Graduation Year


Date of Thesis Acceptance

Spring 5-12-2014

Major Department or Program



Suzanne Morrissey;


Motherhood is a very sacred and coveted status in American society. In fact, many women find it to be a central part of their identity and a source of acceptance by others. However, the requirements presented in the “good” mothering narrative are intensive and require resources, time, and energy that many women cannot afford. Women unable to fulfill the criteria of “good” mothers are labeled “bad” and tend to be women of color who suffer from poverty. Despite the fact that expectations are unreasonable for many women, the saliency of the “good” mothering narrative lead some women to commit acts of desperation that can lead to incarceration. Since incarceration challenges these women’s ability to mother effectively, prison moms are further stigmatized as “bad” mothers. This label is misleading given that, more often than not, these women are incarcerated due to the structures of oppression, discrimination, sexism, violence, etc, that challenge their ability to provide for their families. In other words, actions, such as the selling of drugs, that lead to incarceration were often in an effort to fulfill expectations of “good” mothers. This thesis explores some of the structural barriers these women face, how they find ways to cope, and how ultimately, how their incarceration challenges the saliency of their identities as mothers. It also examines three prison programs, Girl Scout Beyond Bars, Prison Nurseries, and Drew House that work to restore their identities as mothers as well as teach the women “good” mothering techniques that is in accordance with the dominant narrative. This thesis is meant to complicate the ideology of motherhood and to, instead, examine the realities of these women.

Page Count


Subject Headings

Stigma (Social psychology) -- Motherhood, Pregnancy -- Prisons -- Nurseries, Identity (Philosophical concept) -- Motherhood, Prisoners -- Family relationships -- Children, Alternatives to imprisonment -- New York (State) -- Drew House, Children of women prisoners -- Family relationships -- United States, Girl Scouts of the United States of America -- Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, Whitman College -- Dissertation collection 2014 -- Anthropology Department

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Public Accessible Thesis

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