In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Motherscholars

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Multifaceted Intersections of Motherhood and Academia
  • Motherscholars and Emergence of Motherhood Studies
  • Motherscholars as Advocates and Change Agents: Policy and Motherscholars
  • Motherscholars and COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Creative Methods for Understanding Lived Experiences of Motherscholars
  • Podcasts and Mothers in Academia
  • Relevant Journals for Research about Motherscholars
  • Conclusion and Future Directions

Education Motherscholars
Anna CohenMiller, Jessica Leveto
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 March 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0314


The origin of the concept “motherscholars” is a purposeful connection linking identifying as a mother and identifying as a scholar. In many parts of the world, for those working in educational institutions, being a mother is often hidden and not discussed. In particular, being recognized as a mother in the workplace in the United States and the United Kingdom has often designated women as less capable in their day-to-day work. Thus, keeping motherhood hidden has offered many mothers a chance to maintain status that diminishes once becoming associated with mothering. While there are many studies that examine the experiences of being both a mother and a scholar, this article focuses on the purposeful integration of the two aspects as a form of advocacy to showcase the presence of the multiple identities of the individual. This means that the references included here will not include texts that discuss for instance the broad topic of participants who were mothers and working in educational institutions in general. Instead, the entry emphasizes the texts that link these ideas together in a commitment to spark awareness and acceptance, primarily focused on higher education/academia.

General Overview

The development of the term “motherscholar” stems from Matias 2011, a presentation Cheryl Matias gave at the American Educational Research Association (AERA). As explained by Matias, not only does “motherscholar” showcase a connection between mothering, motherhood, and working as an academic in higher education, but it advocates for demonstrating these ideas. Soon after Matias discussed these ideas, the term was further extended through the arts-based public scholarship of Anna CohenMiller in creating The Motherscholar Project (see CohenMiller 2015). Changes in societal and academic expectations and roles of motherscholars have changed over the years. As such, the literature around motherscholarship has expanded from the United States to an international reach. The societal and academic expectations and roles of motherscholars have likewise shifted. The phrasing for the intentional integration of being a mother and being a scholar has been referred to in three primary different ways—(1) motherscholar (without a space between the terms), (2) mother-scholar (with a hyphen), and (3) mother scholar (with a space between the two terms). Moreover, the topic has been addressed through a variety of methodological approaches and by a growing range of individuals across the academic pipeline, including graduate students, staff, faculty, and retired faculty. The literature on motherscholars centers around three salient themes: intersectionality and advocacy, structural challenges and solutions, and evolving roles and influences. These themes highlight the complex experiences of motherscholars, acknowledging their unique struggles and contributions in academia, and call for prioritizing the need for systemic changes to support their journey and amplify their impact. Matias 2011 and CohenMiller 2015 give birth to the term “motherscholar” and advocate for its recognition. This concept intertwines motherhood with academic roles and underscores the intersectionality of these identities. They stress the need to understand the unique experiences of motherscholars and foster a sense of community among them globally. Castañeda and Isgro 2013 and Evans and Grant 2008 examine the systemic and structural challenges that motherscholars face in academia, including the corporate-leaning models of institutions, gender disparities, and work-life integration issues. They propose more inclusive academic environments and family-friendly policies as solutions. Milan, et al. 2022 and Lapayese 2012, acknowledge the evolving roles and influences of motherscholars in academia and society. This evolution encompasses a wide range of individuals in different academic stages and settings, suggesting future directions for inclusivity and support for motherscholars from undergraduate studies to retirement.

  • Castañeda, M., and K. Isgro, eds. 2013. Mothers in academia. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    An exploration of mothers’ experiences in academia at various stages of motherhood. Weaving in personal testimonials and various theoretical considerations, it critiques the structural and cultural changes that have affected women’s academic lives as institutions lean toward corporate models. Highlighting disparities in academia, particularly among women of color, the book proposes solutions for more inclusive academic environments that promote work-life integration. 288 pp.

  • CohenMiller, A. 2015. The motherscholar project.

    An online arts-based advocacy platform to showcase the intersection of mothers and scholars throughout the globe. It was inspired by the work of Cheryl Matias, and supported by her through her participation in the project. Images of motherscholars are shared voluntarily and include self-identification of their role(s), their ethnicity, and the ages of their children to highlight the common features and community internationally.

  • Evans, E., and C. Grant. 2008. Mama, PhD: Women write about motherhood and academic life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

    A collection of personal narratives examining the challenges faced by mothers in academia grapples with the reality of systemic gender disparities within higher education, emphasizing the experiences of mothers. These stories, from a diverse group of scholars, tackle topics such as caring for special needs children, negotiating maternity and family leave, and creating family-friendly workplaces in academia.

  • Lapayese, Y. V. 2012. Mother-Scholar: (Re)imagining K-12 education. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-6091-891-9

    Instead of focusing on academia, Lapayese in this book highlights narratives of mother-scholars in the school system. The focus is on imagining and reimagining how schools can be more inclusive for all, drawing from insights emphasized as emerging from being both a mother and a scholar.

  • Matias, C. 2011. “Cheryl Matias, PhD and mother of twins”: Counter storytelling to critically analyze how I navigated the academic application, negotiation, and relocation process. Inciting the social imagination: Education research for the public good. American Educational Research Association (AERA), New Orleans, LA, 8–12 April 2012.

    The foundational talk that will later be referred to as “birthing” the motherscholar term and movement.

  • Matias, C. E., and N. W. Nishi. 2018. ParentCrit epilog. In Special issue: ParentCrit: Critical race parenting for our children’s lives and humanity. Edited by N. W. Nishi and R. Montoya. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 31.1: 82–85.

    DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2017.1379625

    An introduction to a full issue about ParentCrit. The authors bring together this topic integrating the meaningful, personal work of scholars incorporating directions including critical race theory, whiteness studies, and for Matias and Nishi—the inseparable being of mother and scholar—motherscholar.

  • Milan, N., K. Matheny, and I. Horwitz. 2022. The motherhood penalty begins in college. Inside Higher Ed., 21 June.

    Discusses the institutional disadvantages motherscholars face beginning in their undergraduate studies. It links these challenges to the broader issue of the “motherhood penalty” in higher education. The authors highlight the pressing need to address the intersection of motherhood and academia, suggesting that to fully support motherscholars, we must understand and rectify these systemic barriers starting at the undergraduate level.

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