Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Margaret Moloney, RN, PhD - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Dee Baldwin, PhD, FAAN - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Marian Meyers, PhD - Committee Member


The mothering role of African American women has largely been ignored in the literature. Contemporary research on the construct of becoming a mother has focused on upper middle class, White women who are partnered. When African American women are included in research, they are often poor, single, teenage mothers and their experiences have not been described within the context of the African American worldview. Hermeneutic phenomenology from an afrocentric feminist perspective is the methodological approach used in this study to provide insight, analysis, and understanding of the experiences of three generations of African American women in the transition to motherhood. A purposeful sampling of eighteen women from three generations was used to identify information-rich cases that would provide an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon. Generation one included seven women, between the ages of 65-83, who became mothers between 1950-1970, prior to the Civil Rights Movement. Generation two included five women, between the ages 51-58, who became mothers between 1971-1990, after the Civil Rights Movement, and there were six women in generation three, between the ages of 30-42, who became mothers between 1991-2003. All of the women in this study described themselves as middle-class; four women were single when they became pregnant with their first child, and education ranged from high school to master’s degree. Three constitutive patterns and their associated themes were identified. The first pattern, It Took Me a Minute, had three themes, Finding Out, Realizing What Mothers Do and Way Tricked! The second pattern, Preserving Our Home had four themes, Mothering Within the –isms: racism, classism and sexism, I Did the Best I Could, Mothers and Others, and Spiritual Mothers. Eat the Meat; Throw Away the Bone, the third pattern had two themes, The Ways in Which We Learn and Someone Who Looks like Me. The results of this study reveal some consistency with current descriptions of maternal identity and maternal role attainment and add to our understanding of the complexities that racism, classism and gender play in the lives of African American mothers and their families. The data from this study also suggests that future development of theoretical frameworks and analytical tools, used to assess the effects of stress and other psychosocial factors on health, need to be grounded in an historic understanding of the African American experience and of the African influence on family and cultural knowledge. Additionally, this study demonstrated the impact that the media, both professional and mass media outlets, has in defining and perpetuating our beliefs and feelings of the ‘good mother/bad mother’ dualism. The description of motherhood for this group of African American women illustrates that motherhood is a source of power and provides significant meaning, satisfaction and respect within the family and the larger community. It also highlighted the communal role that “othermothers” and spiritual mothers have in facilitating the transition to motherhood and providing strong social support.

Included in

Nursing Commons