Peggy O’Donnell Heffington and Elizabeth Rush at Harvard Book Store


Without Children:
The Long History of
Not Being a Mother


The Quickening:
Creation and Community
at the Ends of the Earth


August 17, 2023
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes authors PEGGY O'DONNELL HEFFINGTON and ELIZABETH RUSH to discuss their latest books Without Children: The Long History of Not Being a Mother and The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth.

About Without Children

In an era of falling births, it’s often said that millennials invented the idea of not having kids. But history is full of women without children: some who chose childless lives, others who wanted children but never had them, and still others—the vast majority, then and now—who fell somewhere in between. Modern women considering how and if children fit into their lives are products of their political, ecological, and cultural moment. But history also tells them that they are not alone.

Drawing on deep research and her own experience as a woman without children, historian Peggy O’Donnell Heffington shows that many of the reasons women are not having children today are ones they share with women in the past: a lack of support, their jobs or finances, environmental concerns, infertility, and the desire to live different kinds of lives. Understanding this history—how normal it has always been to not have children, and how hard society has worked to make it seem abnormal—is key, she writes, to rebuilding kinship between mothers and non-mothers, and to building a better world for us all.

About The Quickening

In 2019, fifty-seven scientists and crew set out onboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer. Their destination: Thwaites Glacier. Their goal: to learn as much as possible about this mysterious place, never before visited by humans, and believed to be both rapidly deteriorating and capable of making a catastrophic impact on global sea-level rise.

In The Quickening, Elizabeth Rush documents their voyage, offering the sublime—seeing an iceberg for the first time; the staggering waves of the Drake Passage; the torqued, unfamiliar contours of Thwaites—alongside the workaday moments of this groundbreaking expedition. A ping-pong tournament at sea. Long hours in the lab. All the effort that goes into caring for and protecting human life in a place that is inhospitable to it. Along the way, she takes readers on a personal journey around a more intimate question: What does it mean to bring a child into the world at this time of radical change?

What emerges is a new kind of Antarctica story, one preoccupied not with flag planting but with the collective and challenging work of imagining a better future. With understanding the language of a continent where humans have only been present for two centuries. With the contributions and concerns of women, who were largely excluded from voyages until the last few decades, and of crew members of color, whose labor has often gone unrecognized. The Quickening teems with their voices—with the colorful stories and personalities of Rush’s shipmates—in a thrilling chorus.

Urgent and brave, absorbing and vulnerable, The Quickening is another essential book from Elizabeth Rush.

Praise for Without Children

"Desire, doubt, destiny—there are many reasons for the shape of a family. With clarity and compassion, historian Peggy O’Donnell Heffington offers a timely, refreshingly open-hearted study of the choices women make and the cards they're dealt." ―Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can't Sleep

“At once bracing and beautiful, Without Children is a timely meditation on all of the reasons why women increasingly can't, don't, or won't have children—along with the social penalties they pay, the freedoms they garner, and the feminist solidarity that we can all build together, whether we have children or not. I was intrigued and carried along for the book's length by O'Donnell Heffington's lyricism, thoughtfulness, humor, and panache.” ―Kate Manne, author of Entitled

"I devoured this book. Peggy O’Donnell Heffington is the rare serious historian who writes with verve and humor, bringing to life the big, hard questions of history that illuminate the present. Without Children is a story of women who decided not to have children, but ultimately shows us new things not only about these women, but about family, motherhood, childhood, aspiration, and love in a precarious world. It is a signal contribution to the historical field and a vivid series of stories that are alternately shocking, funny, and inspiring." ―Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home

Praise for The Quickening

The Quickening took me on an immersive journey through both exterior and interior landscapes, deftly crossing the boundaries between the frigid Antarctic and the warm heart. Elizabeth Rush’s writing is multilayered, from fascinating scientific accounts to intimate human stories and deep examinations of how we live deliberately in a melting world.” —Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass

“In The Quickening, Elizabeth Rush chronicles a months-long journey to the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica with scientists who are conducting research that will help us better understand how global warming is reshaping our planet. As with Rising, this book is beautifully written, deeply felt, and thoroughly researched . . . Antarctica is a mysterious, terrifying, vast place and Rush captures all of it with genuine curiosity and intelligence. This book is at once a love letter and a meditation and a gentle warning—and we very much need all three.” —Roxane Gay

“Going to the Antarctic is an adventure, big science is an adventure, having a child is an adventure—and all of these adventurers are shaded by the great and tragic adventure of our time, the plunge into an ever-warmer world. So, this is an adventure story for the ages!” —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

Mask Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

Elizabeth Rush
Elizabeth Rush

Elizabeth Rush

Elizabeth Rush is the author of The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth and Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Rush’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications from the New York Times to Orion and Guernica. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Science Foundation, National Geographic, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Howard Foundation, the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Metcalf Institute. She lives with her husband and son in Providence, Rhode Island, where she teaches creative nonfiction at Brown University.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

Peggy O’Donnell Heffington
Peggy O’Donnell Heffington

Peggy O’Donnell Heffington

Peggy O'Donnell Heffington is the author of Without Children: The Long History of Not Being a Mother. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, TIME, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. Peggy is an instructional professor of history at the University of Chicago, where she teaches courses on gender and historical research and writing methods. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband Bob and their two pugs, Ellie and Jake.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Tullar, Redwood + Sage Photography

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