Topics in the News
The American Woman at Work
Rosie the Riveter.
One popular image of the American woman in the 1940s was that of "Rosie the Riveter"—the strong, independent woman defense worker, wearing overalls and doing her part to help the United States win the war. Government posters featured women rolling up their sleeves and affirming that "We Can Do It." Newspapers and magazines were filled with photographs and drawings of women building bombers, tanks, and ships. Radio stations sponsored contests for "Working Women Win Wars Week." The woman wielding an acetylene torch became as common a media image as the soft and feminine girl in the Palmolive soap ad. American women followed Rosie the Riveter out of the kitchen and onto the shop floor. The number of workingwomen rose from 11,970,000 in 1940 to 18,610,000 in 1945. By the end of the war one in every four wives was employed. Women comprised 36.1 percent of the civilian workforce and were enjoying the increases in income created by the wartime economy.
In the mid 1930s, 80 percent of Americans objected to wives working outside the home, but by 1942 only 40 percent still disapproved. The labor shortage in American industry was responsible for this shift in opinion. As more men were drafted into military service, women took their places on the assembly lines. Once women's employment became vital to the war...
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Manhood and Service.
For most American men the 1940s began with military service: putting on uniforms and risking their lives overseas. World War II lasted three years longer than World War I, and six times as many young American males were drafted to serve in it. The entrance of the United States into World War I was accompanied by an outburst of proclamations about patriotism, courage, and glory, but soldiers who went overseas with visions of proving their valor in the ultimate test of manhood discovered instead the horrors of modern warfare and came home questioning the ideals for which they had fought. Americans in the military during World War II had learned from their predecessors' experience and were far less likely to view war as a measure of masculinity or a patriotic crusade. They accepted military service as a necessity and served loyally, but they had few expectations of personal glory.
The Rush to the Altar.
Faced with separation from their loved ones, many newly drafted men—mostly those who had already planned to marry—hastened to do so before...
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On the Home Front
The Family in Wartime.
World War II spurred enormous changes in family life. First, wartime industry and the military draft caused massive migration: more than fifteen million people moved, searching for defense jobs or following family members to the next military base. Americans poured into major defense centers, especially cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Mobile, and Wichita. The war and the booming economy that accompanied it also impacted patterns of marriage and childbearing. Couples had delayed marriage and childbearing during the Depression; men and women rushed to the altar after 1941 and had record numbers of children.
Marriage and Babies.
While these marriages typically followed long engagements, many others were more spontaneous. When actor Mickey Rooney was a private stationed at Camp Siebert, Alabama, he proposed to a seventeen-year-old girl on their first date, and they were married seven days later. As Rooney later explained, "I married Betty Jane because I was determined to marry someone. I'd had some...
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The Postwar Youth Culture
Reemergence of the Youth Culture.
An American youth culture based on adolescent leisure activities had emerged in the prosperous 1920s, but it was sharply curtailed by the financial stringency of the Depression. During the prosperous years that followed World War II it blossomed once again. Middle-class and many working-class teenagers had money to spend on recreation and dating, and they did so with exuberance. The practice of adolescent dating, which also began in the 1920s, grew after the war. Teenagers in this postwar generation were given more autonomy by their parents than adolescents of earlier generations, but the extent of their newfound freedom, especially in regard to experimentation with sex, varied with social and economic class. In general, poor black teenagers growing up in the South had more freedom to engage in premarital sex than black adolescents with wealthier parents. Young, urban workingclass men and women who dropped out of high school met in dance halls, bowling alleys, and skating rinks and were less restricted in their sexual activity than high-school students.
High-school attendance rose dramatically after the war, and student culture defined dating rituals for the great majority of teenagers. High-school cliques regulated dating by defining the proper choice of partners and proper behavior...
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"A Jap's a Jap"
(Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, commander of Western Defense, 1941). In the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor waves of racism and hatred directed at Japanese and Japanese Americans swept the West Coast. On 19 February 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering Japanese and Japanese Americans living in California, Oregon, and Washington to be relocated to internment camps for the duration of the war. Some of these people were "Issei," Japanese immigrants still tied to Japanese tradition, and a small number were "Kibei," American-born Japanese who studied in Japan, but most were "Nisei," American-born children of Issei parents, citizens of the United States by birthright and assimilated into American culture. The U.S. government made little distinction among these groups, denying many the legal rights that were theirs by virtue of their citizenship. One cost of the internment to the already tight American economy was the loss of two-thirds of the U.S. vegetable crop, previously grown by Japanese American farmers on the West Coast.
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Sex and Sexuality
The Pursuit of Sexual Pleasure.
By the 1940s many Americans had adopted liberal attitudes toward heterosexual activity. They affirmed heterosexual pleasure as a good in itself, defined sexual satisfaction as a basic component of personal happiness and successful marriage, and accepted youthful sexual experimentation as preparation for adulthood. This new liberalism was solidified by the growing availability in the 1930s and 1940s of reliable contraceptives that separated sex from reproduction, allowing uninhibited pursuit of sexual pleasure. Sexual content appeared in movies and magazines with greater frequency as an emerging youth culture celebrated heterosexual expression, and husbands and wives came to view continuing erotic pleasure as a major component of marriage.
Sex and War.
The war also contributed to liberalized attitudes toward sex. Lonely soldiers away from home engaged in sexual experimentation, and concerns over the spread of venereal disease in the military resulted in frank discussions of sex. Pictures of "pinup" girls appeared in servicemen's barracks, and flight crews were allowed to decorate the fronts of their planes with sexually explicit pictures of women, Like the pinups, this "nose art" was thought to boost morale.
By the 1940s Margaret Sanger,...
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The Fad of the Forties.
The suburban building craze of the 1940s transformed American society. The war created an enormous housing shortage, which prompted the postwar construction boom that built suburbia. Housing starts went from 114,000 in 1944 to an all-time high of 1,692,000 in 1950. This massive construction of single-family suburban houses was largely subsidized by the federal government. The 1944 GI Bill of Rights created a program that provided federally insured loans to veterans and encouraged private investment in the housing mortgage market. Tax benefits also favored homeowners in the 1940s. Government-insured mortgages subsidized the building of single houses on large suburban tracts such as Levittown on Long Island. A veteran could buy a house in this suburb of New York City with no down payment and a thirty-year mortgage with payments of fifty-six dollars per month, far less than the rent for the average apartment in many cities. By 1946 for the first time the majority of American families lived in houses they owned.
The Exclusion of Blacks from Suburbia.
Suburban life was not available to all Americans. During the 1940s blacks were excluded by de facto segregation as well as by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) practice of encouraging covenants in deeds that forbade the sale of FHA-financed homes to blacks. In 1948...
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Arendt, Hannah 1906-1975
PHILOSOPHER, POLITICAL THEORIST
A Philosopher of Her Times.
Hannah Arendt is best known for her groundbreaking book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), an influential study of anti-Semitism, imperialism, and authoritarianism. Her historical analysis of Nazism, the Holocaust, and the nature of evil established her reputation as an important philosopher and political thinker.
Born to middle-class Jewish parents in Hannover, Germany, Arendt grew up in Königsberg and Berlin and began her university studies in Marburg in 1924. There she studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger, who became a close friend. She also studied at Freiburg with Edmund Husserl and went on to Heidelberg, where she received her doctorate in philosophy in 1929, having written her dissertation under the supervision of Karl Jaspers. Jaspers and Heidegger profoundly influenced Arendt's later philosophical work.
Life in Nazi Germany.
Arendt married writer Gunther Stern in 1929 and began writing Rachel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess (1957), a biography of an eighteenth-century Berlin salon hostess. Her work on the book was interrupted in 1933, afer the Nazis imprisoned her briefly for Zionist activities. Released a week later, Arendt escaped with Stern to Paris....
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Bethune, Mary Mcleod 1875-1955
EDUCATOR, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER
Crusader for Racial Equality.
For more than three decades (1920-1935) Mary McLeod Bethune was known as the "most influential black woman in the United States." For all blacks, but especially for black women, she emphasized the need for education and for the opportunity to break free from oppressive social and political boundaries. She urged blacks to unite in one political movement and believed that the government could be used to improve the black race. She once summarized her beliefs as "self-control, self-respect, self-reliance, and race pride."
Born near Mayesville, South Carolina, Mary McLeod was the fifteenth of the seventeen children of Sam and Patsy McLeod, slaves freed after the Civil War. Beginning her education at a black mission school near Mayesville, McLeod quickly learned all its teachers could offer her, and in 1888 she won a scholarship to attend Scotia...
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Farmer, James 1920-
CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER
A Founder of CORE.
From the time he helped to found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942, James Farmer was one of the most effective and widely recognized African American leaders in the United States, serving as national director of CORE until 1966. He brought to the American civil rights movement the nonviolent methods of public protest that were responsible for many of the movement's greatest achievements.
Farmer was born in Marshall, Texas, where his father, the first black man in Texas to earn a Ph.D., taught at the all-black Wiley College. As the son of a college professor, Farmer had a fairly sheltered childhood. He first learned he was "colored" when he was a small boy and his mother explained to him why he could not drink from a whites-only water fountain at a local drugstore. After receiving a B.S. in chemistry from Wiley College, Farmer enrolled in the School of Religion at Howard University, intending to become a Methodist minister. He earned a bachelor of divinity degree in 1941 but refused ordination because the Methodist Church...
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Kinsey, Alfred 1894-1956
ZOOLOGIST, SEX RESEARCHER
Controversial Sex Researcher.
In the repressive social climate of the late 1940s and early 1950s Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) were widely criticized, and he was subject to personal attacks. In 1953, for example, the Chicago Tribune called him a "real menace to society." Yet his extensive research into Americans' sexual habits transformed the way they think about their sexuality.
Kinsey was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, where his father taught at Stevens Institute of Technology. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1916 and received an Sc.D. (doctor of science) degree in zoology at Harvard University in 1920. Later that year he went to teach zoology at Indiana University, where he remained for most of his life.
Research on Gall Wasps.
During the 1930s Kinsey published a series of papers reporting the results of his...
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Moses, Robert 1888-1981
URBAN PLANNER AND ADMINISTRATOR
Robert Moses did more than anyone else in the twentieth century to shape the landscape of New York City. He built parks, playgrounds, and swimming pools all over the city and linked the five boroughs with a system of highways, bridges, and tunnels. He also planned a statewide system of parks for New York State.
Robert Moses was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and raised in Manhattan. After earning bachelor's degrees from Yale University (1909) and Oxford University (1911), he did graduate work at Oxford (M.A., 1913) and Columbia University (Ph.D., 1914).
Moses's first position was in the New York City Bureau of Municipal Research, where he took on the task of administrative reform. He worked there from 1913 until the United States entered...
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People in the News
On 28 February 1943 Carrie Chapman Catt, honorary president of the League of Women Voters, issued a statement opposing an Equal Rights Amendment before Congress.
On 11 April 1947 Stanley B. Cofall, director of liquor control for the state of Ohio, announced the abolishment of the rationing of liquor, in effect since May 1943.
In July 1949 Dr. Samuel J. Green, of Georgia, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan was interviewed for the Nation magazine. Responding to the question of why the KKK always wore disguises, Green replied that "So many people are prejudiced against the Klan these days."
In 1942 Mary Halleren entered the Officer Candidate School of the newly formed Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. A year later she commanded the first Women's Army Corps (WAC) unit sent overseas, and in 1945 she was appointed director of all women's overseas units. She became director of the WAC in 1946, and in 1948, when the WAC was officially integrated into the army, Halleren, by then a colonel, became the first woman to receive a U.S. Army commission.
In 1943, responding to public concerns over reports of immorality in the ranks of the Women's Army Corps, director of the WACs Oveta Culp Hobby announced that contraceptives would no longer be issued to women in the corps.
On 15 July...
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Hendrik Christian Andersen, 68, sculptor and painter who advocated peace by promoting the erection of a "Universal City," 19 December 1940.
William Banks, 100, commander in chief of United Confederate Veterans, 6 January 1946.
Matilda G. Bausch, 85, philanthropist and wife of Edward Bausch, chairman of the board of Bausch and Lomb Optical Company, 14 July 1940.
Theodore Bear, 76, creator of the teddy bear, 19 November 1940.
Maude Potter Bennett, 80?, social leader and widow of noted sportsman, financier, and eccentric James Gordon Bennett, 4 February 1946.
Rose Ann Billington, 83, noted suffragist and member of the National Democratic Committee, 12 October 1942.
Emily P. Bissell, 86, writer and social worker who originated the Christmas Seal drive to fight tuberculosis, 8 March 1947.
Harriet Stanton Blatch, 84, leader in the fight for woman suffrage leader, daughter of Henry Brewster Stanton and suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 20 November 1940.
Gen. Ballington Booth, 81, founder of the Volunteers of America (1896), 5 October 1940.
Helen Varick Boswell, 78, suffrage leader; founder and thirty-year president of the Women's Forum of New...
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James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941);
Ernest W. Burgess and Harvey J. Locke, The Family: From Institution to Companionship (New York & Cincinnati: American Book Company, 1945);
St. Clair Drake and Horace J. Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1945);
Max Eastman, Heroes I Have Known (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1942);
Josephine Gerth, Highways to Jobs for Women: How to Pick College Courses for Your Career (New York: Woman's Press, 1948);
Katherine Glover, Women at Work in Wartime (New York: Public Affairs Committee, 1943);
Sidonie Matsner Gruenberg, ed., The Family in a World at War (New York & London: Harper, 1942);
Steven Hart and Lucy Brown, How to Get Your Man and Hold Him (New York, 1944);
Reuben Hill and Howard Becker, eds., Marriage and the Family (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1942);
Sidney Hook, The Hero in History: A Study in Limitation and Possibility (New York: John Day, 1943);
Eric Johnston, American Unlimited (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1944);...
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- TRENDS AND FADS: Fifty-one percent of women between the ages of twenty and twenty-four are married. The average size of American families has shrunk to 3.8 members. Annual attendance at baseball games is estimated at ten million. Weekly movie attendance is estimated at eighty million. Nickel jukeboxes appear in restaurants, taverns, tearooms, variety stores, and gas stations; sixteen records play for fifty cents.
- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) denounces the military's policy of racial segregation.
- The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) denounces the Communist Party and the German-American Bund as un-American.
- TRENDS AND FADS: The median age at first marriage is twenty-four for men and 21.5 for women. With the improvement of the economy, car sales soar. Alcohol consumption also rises.
- "Rosie the Riveter," named for Rosina Bonavita, becomes the emblem of the American woman working in the defense industries.
- A national committee is formed to work for abolition of the poll tax, which prevents many African Americans from voting in southern states.
- On January 15, A. Philip Randolph and other civil rights leaders call for a march...
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