In a time when the United States was undergoing significant sociocultural, economic, and demographic change, the eugenics movement found widespread support among the dominant white bourgeois class who had become increasingly concerned about the survival of the nuclear family and of the so-called “American race.” Concomitantly, this era saw the rise of a mass consumer culture that was closely tied to the increasingly professionalized and influential advertising industry. In looking more closely at print advertisements for consumer products that appeared in a variety of mass-market publications between 1910 and 1935, it becomes apparent that a relationship existed between this period’s positive eugenic ideology and the way that consumer products were marketed to a specific female audience. By presenting an aspirational “eugenic ideal” that promoted motherhood and cast middle-class white women as primarily responsible for the health and strength of the next generation of Americans, these advertisements reflected broader cultural anxieties surrounding race, social and technological change, and shifting gender roles. Drawing upon visual semiotics and historical studies on American advertising, this paper examines a selection of these advertisements to explore how the country’s consumer culture became a space where women’s roles were represented and reinforced, and it looks at how print advertising reflected the widespread ambivalence toward modernity that has come to characterize this period of American history.
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