By Carla L. Peterson

About Carla L. Peterson

Carla L. Peterson is Professor of English and affiliate faculty in the departments of Women’s Studies, American Studies, and African American Studies at the University of Maryland. She is the author of “Doers of the Word”: African American Women Speakers and Writers in the North (1830–1880) and Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City.


“Family” is a widely invoked word. Friends and colleagues talk about family. It is a central topic in journalism, biography, autobiography, fiction, television sitcoms, theater, and film. It is a significant point of reference in public policy, whether in debates over welfare, AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), immigration laws, or, more generally, “family values.” The word has a long history in U.S. culture. In 1869, Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe began their book The American Woman’s Home by posing the question, “What, then, is the end designed by the family state?” For them, the answer was self-evident: the family state consists of a “stronger and wiser” father who “undergoes toil and self-denial to provide a home,” a mother who becomes a “self-sacrificing laborer to train its inmates,” and the inmates themselves, children (18). Christian values ensure its welfare. This …

Collectivities, Feelings, Money
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