When Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes determined in 1927 that sterilization was a legitimate means of safeguarding the nation’s health, he was asserting the state’s right to regulate the production of the national body. His opinion represented a culmination of arguments about reproduction and immigration that had been circulating for years but that intensified during the Progressive Era. Arguments about reproductive and immigration practices surged to the foreground, and tectonic shifts in the conceptual schemes and practices of reproduction in the United States followed.
Drawing on feminist historiography and genre studies, Corporal Rhetoric: Regulating Reproduction in the Progressive Era explores the rhetoric of medical research, new technologies, and material practices that shifted the idea of childbirth as an act of God or Nature to a medical procedure enacted by male physicians on the bodies of women made passive by both drugs and discourse. Barbara Schneider considers how efficiency, the hallmark of scientific management, was raised to a cardinal virtue by its inclusions in the powerful mediums of presidential speeches, national educational policies, and eugenics discourse to reclassify babies, long regarded as gifts, as either valuable assets or defective products.
Schneider shows how the legal system drew upon medicine, scientific management, and the emerging discipline of sociology to restrict women’s labor in order to preserve reproductive capacity, categorized by Supreme Court opinions as a public good rather than a private capacity. Throughout, she ties the arguments developed during this era to current debates about mothering rhetorics, reproductive rights, immigration, and conceptions of the nation.
By weaving together medical research reports, clinical practices, case studies, legal opinions and legislative acts, and the epistemology of scientific management, Schneider illuminates the network that women such as Margaret Sanger, Jane Addams, Lillian Gilbreth and multiple others negotiated as they sought to give women room to exercise their reproductive capacity. Through her analysis of the machinery of these discourses and the material uptake of their genres in the daily practices of reproductive bodies, Schneider offers a provisional theory of corporal rhetoric that begins to answer the call for a new material theory of the body.
Chapter 1. Preconceptions
Chapter 2. The Virtue of Efficiency
Chapter 3. Physicians Who Are Qualified; Women Who Are Not
Chapter 4. Margaret Sanger: The Performance of Polemic
Chapter 5. The Tender Cover of the Law
Chapter 6. The Children’s Bureau: Into the Care of the State
Chapter 7. Lillian Gilbreth: The Engineer of Motherhood
Chapter 8. Consequences
“In this densely written work, steeped in feminist historiography, Schneider closely examines the nation’s successful attempts to regulate women’s bodies, especially their reproductive processes, during the Progressive Era and argues that the aftereffects of these regulations are still present today. Recommended.”
“Focusing on the progressive-era rhetorical activities of Margaret Sanger, Lillian Gilbreth, and women involved in founding the Children’s Bureau, Barbara Schneider engages history, medicine, and politics to identify an alternative to legal and legislative discourses anxious with our embodiment. Corporeal Rhetoric is a model of interdisciplinary scholarship.”
—Richard C. Marback, author of Managing Vulnerability: South Africa's Struggle for a Democratic Rhetoric