My journey through the nineteenth century has led me to reflect on Whitman’s view of motherhood and a woman’s right to parenthood.  The nineteenth century woman’s movement  advocated for “voluntary motherhood” which would allow a woman the decision to become a mother.  Although morally opposed to contraception, feminists in the nineteenth century believed in a woman’s choice to have children through abstinence.  Linda Gordon writes, “voluntary motherhood in this period remained almost exclusively a tool for women to strengthen their positions within conventional marriages and families, not to reject them” (113).  As women are trying to strengthen their positions within society, Whitman continues to call them back into the domestic sphere.  Not only does his poetry idealize motherhood but it precludes women from having a choice in motherhood.  In “A Woman Waits for Me” he advocates the use of sexual force: “I do not hurt you anymore than is necessary for you” (l. 27) and he asserts that children must be borne from this relation.  He writes, “I shall demand perfect men and women out of my love spendings” (l. 36).

It is difficult to call a man who is forcing sexual relations and demanding perfect children from it a feminist.  Whitman apparently is not a supporter of “voluntary motherhood”.

Works Cited

Gordon, Linda. Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right : Birth Control in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1977. Print.

Whitman, Walt. Complete Poetry and Collected Prose. New York, N.Y: Literary Classics of the United States ; Distributed by Viking Press, 1982. Print.