Culture 1945-1960

Table of Contents:

The rise of suburbs in after World War II changed to lifestyle of the average, middle-class American woman. A baby boom in the postwar era meant that women had to spend even more time in the house taking care of their children and raising a family (it was not until 1960 that the birth control pill was released, allowing women to have a little more control over the size of their family). Women turned to books like Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Care for advice on how to raise their children.
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While the 1950s emphasized “family togetherness,” it was still a time for women to change the roles they had been typecast into. “Separate spheres” was the concept that women would remain in their private sphere consisting of housework and child rearing while men would dominate the public sphere which consisted of the workplace and politics. However, between 1945 and 1960, many American women took the opportunity to break out of the stereotypical women’s role that has existed for centuries.

Although opportunity for employment was limited, women dominated jobs as nurses, telephone operators, secretaries, and teachers (professional jobs, such as doctors and
lawyers were not open to women). In 1948, 25% of married women had jobs outside of the home, but by the late 1950s, the number had jumped to almost 40%. Most women in the workforce were married, however, since women received lower wages than men and it was nearly impossible for a woman to support herself on her meager salary.


The 1950s were a turning point for the youth of America. Parents were becoming increasingly worried that their children were staying out late and getting in trouble. The new suburban way of life left children relatively idle and because of this idleness teenage crime rate went up exponentially. A new type of music was making its way through the youth of America. Rock and Roll was a new form of popular music that arose in the 1950s. It was derived from numerous types of music like blues, country, and gospel. Mass marketing of LPs allowed rock and roll to flourish. The lyrics to rock and roll songs were more provocative and pointed than in other types of music and parents worried that these lyrics would inspire their children to commit crimes. They expressed the discontent that many teens felt with their conformist suburban lives, and of theiragainst them. Rock and roll was therefore deemed frightening and was even denounced by several religious groups. The youth of the fifties were restless and even seen as dangerous and threatening to their parents.
Yakety Yak by the Coasters describes the rift between youth and the parental generation:

There were new values that were made top billing for children. It became more important for youth to be popular and well liked then to be an individual. This new way of life stemmed from the new conformity of suburban youth. Some historians and journalists published articles about suburbia acting as a stable environment for children to grow up in but these opinions were in the minority. School systems were also on the decline and children’s reading levels were dropping due to experimental new methods of teaching which did not work.
The growth of television also changed the way kids spent their time. Social critics worried about the effects of TV's "vast wasteland" on children. The life portrayed on sit-coms was affluent and conformist, providing common content across the nation. The opening of Disneyland in 1955 also revolutionized the theme park and mirrored the picture perfect world of the 1950's. Children, too were a part of the conformity, and the older youth rebelled against this.


Truman Years:
Truman created and endorsed a civil rights committee in 1946 with the mission “To Secure These Rights” in putting an end to lynching with federally
supported legislation, putting forth anti-discrimination practices in public facilities, housing markets, and places of employment, terminating the practice
of segregation in the military, and creating an entire civil rights division under the Department of Justice. Making his positions clear in 1948 Presidential
Campaign, many African Americans supported him. Truman desegregated all armed forces and he attempted to cool down heated discrimination in
federal hiring.

Eisenhower Years:
Black bus riders briefly boycotted the Baton Rouge, Louisiana bus system in 1953, until white official granted more seats to black riders. Rosa Parks, a
civil rights activist with the NAACP, was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for sitting in the white section of a public bus. Martin Luther King established the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference (SCLC). King’s morally and religiously sound rhetoric and his commanding presence allowed him to spearhead the civil rights
Congress was still divided on many issues regarding race and discrimination. However, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 hastened lawsuits by African
Americans who felt as if their voting rights were still being restricted.
Eisenhower supported the Civil Rights Act, but opposed more radical civil rights movements and believed strongly in local rather than federal action in
most instances. Eisenhower sent in the National Guard to enforce desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Brown v. Board of Education
Brown vs. Board of Education is actually a series of “Brown cases” that argued the constitutionality of segregation in the public school system in 1954. In 1955, part two of the
Brown decisions declared all public facilities had to integrate “with all deliberate speed.” The
South used clever delaying tactics illustrating their “massive resistance” to the Brown decisions.
Protestors outside the Supreme Court awaiting the Brown v. Board decision
The other side of protests

Kennedy Years:
Sit-in and freedom rides were staged for the first time. Racial violence escalated in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, where dogs and high-pressure hoses
were used against segregation protestors. Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four girls.
On August 28, 1963, 200,000 people marched to the Lincoln Memorial to watch Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream Speech.” This speech was incredibly well received and put pressure on Congress and the White House to further assistance to the cause of equality in America.

Native Americans

The Eisenhower administration implemented “termination” and “relocation” were created with purpose of eliminating Native American status as “wards of the U.S.” while giving them the full rights of a U.S. citizen. During the Eisenhower years, 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal status, land once belonging to the Native Americans was scooped up by the U.S. government, and Native Americans were no longer allowed the tax exemptions and
social services once readily available under the BIA. Termination was ended in 1962, although relocation continued through 1967. Opportunities were
still dismal for Native Americans in the U.S.

Spanish-Speaking Peoples:
A large Puerto Rican population developed in the US in the 1950s. Puerto Ricans experienced discrimination when attempting to buy houses or get
jobs. As a result, the Puerto-Rican Hispanic Leadership Forum was created in 1957.
Undocumented immigrants from Mexico and braceros overstaying their contracts became an issue of public debate in 1950 with the creation of
Operation Wetback, a plan to deport the illegal immigrants.
People in established Mexican American communities retaliated by fighting for higher wages and more sanitary working conditions as well with
organizations like United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Bracero identification card

Suburbia and Consumer Culture

Many rising middle class and upper class Americans moved out of cities to outer areas called suburbs. After World War II, more people started to move away from the cities. Urban areas became increasingly inhabited by poor minorities, causing the white flight away from the cities. The growth of cars, new roads, and better living conditions in suburbs aided their appeal. These suburbs were close enough to the cities to allow breadwinners (that is, men) of families to commute into the city for work. Ironically, living expenses inside suburbs were cheaper than those of cities. The mass building of uniform bungalows went underway thanks to bodies such as the Federal Housing Administration which gave credit to builders. Many settlers of the suburbs received loans to settle there, but single women and minorities found difficulty in obtaining such loans.
Levittown, the beginning of Suburban America
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Families, especially those of war veterans, settled in the suburbs, causing them to be family-friendly areas. Hence, a large population boom, nicknamed the "baby boom" occured. New technologies lead to the mass production and purchase of consumer goods, like cars and refrigerators. This caused economic boom and the American obsession with materialism. In the words of Fortune magazine, "Luxury has reached the masses."
The suburbs were seen by many as sheltered, insular places in which diversity was shunned and people grew to become ignorant. The conformist attitude that ruled in the suburbs (e.g, identical houses, identical families, identical interests, etc.) fueled further criticism on the suburbs. Also, the idea that the only successful families were ones with a stay-at-home mom and a working father were successful emerged. Therefore, "family togetherness" was a central concept of suburban lives.