Source: Narrated by Zach Lamb
[MUSIC PLAYING] In 1950, Elaine and Theo had been married for 15 years. They were married in 1935 during the Great Depression. Given what you've learned about the Great Depression, you could safely assume they struggled to get by during the early years of their marriage. You could also assume their lives changed dramatically during World War II.
Perhaps Theo enlisted and fought overseas in Europe or the Pacific. Maybe Elaine had a job in the wartime economy. By 1950 though, they lived in a suburb outside of Washington, DC with their four children. They likely owned their own home. Think about all the modern appliances that might have been inside, a telephone, a refrigerator, a washing machine, and most important of all, a television. Many Americans could only dream to have had search appliances during the Great Depression. By 1950 however, Elaine and Theo could not have lived without them. Could you?
The conversations between Elaine and Theo reveal that post-war social and family life in suburban America occurred under a context that demanded conformity. As relations between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated into the Cold War and the nuclear age emerged, Americans place renewed emphasis on the nuclear family, a father, mother, and children.
As Elaine's experiences show, women were expected to assume the burdens of housekeeping and child rearing, while men were the breadwinners, working outside of the home. Many social institutions, including advertising and public education, enforced these gender distinctions. For instance, during the 1950s, home economics courses taught young women the finer points of good housekeeping, social etiquette, and married life. These classes tested young women on things like house cleaning techniques and child rearing strategies under the expectation that they would get married and become housewives.
You can use the five C's and historical lenses to compare Elaine's situation in the 1950s to the situations that women experienced in other historical periods. Do you notice any similarities between Elaine's experiences in the 1950s and women's experiences during the 1920s? What if you compare Elaine's experiences with women's experiences today? After all, millions of Americans still live in suburban neighborhoods with the same appliances first used in the 1950s.
And how could you use the gender lens to understand how men's and women's experiences in the 1950s differed? In what ways have gender relations and responsibilities changed or not changed?
Keep up the good work. And keep applying your historical thinking skills. And you'll discover answers to these questions as you continue in the course.