chapter  7
Mother of the workers
Pages 18

From the mid-1830s, and especially from 1843 when she devised her plan for the workers’ union, Tristan believed she had something of importance to say to the world. The problem was how to articulate that message in a way which would be heard, understood, and received. This dilemma was not unique to her, but it was particularly acute for a woman who wished to enter political debate, and assume a role of leadership. The metaphor of motherhood provided one vehicle for a woman to represent herself in a significant role, given the centrality of the mother-figure to representations of womanhood in the early nineteenth century.1 While ‘the duties of motherhood’ provided one justification for insisting that woman’s role was primarily domestic, the maternal discourse was also open to interpretations which construed woman’s role as a social one. The mother-the symbolic heart of the family, peacemaker, and counsellor-might well exert a positive influence in social life more generally, as feminists noted in contesting the construction of a restrictive ‘private sphere’. Motherhood could thus be interpreted as a source of liberation for women, and a vehicle for social transformation.2