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News Release

Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
3003 N. Charles Street, Suite 100
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-3843
Phone: (410) 516-7160 | Fax (410) 516-5251

April 4, 2001
CONTACT: Leslie Rice Masterman

Edgartown Student Studies
Homeless Mothers in Baltimore

Government and private agencies typically treat homeless mothers like children, yet simultaneously hold them to impossibly high standards of motherhood and womanhood, says a Johns Hopkins University undergraduate who studied homeless mothers in Baltimore.

Alicia Simoni, of Edgartown, Mass. was among 43 Johns Hopkins students to receive a Provost's Undergraduate Research Award for the 2000-01 academic year. Results of Simoni's research, titled "Homelessness, Motherhood and Womanhood in Baltimore," were presented at an awards ceremony Thursday, April 5, on the university's Homewood campus, 3400 N. Charles St., in Baltimore.

Alicia Simoni

Simoni, a senior majoring in anthropology, spent a good portion of her fall semester at a women's homeless shelter in downtown Baltimore. The goal of her research project was to gain an understanding of the reality of homelessness for women with children and examine the ways that government and private agencies view these women. She was particularly interested in how these agencies held these women against idealized notion of motherhood. Because motherhood is viewed as such an integral aspect of womanhood and femininity, the notion of "appropriate motherhood" denies many homeless women acceptance as "good" mothers and resultantly as "good" females, Simoni says.

To conduct her study, she visited and volunteered at the shelter two or three times each week, often enough so that the women would get to know her. Her research was conducted through a series of formal and informal interviews.

In her research paper, Simoni talks about a "paradox of expectations" for these women. On the one hand, she said, they are treated like children by agency and shelter workers and expected to be totally dependent on them.

"On the other hand, they are held against very high standard of motherhood and even womanhood," she explains. "They are thus viewed as bad mothers. They couldn't possibly be a good mother, the assumptions go, if they and their children are homeless.

"A lot of people assume that once you are homeless, you are homeless forever. Or that it is your own fault and you are homeless because you are lazy or a drug addict. For some of these women, this is simply a transitory period in their life."

In fact, Simoni found many of the women participating in motivational workshops and remaining hopeful despite the current state of their lives.

"The women I met are not as different from you and me as we like to imagine or we are taught to think," she said "It is often assumed that homeless women need to be rehabilitated and taught how to live productive lives, but the women I met were very focused on what they were trying to do. They had their own ideas of what they wanted to do next."

Simoni's research with homeless women has become her honor thesis. She hopes to present her findings at a future Anthropology Department seminar.

The Johns Hopkins University is recognized as the country's first graduate research university, and has been in recent years the leader among the nation's research universities in winning federal research and development grants.

The opportunity to be involved in important research is one of the distinguishing characteristics of an undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins. About 80 percent of the university's undergraduates engage in some form of independent research during their four years, most often alongside top researchers in their fields.

The Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards represent one of these research opportunities, open to students in each of the university's four schools with full-time undergraduates: the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the G.W.C. Whiting School of Engineering, the Peabody Conservatory and the School of Nursing. Since 1993, about 40 students each year have been awarded up to $2,500 to propose and conduct original research, some results of which have been published in professional journals. The awards, funded through a donation from the Hodson Trust, are an important part of the university's commitment to research.

Return to Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards news release.

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