Kate's Reviews > The Mother's Encyclopedia

The Mother's Encyclopedia by Parents' Magazine
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's review
Oct 14, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, own
Read in April, 2011

I can't believe this series of encyclopedia doesn't have a single review on Goodreads. Or, I can't believe there aren't more weirdos like me, obsessed with the various ramblings of the Greatest Generation, trawling the very depths of second hand stores for the absolute best in mid-century hilarity.
I found four volumes of this six volume series at an antique store in Berkeley and bought them, fully expecting them to be brimming with some shocking bits of racism, homophobia, sexism, and sundry other -isms of the day. Imagine my surprise to find instead ringing endorsements of "petting" (a wonderful practice of wily youngsters if there ever was one), co-ed colleges, natural childbirth, as well as such sage advice like, "Don't laugh at your children's first loves."
Each entry in the encyclopedia was submitted by a different individual, so the quality can be hit and miss, but overall the essays are even-handed and attempt to cover well both sides of an argument (circumcision, for example.) It would likely not suit the contemporary mother well as there's definitely some questionable, outdated advice and the glossing over entirely of issues many people see as normal now, like homosexuality, queerness, gender-fluidity, and mixed race relationships.
Other issues quickly make themselves apparent, most notably the degree to which this series is aimed at middle class families. There's much talk of college choice, summer camps, and budgeting on your husband's salary. Gender roles are fairly rigidly policed, though a surprising amount of encouragement is given to fathers to actively participate in the "domestic sphere".
My particular edition was published in 1951, an expansion of the previous 1940s and 1933 editions. It was published and distributed by Parents' Magazine and as such was never available in conventional book stores, though it's not exactly difficult to find through eBay or the Amazon marketplace.
Overall, it's an amusing and occasionally surprising view into a fascinating period in US history. I would recommend it to US historians, gender studies folks, parents, and the curious.

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