Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History


History & Political Science


College of Arts & Humanities

Committee Chair

Dr. Kelly Houston Jones

Second Committee Member

Dr. David Blanks

Third Committee Member

Dr. Gregory Michna

Program Director

Dr. Guolin Yi

Dean of Graduate College

Dr. Richard Schoephoerster


Many diaries and letters written by nineteenth-century Americans display the aching for parenthood and pain of loss due to miscarriage. Though some women felt joy or relief when they recognized they had miscarried or were not pregnant, infertility negatively affected the everyday lives of many men and women in the nineteenth century. Infertility not only disturbed their personal beliefs of family and their role in society, but could cause marital discord, feeling outcast from society, and could lead to other health problems. Women in slavery faced even more serious consequences that included being sold away from their family and/or receiving corporal punishment. At the same time, the experiences of those women began to shape the field of embryology. Surgeries and treatments were not always successful, and some women were left to struggle with their infertility. Other options for motherhood came from adopting orphaned or abandoned children or alternative mothering through careers like teaching, nursing, or writing novels. The role of parent was crucial to the nineteenth-century community and infertility prevented many would-be parents from experiencing the joy of starting a family. While infertility in the nineteenth century is a mostly unexplored topic, the diaries, letters, and interviews of these women show the effect that their infertility had on their lives, and how they reacted to it, providing insight into the everyday lives of men and women in the nineteenth century.