"The art of good mothering" : childrearing advice for Pākehā mothers in the interwar period : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History at Massey University, New Zealand

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Massey University
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Historians have had a broad consensus since the 1970s that the state and childrearing experts had a particular focus on mothers and motherhood in the interwar period as the major solution for improving post-WWI “national efficiency” and “racial fitness”. Through pronatalist welfare and economic policies, and campaigns to educate and advise mothers on all aspects of childrearing, the state and experts intervened in women’s private lives, and in doing so promoted particular, white, middle-class British ideals of motherhood. That consensus has increasingly been challenged in the past two decades by historians who have argued for a more balanced interpretation that recognises the complex and contradictory relationships between the state, experts and Pākehā mothers. Surprisingly few of these studies, however, have used childrearing advice as a primary source. This thesis will examine government, Plunket and popular childrearing advice from the interwar period to provide a fresh lens on the interwar relationships between state, experts and mothers. It concludes that official and popular culture indeed promoted particular ideals of family, home and motherhood. However it also demonstrates that the state, experts and mothers had a far more complex and contradictory web of relationships than a solely ideological interpretation allows.