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1950s America

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  • Prosperity and Poverty: In 1960, 5% of the population owned over 50% of the assets and 25% lived at or below the poverty line. Educational Opportunities: The GI Bill of 1945. Women in the workforce: Although the percent of married women working slowly increased, many left nontraditional jobs. Most worked as secretaries, stewardesses, nurses, or teachers. Civil Rights: Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954)Demographics: Population shifted tot he suburbs. For the first time in 1960 the majority of Americans owned the home in which they lived. Television: Why Johnny Can’t Read (1955). By 1953, 50% of American homes had a TV; by 1960, 90% did. Baby boom: Over 4 million babies born each year from 1946-1960. Increased idealization of youth. Automobile culture: National System of Defense Highways Act (1956) built interstate system. Conformity: The Lonely Crowd (1950), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), The Hidden Persuaders (1957). Rock and Roll: Allan Freed’s Moondog’s Rock ‘n Roll Party goes on the air in 1952.
  • There were three compelling reasons why Levittown, PA was built.  1. A Housing Shortage Troops returning home to the Philadelphia and Trenton metropolitan areas after World War II stepped into a housing crisis. Apartments were scarce and houses, when they could be found, were too expensive for veterans. Also, the GI Bill provided money for housing as well as education. Levitt & Sons capitalized on this housing crunch by offering affordable housing to these returning GIs and their families. This came in the form of Levittown, offering small, detached, single-family houses mass produced in planned neighborhoods.   2. Increased Mobility Lower Bucks County was close to population centers of Philadelphia and Trenton. The new and improved road and highway systems, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as well as the post-war trend an almost exponential increase in automobile ownership made the world seem a much smaller place and the “suburbs” not so far away. 3. Plenty of Jobs The Philadelphia and Trenton metropolitan areas had lots of jobs to offer. Also, large numbers of new, manufacturing jobs were located in the Levittown, PA area, by such companies as General Motors and the US Steel Fairless Works. US Steel broke ground for its new Fairless Works Division along the western bank of the Delaware River in early 1951. At the time, the Fairless Works was the second largest integrated plant on the East Coast. Many of the workers were transplanted from as far away as Gary, IN (from US Steel’s Gary Works) as well as from rural central PA, western PA and the coal regions. One thing they had in common was that they all needed housing.
  • http://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/17/us/benjamin-spock-world-s-pediatrician-dies-at-94.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
  • Kitchen Debate transcript: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=176 The Kitchen Debate was a series of impromptu exchanges (through interpreters) between then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the opening of the American National Exhibition at Sokolniki Park in Moscow on July 24, 1959. For the exhibition, an entire house was built that the American exhibitors claimed anyone in America could afford. It was filled with labor-saving and recreational devices meant to represent the fruits of the capitalist American consumer market. The debate was recorded on color videotape , a new technology pioneered in the U.S., and Nixon made reference to this fact; it was subsequently rebroadcast in both countries.
  • Protofeminist is a term used to define women in a philosophical tradition that anticipated modern feminist concepts, yet lived in a time when the term "feminist" was unknown, [1] that is, prior to the 20th century. [2] [3] The precise use of the term is disputed, 18th-century feminism and 19th-century feminism being also subsumed under "feminism" proper.
  • Transcript

    • 1. THE 1950s: “ Anxiety, Alienation, and Social Unrest” ?? “ Conservatism, Complacency, and Contentment” OR
    • 2.
      • Prosperity and Poverty: In 1960, 5% of the population owned over 50% of the assets and 25% lived at or below the poverty line.
      • Educational Opportunities: The GI Bill of 1945.
      • Women in the workforce
      • Civil Rights
      • Red Scare – again!
      • Population Shifts
      • Television
      • Baby boom
      • Automobile culture
      • MASS CULTURE = Conformity
      • Rock and Roll
      Characteristics of the 1950s Anything sound familiar from our study of the 1920s?
    • 3. A Changing Workplace Automation : 1947-1957  factory workers decreased by 4.3%, eliminating 1.5 million blue-collar jobs. By 1956  more white-collar than blue-collar jobs in the U. S. Computers  Mark I (1944). First IBM mainframe computer (1951). Corporate Consolidation : By 1960  600 corporations (1/2% of all U. S. companies) accounted for 53% of total corporate income. WHY?? Cold War military buildup.
    • 4. The U. S. population was on the move in the 1950s. NE & Mid-W  S & SW (“Sunbelt” states) $125 million in federal dollars poured into the region EVERY US President since 1964 has come from this region! Took political, economic power out of North/NE
    • 5.
      • Suburban Living
      $7,990 or $60/month with no down payment. Levittown: “The American Dream” 1949  William Levitt produced 150 houses per week.
    • 6.  
    • 7.  
    • 8.
      • The New “American Dream”
      • 1 story high
      • 12’x19’ living room
      • 2 bedrooms
      • tiled bathroom
      • garage
      • small backyard
      • front lawn
      By 1960  1/3 of the U. S. population in the suburbs. “ White flight” – Levitt & Sons ** would not sell homes to African Americans **
    • 9. SHIFTS IN POPULATION DISTRIBUTION, 1940-1970 1940 1950 1960 1970 Central Cities 31.6% 32.3% 32.6% 32.0% Suburbs 19.5% 23.8% 30.7% 41.6% Rural Areas/ 48.9% 43.9% 36.7% 26.4% Small Towns U. S. Bureau of the Census.
    • 10.
      • Baby Boom
      It seems to me that every other young housewife I see is pregnant. -- British visitor to America, 1958 1957  1 baby born every 7 seconds
    • 11.
      • The previous most popular child care book was Dr. John Watson’s Psychological Care of Infant and Child (1928): “Never, never kiss your child. Never hold it on your lap. Never rock its carriage.”
      • Dr. Spock’s advice was different: “Every time you pick your baby up, even if you do a bit awkwardly at first, every time you change him, bathe him, feed him, smile at him, he’s getting the feeling that he belongs to you and you belong to him.”
      Dr. Benjamin Spock and the Anderson Quintuplets
    • 12.
      • The Typical TV Suburban Families
      The Donna Reed Show 1958-1966 Leave It to Beaver 1957-1963 Father Knows Best 1954-1958 The Ozzie & Harriet Show 1952-1966
    • 13.
      • Consumerism: Conspicuous Consumption
      1950  Introduction of the Diner’s Card “ All babies were potential consumers who spearheaded a brand-new market for food, clothing, and shelter.” -- Life Magazine (May, 1958)
    • 14. Caption: "On this American model and hanging alongside her is a complete and stylish Soviet wardrobe. The total cost, excluding hat, is $461." Subtitle: "U.S. envoy's wife finds Moscow modes high priced, wide shouldered, not very handsome." The article begins: "The slender gams (legs) of the girl above give her away as American."
    • 15.  
    • 16. 1959: The Kitchen Debate “ Nixon stressed that Americans had abundant food and appliances to process and cook their food. Khrushchev satirically shot back, "Don't you have a machine that puts food into the mouth and pushes it down? Many things you've shown us are interesting but they are not needed in life.’” *cultural diplomacy*
    • 17.
      • John Kenneth Galbraith
      • Harvard economist who questioned the relationship between private wealth and public good - social spending should match private purchasing - Americans had TVs in their homes and garbage in their streets; ate rich foods, but breathed foul air
      1958 "wants are increasingly created by the process by which they are satisfied" - demand is not inherent in the consumer – created by advertising
    • 18.  
    • 19. The Culture of the Car Car registrations: 1945  25,000,000 1960  60,000,000 2-family cars doubles from 1951-1958
      • 1956  Interstate Highway Act  largest public works project in American history!
          • Cost $32 billion.
          • 41,000 miles of new highways built.
      1959 Chevy Corvette 1958 Pink Cadillac
    • 20. First McDonald’s (1955) The automobile promotes mass culture Drive-In Movies
    • 21. Vacationing 1955  Disneyland opened in Southern California. (40% of the guests came from outside California, most by car.) Frontier Land Main Street Tomorrow Land 1950 – CA overtakes NY as most populous state!
    • 22. Television 1946  7,000 TV sets in the U. S. 1950  50,000,000 TV sets in the U. S. *90% of American households had TVs! Mass Audience  TV celebrated traditional American values. “ Television is a vast wasteland.”  Newton Minnow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, 1961 Truth, Justice, and the American way!
    • 23. The Western Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier The Lone Ranger (and his faithful sidekick, Tonto): Sheriff Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke
    • 24. Teen Culture
      • In the 1950s  the word “teenager” entered the American language.
      • By 1956  13 mil. teens with $7 bil. to spend a year.
      1951  “race music”  “ROCK ‘N ROLL” Elvis Presley  “The King” “Rocket 88” – The first rock ‘ n roll” song?
    • 25. “ Juvenile Delinquency” ??? Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) James Dean in R ebel Without a Cause (1955) 1951  J. D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye
    • 26.
      • The “Beat” Generation : experimentation with drugs, alternative forms of sexuality, interest in Eastern religion, celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity .
          • Jack Kerouac  On The Road
          • Allen Ginsberg  poem, “Howl”
      “ Beatnik” “ Clean” Teen
    • 27. Behavioral Rules of the 1950s:
        • Obey Authority.
        • Control Your Emotions.
        • Don’t Make Waves  Fit in with the Group.
        • Don’t Even Think About Sex!!!
    • 28.
      • Traditionalists react adversely to new cultural icons – sparks religious revival
    • 29. Religious Revival
      • Today in the U. S., the Christian faith is back in the center of things. -- Time magazine, 1954
      Church membership : 1940  64,000,000 1960  114,000,000 Television Preachers : 1. Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen  “Life is Worth Living” 2. Methodist Minister Norman Vincent Peale  The Power of Positive Thinking 3. Reverend Billy Graham  ecumenical message; warned against the evils of Communism.
    • 30. Hollywood : apex of the biblical epics. It’s un-American to be un-religious! -- The Christian Century , 1954 The Robe The Ten Commandments Ben Hur 1953 1956 1959
    • 31. “ The Good Wife’s Guide” – a phony primary source?
    • 32. Well-Defined Gender Roles The ideal modern woman married, cooked and cared for her family, and kept herself busy by joining the local PTA and leading a troop of Campfire Girls. She entertained guests in her family’s suburban house and worked out on the trampoline to keep her size 12 figure. -- Life magazine, 1956 Marilyn Monroe The ideal 1950s man was the provider, protector, and the boss of the house. - - Life magazine, 1955
      • 1956  William H. Whyte, Jr.  The Organization Man
          • a middle-class, white suburban male is the ideal.
    • 33. Changing Sexual Behavior : Alfred Kinsey: 1948  Sexual Behavior in the Human Male 1953  Sexual Behavior in the Human Female
      • Premarital sex was common.
      • Extramarital affairs were frequent among married couples.
      “ Kinsey’s results are an assault on the family as a basic unit of society, a negation of moral law, and a celebration of licentiousness.” -- Life magazine, early 1950s
    • 34. The Changing Role of Women? FROM TO
    • 35.
      • 1. Piety - believed to be more religious and spiritual than men 2. Purity - pure in heart, mind, and body 3. Submission - held in "perpetual childhood" where men dictated all actions and decisions 4. Domesticity - a division between work and home, encouraged by the Industrial Revolution ; men went out in the world to earn a living, home became the woman's domain where a wife created a "haven in a heartless world" for her husband and children. [1]
      • Welter, B. 1966. The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860. American Quarterly 18, no.2, part 1: 151-174.
      Charles Dana Gibson, No Time for Politics , 1910
    • 36. Christian Dior - 1957
    • 37.
      • The problem that has no name…which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities…is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease.
      • -- Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
    • 38. Was Lucille Ball a protofeminist or did she reinforce the cult of domesticity?
      • “Job Switching” (1952)
      • “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” (1952)
        • As you watch, record evidence of the following:
          • “ Cult of domesticity”
          • Proto-feminism
    • 39.
      • The postwar era witnessed tremendous economic growth and rising social contentment and conformity. Yet in the midst of such increasing affluence and comfortable domesticity, social critics expressed a growing sense of unease with American culture in the 1950s.
      • How did the 1950s lay the groundwork for the social and political turbulence of the 1960s?
      Discussion
    • 40. Some images/text courtesy Ms. Susan M. Pojer