Breastfeeding and Scientific Motherhood: The Case of Marie-Jeanne Roland

Annie K. SmartSaint Louis University
Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring 2020), 13-38

This essay examines how the French revolutionary and writer Marie- Jeanne Roland (1754-1793) represented her experiences of breastfeeding and motherhood. It focuses on the letters that she wrote to her husband, Jean-Marie Roland (1734-1793), to tease out a model of what the article terms “scientific motherhood”—that is, the method of close observation, objective description, and experimentation that Marie-Jeanne applied to her own maternal experience. Previous studies have highlighted the ways in which she appropriated the ideal of domestic motherhood popularized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). By bringing to the fore the Rolands’ engagement with Enlightenment science, the article shows that Marie-Jeanne also appropriated scientific discourse. The letters reveal a woman who used a scientific approach to represent the challenges of maternal breastfeeding, a woman who leveraged both her experience and her ability to analyze that experience to gain control over decisions regarding her own body and the health of her baby. This study claims that science and domestic motherhood not only coexisted in the Roland home but that one discourse affected the other.


Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]