Without Children: The Long History of Not Being a Mother

Without Children: The Long History of Not Being a Mother

By Peggy O'Donnell Heffington

"From Joan of Arc to Queen Elizabeth I, to Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, to Sally Ride and Jennifer Aniston, history is full of women without children. Some chose to forego reproduction in order to pursue intellectually satisfying work--a tension noted by medieval European nuns, 1970s women's liberationists, and modern professionals alike.


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Book Information

Publisher: Seal Press (CA)
Publish Date: 04/18/2023
Pages: 256
ISBN-13: 9781541675575
ISBN-10: 1541675576
Language: English

What We're Saying

May 16, 2023

Peggy O'Donnell Heffington in Conversation with Gabriella Cisneros

By Gabbi Cisneros, Peggy O'Donnell Heffington

Peggy O'Donnell Heffington discussed some of the main points from her new book Without Children: The Long History of Not Being a Mother in this previously live-streamed conversation with Porchlight's Creative Director Gabriella Cisneros. READ FULL DESCRIPTION

May 04, 2023

Without Children

Book Review by Gabbi Cisneros

Validating of my own experience as a soon-to-be-married woman who does not have or want children, Peggy O'Donnell Heffington’s new book is also very eye-opening to the difficulties and importance of motherhood and caretaker-hood, bringing much-needed empathy. READ FULL DESCRIPTION

April 24, 2023

Register now for this upcoming live-streamed conversation with Instructional Professor of History Peggy O'Donnell Heffington. READ FULL DESCRIPTION

Full Description

A historian explores the complicated relationship between womanhood and motherhood in this "timely, refreshingly open-hearted study of the choices women make and the cards they're dealt" (Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can't Sleep). In an era of falling births, it's often said that millennials invented the idea of not having kids. But history is full of women without children: some who chose childless lives, others who wanted children but never had them, and still others--the vast majority, then and now--who fell somewhere in between. Modern women considering how and if children fit into their lives are products of their political, ecological, and cultural moment. But history also tells them that they are not alone.

Drawing on deep research and her own experience as a woman without children, historian Peggy O'Donnell Heffington shows that many of the reasons women are not having children today are ones they share with women in the past: a lack of support, their jobs or finances, environmental concerns, infertility, and the desire to live different kinds of lives. Understanding this history--how normal it has always been to not have children, and how hard society has worked to make it seem abnormal--is key, she writes, to rebuilding kinship between mothers and non-mothers, and to building a better world for us all.

About the Author

Peggy O'Donnell Heffington is an instructional professor of history at the University of Chicago and teaches subjects ranging from feminism to human rights.

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