Term of Award

Summer 2001

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)


Department of History

Committee Chair

Craig H. Roell

Committee Member 1

Alan C. Downs

Committee Member 2

Donald Rakestraw


Today we take the prevalence of bottlefeeding for granted For so many American women, it is just the way things are and have been for generations Indeed, relatively few of even the oldest generation of American women breastfed their infants for any significant duration, and breastfeeding largely remained a cultural anomaly throughout most of the twentieth century And yet. this is not the way things always were. Few scholars have examined at what point American society made the shift from breast to bottle and how and why this shift occurred Surprisingly, the decline of maternal breastfeeding began long before the age of female suffrage and the women's liberation movement. Neither was the mass movement of women into the workplace solely responsible for the standardization of bottlefeeding, although that certainly helped accelerate the change Like so many other standards of American life, including breakfast cereal, soft drinks, and automobiles, the popularity of commercial infant formulas and the prevalence of bottle-feeding can be largely traced to advertising. Although social changes played a role in the solidification of bottlefeeding as the primary means of nourishing infants in this country, the cultural significance of advertising in all its many forms cannot be overlooked, as advertising both reflected, perpetuated and even initiated those changes.

At the turn of the century, the emerging consumer culture, with its altered values, was poised to embrace bottlefeeding In the producer culture, breastfeeding seemed natural and appropriate, as lactation allowed a mother to actively produce nourishment for her infant. Furthermore, breastmilk was not only "homemade." but also free Mother s milk, was also unique and very personal. The nature of bottlefeeding, however, was perfectly suited to the ideals of consumerism. Mass-produced, it was repeatable, scientific, artificial, and expensive but supposedly "convenient. " Moreover, artificial infant food gave women the freedom to set aside some of the responsibility of motherhood and explore their own desires, and allowed for the potential replacement, if not ultimate disposal, of mother herself.

The new culture of consumerism offered a concrete manifestation of liberty and democracy, the ideals that had characterized the American experience, in the form of new, nationally advertised, brand-name products that became both accessible and affordable. Commodities were tangible examples of the freedom, convenience, and variety that money could buy, and these coveted qualities of the consumer culture found a voice in the form of modern advertising. One of the most effective vehicles for advertising in the late nineteenth century was the modern women's magazine. Filled with informative features and artful ads designed to attract the female eye, the magazine was an advertisement in itself The articles and advertisements therein provide examples of what the young mothers of the late nineteenth century were being taught about how to nourish their infants, and reflect the changing ideas about motherhood and infant care that perpetuated the trend of bottlefeeding. Therefore, this thesis examines the decline of breastfeeding as it was revealed in the pages of the pioneer in magazine advertising, the Ladies' Home Journal, and considers the role of such magazines in promoting the artificial feeding of infants among American mothers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the pages of this magazine, the breast-versus-bottle controversy unfolds, leading to a clearer understanding of how our country came to be a nation of bottlefed babies.

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