History of the Family in the U.S. Syllabus


Instructor: Lesley Doig


This course examines the history of the family in the United States from the colonial period to the present day.  The family is the center of private life.  However, as the basic unit of our nation’s society, the family is also constantly a topic of discussion and frequently a site of contention.  In this class we will examine how historic events and views of gender, race, age, class and politics have impacted American families.  We will gain access to information and ideas about our topic and the discipline of history via lectures, readings, discussions, project work and films.    


The following books are required and available in the on-campus bookstore: 

Anya Jabour, ed., Major Problems in the History of American Families and Children. ISBN 0618214755. $78 new, $58 used. $62 at barnesandnoble.com (Hereafter, “Major Problems”)

John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South. ISBN 0195160886. $18 new, $13 used. $12 at barnesandnoble.com (Hereafter, “Promised”)

Beth L. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. ISBN 9780801839351. $22 new, $16 used. $20 at barnesandnoble.com (Hereafter, “Bailey”)

Major Problems readings should be completed before the corresponding meeting so that you can follow lectures and fully participate in class discussion.  Bring Major Problems with you to every class.

The reading schedules for Franklin and Bailey are suggestions to help you pace yourself; the readings will not correspond directly with the corresponding class sessions.  However, you are responsible for having the readings for those books finished by the time we discuss them in class.

Discussions and classroom conduct

One of the great advantages of a smaller class is that it makes discussion possible.  Much can be gained from collectively going over concepts and airing different opinions and ideas.  We will spend time in class examining historical sources, discussing assigned readings and reviewing for exams.  We will all be expected to avoid interfering in each other’s learning and will take care to treat one another with basic courtesy and respect.  Refrain from interrupting others and respect everyone’s right to his or her own views.

All cell phones are to be off in class to prevent distractions.  No texting in class.

Computers can be used in the classroom to take notes, but for no other purpose. Students using computers must sit at the front of the class. 


Attendance is required.  If you are absent, you will still be responsible for any missed information.  You might also try to get notes from a classmate.

For each unexcused absence starting with the fourth one, your overall course grade will be lowered by a half letter.

Students who miss eight or more sessions for any combination of excused and unexcused absences will not earn credit for this class. Such students should withdraw from the class.

Be on time to class.  If you are significantly late three times, that will count as an absence.

            Should you ever need to leave early, please inform me before class begins.



I’ve found that one of the most valuable, and enjoyable, parts of teaching is direct communication with students.  I know that for some of you, this will be your first college- level history class.  I would like to help you succeed.  I encourage you to feel free to contact me whether it be with questions, problems, or simply to discuss the class.  I will hold office hours on Tuesdays from 1:30-3:30, but am also willing to make appointments or meet with students briefly after class.  In addition, my e-mail address is listed above. 

Assignments and Grading

Participation                                                                10%    

Pop Quizzes                                                                10%

Midterm exam                                                             20%

Final Exam                                                                  25%                

Family History paper                                                  25%    

Project pre-work                                                         10%


Successful students will demonstrate a strong familiarity with the information from the readings and lectures, an understanding of the relevance of the material and an ability to express this understanding with both broad analysis and specific detail. 

Every week over the course of the class, you will be participating in small group activities and in larger class discussions.  Unique, thoughtful comments, leadership in your small groups and full engagement will merit a strong participation grade. 

In order to make sure that you are on track with your textbook and document reading, I will be giving you pop quizzes over the course of the semester.  These will be very simple quizzes, with multiple choice or short fill-in questions.  Your lowest quiz score will be dropped.

Exams will be based on the material from lectures, discussions and reading.  You will receive a review sheet before the exams to help you prepare.  Make-up exams will only be given in cases where a documented reason for missing the exam is provided.

You will also be writing a 9 to 11 page paper on your own family history.  This will require that you do research on your family’s history and interview family members.  You will also use readings to place your family’s history in a broader context.  Over the course of the semester, this project will be broken into smaller tasks to help keep you on track.  You will also be working with classmates to help strengthen your project work.  As the paper is due at the end of the semester, any late work jeopardizes your final grade.  The paper needs to be turned in on time unless a documented reason is provided.

Grammar, spelling and organizational clarity will be factors in grading take-home written assignments.

There will most likely be opportunities for extra credit that will encourage you to read novels and view films as cultural expressions of American views of family.

Cheating and plagiarism

Plagiarism and cheating will not be tolerated.  Anyone found to be cheating will receive an F on the involved assignment and may be reported to the university’s administration.  If you find yourself unsure about what exactly constitutes plagiarism, contact me so that potentially significant problems may be avoided.  You are also required to review and agree to the History Department’s plagiarism policy, which can be found by clicking the “Academic Integrity” button on our class’s Blackboard page.


Outlines and class handouts will be posted on our Blackboard page at least 24 hours before class.  You should print these and bring them with you.

Tuesday, January 19

Course Introduction

Thursday, January 21

Lecture and Discussion:          What is History of the Family?

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 1                                   

Tuesday, January 26

Lecture and Discussion:          Different Views of Family in Colonial America

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 2: 2 of the following essays                                                            Perdue, Wilson or Kulikoff and Documents 1, 3, 4 and 5

Thursday, January 28

Lecture and Discussion:          The House Reflects the Whole: Family and Social Structure                                                  in Early America

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 3: MacLeod Essay and                                                                   Documents 1, 3 and 6

Tuesday, February 2

Lecture and Discussion:          Defining Gender within the Early American Family

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 4: Jabour Essay and Documents                                                    1, 2 and 3

Thursday, February 4

Discussion:                             Early American Divorce: West vs. West of Salem

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 4: Rotundo Essay.  Further                                                            documents to be provided

Project work due:                 Family tree work and early stories              

Tuesday, February 9

Lecture and Discussion:          Enslaved American Families

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 5: Shaw or Stevenson Essay and                                                   Documents 2, 3 and 5. Promised, Chapters 1 and 2

Thursday, February 11

Discussion and Activity:         Asking Questions: Thinking about Interviews

Project work due:                 Questions list, theme ideas and websites

I encourage you to bring a laptop computer to class today.           

Tuesday, February 16

Lecture and Discussion:          Men in the Family: Views of Masculinity before and during                                      the Civil War

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 6: Marten Essay and Documents                                                    1, 2, 4 and 5.  Promised, Chapters 3 and 4.

Thursday, February 18

Discussion:                             Re-finding African-American Families

Reading:                                  Finish Promised

Bring Promised to class today; we will be discussing the book.

Tuesday, February 23

Lecture and Discussion:          Families and Migration in the American West

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 7: West Essay

Thursday, February 25

Lecture and Discussion:          Children at the Center of Culture Clash in the American                                                         West

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 7: Osburn Essay and Documents                                                   1, 2, 3 and 5

Tuesday, March 2


Thursday, March 4

Lecture and Discussion:          Protecting Children: Childhood in the Progressive Era

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 8: Gordon Essay and Documents                                                   1, 2, 3 and 4

Tuesday, March 9

Discussion and Activity:         Project progress and themes for exploration

Project work due:                 At least 1 interview done, interview notes and a 2 page                                                    prospectus.

I encourage you to bring a laptop computer to class today.

If it seems needed, we may meet at the library for this class.

Thursday, March 11

Lecture and Discussion:          Help or Interference: Mothers and the State

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 9: Goodwin and Lindenmenyer                                                      Essays

Tuesday March 16 and Thursday March 18—No Class.  Spring Break. A great time for further interviews and research.

Tuesday, March 23

Discussion:                             Women’s Place: Mothers and the State continued

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 9: Documents 1, 2, 3 and 4

Project work:                         2 page annotated bibliography using 4-5 sources.                       

Thursday, March 25

Lecture and Discussion:          War and the Family: World War II at Home

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 10: Tuttle Essay and Documents 4,                                                5 and 6. Front Porch, Introduction, Chapters 1 and 2

Tuesday, March 30

Lecture and Discussion:          Alienated Families: Japanese Internment in World War II

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 10: Matsumoto Essay and                                                              Document 1, 2 and 3. Front Porch, Chapter 3

Project work:                         Second Interview reports

Thursday, April 1

Lecture and Discussion:          The Idealized 1950s: Postwar Family Culture

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 11: May Essay, Documents 1, 2                                                    and 4. Front Porch, Chapter 4

Tuesday, April 6

Discussion:                             Romantic Views: Love in the Mid-Twentieth Century

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 11: Solinger Essay, Documents 3                                                  and 5. Front Porch, Chapters 5, 6 and Epilogue

Bring Bailey to class, we will be discussing the book.

 Thursday, April 8

Lecture and Discussion:          A New World: Immigrant Family Experiences

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 12: Toro-Morn essay, documents                                                  1 and 2

Tuesday, April 13

Discussion:                             Balancing Cultures: Immigrant Families continued

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 12: Kibria Essay, Documents 3                                                      and 4

Project work:                         Paper outline

Thursday, April 15

Lecture and Discussion:          Late 20th Century Family History: Major Points of                                                                 Contention

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 13: Lucker or Griswold Essay,                                                     Documents 1, 2 and 4.

Tuesday, April 20

Discussion:                             Where are we now? The Family Today

Reading:                                  Major Problems, Chapter 13: Documents 3. Chapter 14: Cott                                                or Cross Essay, Documents 2, 3 and 4

Thursday, April 22

Discussion:                             Today’s Family, Continued

Project Work:                        Short Drafts

Tuesday, April 27                  

Discussion:                             Wrap up and Final review

Thursday, April 29                  Final papers Due

                                                Discussion of project work