’s Progressive Mothers, Better Babies: Race, Public Health, and the State in Brazil, 1850-1945
(U Texas Press, 2016) explores the intersecting histories of race, gender, and class in modern Brazil. Between 1850 and 1945, the period covered in the book, Brazil experienced a range of profound socio-political transformations: from the end of the transatlantic slave trade (1850), to the wholesale abolition of slavery (1888), the demise of the monarchy followed by the rise of a republican system of government, and the ultimate inauguration of the Vargas dictatorship. Set in Bahia, the book considers the impact of these changes in the lives of black mothers and their children by following the rise of the maternalist movement in Brazil and its relationship to international discourses on race, public health reform, and national modernity. In addition to tracking changes to medical ideas about motherhood and children, Okezi Otovo gives agency to these black and brown mothers and considers both how they acted and were acted upon by physicians, public health reformers, and newly-formed welfare institutions. Progressive Mothers, Better Babies
provides an important contribution to scholarship working at the intersections of race, class, gender, public health, and medical thought. It will be an important read to anyone seeking to grapple with the essential role assigned to mothers – specifically to black and brown, poor women – by physicians and public health reformers in a deeply patriarchal society.