Susan Klepp’s “Revolutionary Bodies: Women and the Fertility Transition in the Mid- Atlantic Region, 1760- 1820”

“Revolutionary Bodies: Women and the Fertility Transition in the Mid- Atlantic Region, 1760- 1820” by Susan Klepp

This essay explores the shifts in the attitudes of men, women, and society concerning pregnancy and fertility rates. While this subject seems most important for women, Klepp analyzes the stance of men at the time. The shift from lifetime fertility to truncated fertility is marked by the changing demographics of married couples and societal circumstances. Rather than continuously bear children, families consider the economic and social benefits of having children. They propose a number of children rather than continuously produce an unknown number of children. The exploration of fertility rates gives us an interpretation that attempts to be women centered with the narratives that Klepp provides.

Fertility and women giving birth was often compared to agriculture. This give the distinct comparison of women to cattle. Through use of certain vocabulary to describe pregnant women (“with child, “breeding”, referring to children as their “flock”), the author shows us the sentiment towards women at the time. She calls attention to the importance of words used to describe fertility. With these words we can understand the rise and decline of fertility and how that affected women.

Klepp uses the poems Annis Stockton as an opinion of childbearing at the time. She uses the poems of the same women, before and after the Revolution to show the changing views of fertility and pregnancy. Stockton was once an advocate for the many infants she was producing, but later she writes a poem about the tendency for women to remain in domestic stations (927). This shows us the increasing importance of feminine intelligence for women Post revolution. Combined with these poems, she shows us images describing the attitudes towards childbirth. Through these images we can compare the importance of fertility in 1750 with the decreasing importance in the late 1700s.

It is useful that Klepp mentions the conditions of consumerism during colonial times. Nonconsumption of the Revolutionary was a contributing factor to the lowering birthrates. While restrictions and frugality led to nonconsumption in both men and women, it led to “prudence” in women, which is the restriction of birth rates. The idea that outside forces, mostly societal and economic, was widely explored in this essay. She sites not only the attitudes towards consumption during the Revolutionary era, but the writings of Thomas Malthus on population control. In order to understand the shift in fertility rates, we must understand the economic circumstances and the revolution of intellectualism during this time of Enlightenment. Klepp offers an adequate investigation of these conditions.

Klepp was very self-aware of her writing. She mentioned the biases of history toward the wealthy and the white during the late 18th century. She also states that her research could be expanded to engage the idea of masculinity in those times. She agrees that her essay is not all encompassing and works only under that constraint.

Klepp does an excellent analysis of body autonomy during this period. Through her writing, we learn that fertility rates were directly affected by wealth, economics, social movements, and practicality. By studying fertility rates we can see the conceptions of women intellectualism and domesticity. This essay was useful for the overall theme of understanding women in history.

-Lisa Bugasch