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Celebrate motherhood with the new book 'American Mom'

Celebrate motherhood with the new book 'American Mom'
A mother with her children in an 1885 advertisement, from the book "American Mom." (Ehsan Roshani / National Library of Medicine)

Love of family and love of country. That's what makes an American Mom. And that's everything that's lauded in Meredith Hale's new book, "American Mom: A Celebration of Motherhood in Pop Culture."

Using visuals from 12 decades, "American Mom" focuses on how motherhood is portrayed in film, television, advertising and even music, and how well depictions of mothers compare with what women were actually experiencing at the time.

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Organized chronologically, each chapter looks at mothers as cast in a certain role, from "The Angel in the House" in the 1800s to "Moms in Cyberspace" today. Readers get fascinating mini-narratives behind fictional characters — Betty Crocker, Rosie the Riveter, Clair Huxtable – as well as real-life historical figures including Mary Church Terrell, born in 1863 and a founding member of the NAACP, and Florence Owens Thompson, the "Migrant Mother" in the famous Depression-era photograph by Dorothea Lange.

A real-life Rosie the Riveter working on a plane in Tennessee in 1943.
A real-life Rosie the Riveter working on a plane in Tennessee in 1943. (Alfred T. Palmer / Wikimedia Foundation/Library of Congress)

While politics is as American as apple pie, Hale stays neutral in her analysis of women who have influenced the White House, either as wives or mothers to the president. Her profiles come from both political parties and celebrate both sides of the aisle. Among the many first ladies in the book, an exciting detail that stands out is that Betty Ford danced with the legendary Martha Graham. And the final representative to vote for the 19th Amendment and allow women's suffrage was swayed by a last-minute letter from his own mother imploring him to "be a good boy."

A question that resonates throughout "American Mom" is "Can she have it all?" Hale, a well-known mom blogger with two children, goes back and forth on what the answer is.

"American Mom" relies on the universal nature of motherhood to engage readers. The book explains that one does not need to be a mother to understand the deep need for nurturing. During the many times of war, women — whether they were mothers or not — stepped in to help the cause, thus emphasizing that the true American Mom fulfills her duty to her country along with that to her family.

In 1990, First Lady Barbara Bush read to children in the White House library.
In 1990, First Lady Barbara Bush read to children in the White House library. (George Bush Presidential Library)

Hale's story of motherhood strives for inclusivity; she finds instances where black families appear in television and advertising, and points to significant black cultural figures. But few other heritages and cultures are represented — underlining that the advertising world and media as a whole have been slow to reflect the diversity of this country.

Throughout American history, fashion has changed, gender roles have changed and technologies have changed. But "American Mom" shows that the one constant guiding it all is the love of a mother.

Hernandez is a writer in Los Angeles.

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"American Mom" by Meredith Hale
"American Mom" by Meredith Hale (Sterling Publishing)

"American Mom: A Celebration of Motherhood in Pop Culture"

Meredith Hale

Sterling: 176 pp., $19.95

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