Women's History Seminars

All Politics Are Reproductive Politics: Welfare, Immigration, Gay Marriage, Foreclosure

Boston Seminar on the History of Women and Gender

Laura Briggs, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Comment: Suzanna Danuta Walters, Northeastern University

The collision of  two forces—increasing unpaid care burdens and ever more need for wage labor—have conspired over the past 40 years to radically reconfigure both families and political common sense in particularly racialized ways. Briggs argues that this issue has driven nearly every other significant policy debate in the US since the 1970s: not just abortion and daycare, but feminism in general, welfare, immigration, gay marriage, and in vitro fertilization. Welfare reform was a “who cares for the children” fight; gay marriage cases have been decided in terms of “the children”; the majority of immigrants to the US are women, disproportionately doing care work; and in vitro fertilization is about the necessity of delaying childbearing into one’s 30s in the US, when fertility begins to be reduced. Furthermore, this is by no means a white middle-class or US problem. While being out of the labor force may seem like a privilege particularly of white US suburbanites in the 1950s, both the care crunch and the need to work longer and longer days for shrinking wages have disproportionately affected working-class people, people of color, and a growing segments of the Third World. The ways individuals, households, and communities grind up against these issues account for a great deal, including why race, gender, and reproduction have been such central issues in the US and beyond since at least the 1970s.


The Boston Seminar Series on the History of Women and Gender—cosponsored by the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study—offers scholars and students an opportunity to discuss new research on any aspect of the history of women and gender in the United States, without chronological limitation.

The seminar series includes four meetings that will take place during the 2015–2016 academic year, each revolving around the discussion of a precirculated paper. Sessions open with remarks from the essayist and an assigned commentator, after which the discussion is opened to the floor.

Registration for the series is required.

Registered participants may access the papers online at the Massachusetts Historical Society website.

For more information, please call 617-495-8647 or e-mail seminars@masshist.org.