Midwives and Madonnas: Motherhood and citizenship in the American counterculture

Kristen A Blankenbaker, Purdue University


This project examines how counterculture mothers reimagined female citizenship over three decades of protest and activism. Witnessing the restrictive social contract that bound their suburban mothers to Cold War policies, hippie women sought to dramatically redefine the obligations that structured motherhood. They utilized the experimental structure of communal societies to enact a variation of motherhood that encouraged the development of a highly individualized self, free from the oppressive social structures that shaped Cold War society. Hippie women viewed this elimination of oppressive social structures as a reclamation, rather than a departure from, American values. The collapse of communal societies and the broader crisis of American identity in the mid-1970s, however, prompted an evolution in counterculture motherhood and citizenship. Through the home birth movement, these women merged feminism, hippie values, and red power rhetoric to advocate for a variation of motherhood linked a mother’s powerful reproductive ability became to a broader obligation to protect the sovereignty of the earth. Counterculture women produced a global citizenship rooted in an individual connection to the earth and environmentalism, not merely the state. Their incorporation of feminism and liberal citizenship, however, accompanied the embrace of the nuclear family as well as a return to a social contract that equated biological motherhood to female fulfillment. Hippie women’s radical revisioning of motherhood cannot be placed on a liberal-conservative political spectrum; rather, it represents the complexity of identity and citizenship in the 1970s and early 1980s.




Gabin, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Womens studies|History

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