media and in politics by creating a rich, moving, multidimensional picture of who these women really are. Ruth Sidel interviewed mothers from diverse races, ethnicities, religions, and social classes who became single through divorce, separation, widowhood, or who never married; none had planned to raise children on their own. Weaving together these women's voices with an accessible, cutting-edge sociological and political analysis of single motherhood today, Unsung Heroines introduces a resilient, resourceful, and courageous population of women committed to their families, holding fast to quintessential American values, and creating positive new lives for themselves and their children. What emerges from this penetrating study is a clear message about what all families--two-parent as well as single parent--must have to succeed: decent jobs at a living wage, comprehensive health care, and preschool and after-school care. In a final chapter, Sidel gives a broad political-economic analysis that provides historical background on the way American social policy has evolved and compares the situation in the U.S. to the social policies and ideologies of other countries.

Excerpt

The denigration and demonization of single mothers has deep roots in American culture. Mothers without husbands have been looked upon with suspicion and hostility since the time of the earliest settlers. Today’s concerns about the weakening of the traditional family and about related issues such as single motherhood, divorce, sexual permissiveness, teenage pregnancy, and abortion have formed a central theme in American society for generations. Both the early Settlement Laws and the Colonial Poor Laws of seventeenth-century America punished husbandless women and unwed mothers, differentiating between the “deserving” and the “undeserving.” During the early years of the twentieth century, programs to help the poor stated that only “fit and worthy” women would receive help; these generally were white widows.

The recent period of intensified concern about single motherhood was spurred by the ascendancy of conservative ideology in the United States as marked by the election of Ronald Reagan as president. Rapid social change during the 1970s and 1980s—increasing numbers of single mothers, especially women having children outside marriage; a significant increase in teenage pregnancy and birth; a continuing high divorce rate; and fundamental changes in the roles and status of women—contributed to the anxiety about social issues. Reagan’s infamous labeling of poor women as “welfare queens” was accompanied by significant cutbacks in essential social services, particularly for poor women and chil-

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