The Maternal Imprint: Situating the Science of Maternal Effects, 1900-Present


ACLS Fellowship Program


History of Science and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality


This study theorizes and historically situates the emergence of the science of maternal effects during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Collectively, maternal effects research argues that a mother’s experiences, behaviors, and physiology can have life-altering effects on the developing fetus. Scientists once asserted that the fetus is walled off from the mother’s body by the placenta. Over the last 50 years, this consensus was dismantled, and today research on the intrauterine environment is a robust program of study in medicine, public health, psychology, evolutionary biology, and genomics. Employing methods from history, philosophy, and gender studies of science, this study analyzes the relationship between maternal effects research and its intellectual and social contexts.