One of my passions is doing genealogy research. I can spend hours going through stacks of old books in libraries or trying to decipher centuries-old and faded handwriting in online images of documents. One of the document types I consult frequently is census records. In the United States, census records began in 1790 but only listed the name of the head of the household until 1850 when other family members’ names were included. In the 1850 and 1860 censuses, the occupation of the head of household was listed. In that time period, the majority were farmers. In 1870 and 1880, the census recorded the occupations of other household members including the wives. They were usually listed as “keeping house.” But beginning in 1900, unless a wife was employed outside the home, no occupation was listed for her. While I am sure these changes fit the needs of the demographers who were directing the census questions, I have often wondered what the changes signified in terms of the societal perceptions of the work done by women.
Women have been given the transcendent experience of giving birth. In the animal world, mothering generally is quite limited in scope and lasts only as long as is needed for the offspring to survive physically. But not so with human mothers. No woman has ever looked on a newborn babe without pondering the future of that child and recognizing, perhaps with trepidation, the role she will need to play in that future.
The culture of life is not limited to bringing a child into the world. Women create a culture of life every single day as we care for children, nurse them through illnesses, console them through disappointments, instill in them a sense of their potential, train them in skills we feel they will need, protect them, feed and clothe them, teach them to become honorable and kind, and love them. Even in difficult and dangerous environments, women continue to mother. They “keep house” in any circumstance to provide as much as they can for those in their care. When children become adults, mothers adjust their role but do not relinquish it.
Abraham Lincoln stated: “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” My own mother played the greatest role in shaping the person I have become. None of this is meant to downplay the importance of fathers, but their role differs from that of mothers. Wise societies, employers, and governmental leaders will recognize and facilitate the all-important work the mothers of the world perform each and every day.