– a recording will be available to ticket holders who miss the event for two weeks

‘I Could Not Call Her Mother’: The Wicked Stepmother in Early America

This is the story of the stepmother. It is a story that intersects with women’s history and the history of motherhood. Intersects, but skews; reflects, but like the mirror in Snow White (particularly the trippy one in Walt Disney’s 1939 version) warps the reflection even as it brings it into sharper focus. She is always there, the stepmother. The “substitute mother.” The other mother. Her stories infused popular culture for centuries before this American story begins, and continue to do so today. She plays a substantial role in our collective imagination, whether we are a part of a step family or not. This Zoom lecture explores the role of the evil stepmother in early American popular culture (with a glance into later pulp fiction and film noir!). With her origins in fairytales and folklore, the evil stepmother was often portrayed as jealous, grasping, and greedy. She was vain, selfish, and cold. Above all else, she hated children (a quality she shared with early popular representations of the witch). What made this image so pervasive in early America that it infused a wide range of popular genres, from poetry and novels to news stories and prescriptive literature?

Leslie Lindenauer is a Professor in the Department of History and Non-Western Cultures at Western Connecticut State University, where she teaches courses in early American history, gender studies, public history, and American Studies. Her book I Could Not Call Her Mother: The Stepmother in American Popular Culture, 1750-1960 was published by Lexington Books in 2014. Before her career in academe, Leslie worked for a couple of decades as an educator and administrator at a number of history museums in the Northeast.