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Rebecca Jo Plant

Professor, History

Rebecca Jo Plant is a Professor of History and an Academic Senate Distinguished Teacher. Her research interests focus on gender and family history and the social and psychological impact of war in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. Born in 1968, she grew up in Kansas City, attended college at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and later moved to Baltimore to pursue graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University. She taught for two years at Vanderbilt University before coming to UC San Diego in 2002.

Rebecca’s most recent book, coauthored with France M. Clarke (University of Sydney) is Of Age: Boy Soldiers and Military Power in the Civil War Era (Oxford University, 2023). She is also the author of Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America (Chicago, 2010), and co-editor of Maternalism Reconsidered: Motherhood, Welfare, and Social Policies in the Twentieth Century (Berghahn, 2012). She has held fellowships from the American Association of University Women, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Australian Research Council. Together with Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, she is currently coeditor of the journal and database Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000.


Co-authored with Frances M. Clarke, Of Age: Boy Soldiers and Military Power in the Civil War War, New York: Oxford University Press, 2023

Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America, Chicago: University of Chicago Press in 2010; paperback, 2012

Co-edited with Marian van der Klein, Nichole Sanders, and Lori Weintrob, Maternalism Reconsidered: Motherhood, Welfare and Social Policy, Oxford: Berghahn Press, 2012

Articles and book chapters:

Coauthored with David Dawson, “Women and the Obligations of Citizenship during World War II: U.S. Debates over Proposals to Conscript Civilians,” Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, Fall 2020

Rebecca Jo Plant and Frances M. Clarke, “Studying Underage Enlistment in the American Civil War,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 11: 1(Winter 2018): 47-52. 

Frances M. Clarke and Rebecca Jo Plant, “No Minor Matter: Underage Soldiers, Parents, and the Nationalization of Habeas Corpus in Civil War America,” Law and History Review 35:4 (November 2017): 1-47 

  • Carol Gold Best Article Award, Coordinating Council of Women Historians, 2018 (with Frances M. Clarke)

Co-written with Frances M. Clarke, “‘The Crowning Insult’: Federal Segregation and the Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimages of the Early 1930s,” Journal of American History, 101:4 (September 2015): 406-32

“Motherhood,” in Re-Thinking Therapeutic Culture, eds. Trysh Travis and Tim Aubry, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015 72-84

“Betty Friedan’s Feminist Critique of Suburban Domesticity” in Feminist Moments, ed. Kathy Smits and Susan Bruce, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015, 147-54

“Anti-maternalism: A New Perspective on the Transformation of Gender Ideology in the Twentieth-Century U.S.,” Social Politics 22:3 (Fall 2015): 283-88

“Preventing the Inevitable: John W. Appel and the Problem of Psychiatric Casualties in the U.S. Army during World War II,” in Science and Emotions after 1945: A Transatlantic Perspective, eds. Frank Biess and Daniel M. Gross, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014, 209-38

“The Perfect Painless Labor: The Natural Childbirth Movement in the Mid-Twentieth-Century U.S.,” Mothers and History, special issue of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative 5:1 (Spring/Summer 2014): 148-60

“Debunking Mother Love: American Mothers and the Momism Critique in the Mid-Twentieth-Century U.S.,” in Raising Citizens in the “Century of the Child”: The United States and German Central Europe in Comparative Perspective, ed. Dirk Schumann, New York: Berghahn Press, 2010, 122-40

“The Veteran, His Wife, and Their Mothers: Prescriptions for Psychological Rehabilitation after World War II,” in Tales of the Great American Victory: World War II in Politics and Poetics, eds. Diederik Oostdijk and Markha Valenta, Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2006, 95-105

“William Menninger’s Campaign to Reform American Psychoanalysis, 1946-48,” History of Psychiatry 16:2 (2005): 181-202


  • HIUS 112: US Civil War and Reconstruction
  • HIUS 156: American Women, American Womanhood, Colonial Times to 1870
  • HIUS 157: American Women, American Womanhood, 1870 to the Present
  • HILD 2B: U.S. History: The Nineteenth Century
  • HIUS 173: Topics in American Women’s History: Historical Perspectives on the Family and the Emotions

Joint undergraduate/graduate:

  • HITO 168/268: The U.S. and Germany, 1890s-1960s: Transnational Relations and Competing Modernities (co-taught with Prof. Frank Biess)
  • HIUS 181/281: Topics in Twentieth-Century U.S. History: The Rise of Therapeutic Culture


  • HIGR 267: Research Seminar in U.S. History
  • HIGR 265C: Historical Scholarship on the Twentieth-Century U.S.: Families, Sexual Difference, and the State
  • HIGR 265C: Historical Scholarship on the Twentieth-Century U.S.: Labor and Consumption
  • HIGR 205: Historical Scholarship on Women and Gender
  • HIGR 209: Teaching History (co-taught with Prof. Mark Hanna)

I am currently researching the history of psychiatry and war trauma during World War II. Americans do not typically associate war trauma with World War II or the “greatest generation” that fought it, but the Army in fact suffered enormous manpower losses due to neuropsychiatric disorders, with rates of discharge proportionately far higher than in World War I, Korea, or Vietnam. And contrary to popular perceptions today, the issue was widely aired in the press, ultimately leading to the passage of 1946 National Mental Health Act, which for the first time designated federal monies for psychiatric research. This project will show how military psychiatrists capitalized on wartime opportunities to legitimate their expertise, and how their efforts affected both professional and popular notions of mental illness and masculine subjectivity. It focuses on psychiatrists’ theoretical and clinical approaches to war trauma, their attempts to overcome public and military skepticism and outright hostility, and the models of democratic manhood they advanced. Tracing the professional, intellectual, and gendered implications of the psychiatric war effort, this work will document a pivotal era in the history of psychiatry while illuminating its larger cultural effects.