Both men and women have public and domestic roles, commitments to the community and to the family. But these roles are not synonymous.
Part of the transcendent nature of the feminine is to nurture. The woman is the nurturer of the home (the private sphere) and the nurturing impulse for the larger community and the nation.
Lydia Sigourney writes that the home is the natural domain for the woman’s role as a teacher of her children and, through them, of the nation.
|It is in the domestick [sic] sphere, in her own native province, that woman is inevitably a teacher. There she modifies by her example, her dependants [sic], her companions, and every dweller under her own roof. Is not the infant in its cradle, her pupil? Does not her smile give the earliest lessons to its soul? Is not her prayer the first messenger for it in the court of Heaven? Does she not enshrine her own image in the sanctuary for the young child’s mind, so firmly that no revulsion can displace, no idolatry supplant it?
Letters to Young Ladies, pg. 11-12
She does this by modeling knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to all who dwell in her domain, be they her family, her friends, and even strangers who take refuge in her home.
And who is her first pupil? Whom does she first teach? It is her child, the one she is rocking in the cradle. The mother teaches as she nourishes and nurtures her child. A mother feeding her child is doing more than expressing milk. Her face-to-face, eye-to-eye contact is part of something more fundamental. She is nurturing her child.
The words nurture and nourish have almost disappeared from our vocabulary. We need to recognize that the pattern for nurturing of a mother comes from God’s maternal heart. God is the first nurturer. This is reflected is in Biblical language.
The Hebrew word kuwl reflects the physical action of feeding and holding as well as the more transcendent function of sustaining and nourishing. The New Testament has two words for nourish. The first is entrepho, the act of nourishing another person or a thing, and metaphorically, to educate, or form the mind. Note here the comprehensive function of the word – nurture: it includes both nourishing the body and forming the mind.
The second Greek word is paideia – chastening, nurture, instruction, chastisement. Like entrepho this word also includes both a physical and metaphysical dimension. It relates to the caring for and training of the body and the education of children – the cultivation of the mind and virtue.
Likewise in the English (Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language) the word means to cause to grow, to supply with nutriment; to educate and instruct.
The mother is nurturing and educating her child in the cradle. Her smile brings delight to the soul of her baby. Her anger and frustration will also impart lessons to the child’s soul. Her prayers represent her baby before the throne of heaven. The intimate bond between mother and child results in the nature and character of the mother being impressed into the heart of the child for good or ill. People who choose to conceive a child need to continue to make choices that will nurture that child to become all that God intends.
A mother is the first and primary teachers of her children. Her lessons, both conscious and subconscious, will shape the mind and character of her child for all time. That child will become an influencer in the community, in the nation, and even for eternity.
Daniel Webster (1782-1852), an American statesman, was a contemporary of Lydia Sigourney and a fellow maternal feminist. He recognized the nurturing/educational role of the mother in shaping, not only her children, but the future of the nation:
It is generally admitted that public liberty, and the perpetuity of a free constitution, rest on the virtue and intelligence of the community which enjoys it. How is that virtue to be inspired, and how is that intelligence to be communicated? …. Mothers are, indeed, the affectionate and effective teachers of the human race.”
– Darrow Miller
This post is the eleventh in a series on maternal feminism.
 Remarks to the Ladies of Richmond , October 5, 1840. Quoted in Stephen K. Mc Dowell “Building Godly Nations.” pg. 154