Women during the 1950s and 1960s
After World War II, many women left the defense industries and resumed their lives at home or they proceeded to take jobs that were considered more feminine. Although a new “cult of domesticity” emerged in the 1950s, women continued to play an important role as consumers in society. Many advertisers understood that women were the primary consumers for a variety of different products, thus consumption was empowering. However, this ‘cult of domesticity’ was stifling for many women, and the conforming culture of the 1950s led Betty Friedan to begin to question women’s roles in society, and her book, The Feminine Mystique, would galvanize the second wave feminist movement of the 1960s.
As you look through the various advertisements, quotes, or documents, compare and contrast women’s roles during the 1950s to women’s roles in the 1960s. Do you believe consumption power in the 1950s led many women to feel a sense of political and social empowerment in the 1960s? How does the “cult of domesticity” of the 1950s impact minorities? How is the women’s movement of the 1960s influenced by other social movements?
The following primary sources are from http://caho-test.cc.columbia.edu/dbq/11102.html#D
Primary source: New York Radical Women, “No More Miss America!,” manifesto, 1968.
Background information: One of the targets of feminists in the 1960s was the Miss America Pageant, which some perceived as celebrating a stereotypical view of women. Members of New York Radical Women, a feminist group, protested outside the pageant in 1968
On September 7th  in Atlantic City, the Annual Miss America Pageant will again crown “your ideal.” But this year, reality will liberate the contest auction-block in the guise of “genyooine” de-plasticized, breathing women. Women’s Liberation Groups, black women, high-school and college women, women’s peace groups, women’s welfare and social-work groups, women’s job-equality groups, pro-birth control and pro-abortion groups—women of every political persuasion—all are invited to join us…. We will protest the image of Miss America, an image that oppresses women in every area in which it purports to represent us….
New York Radical Women, “No More Miss America!” reprinted in The Times Were a Changin’: The Sixties Reader, ed. Irwin Unger and Debi Unger (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 213. Full text of the manifesto is available online at the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, http://www.cwluherstory.com/CWLUArchive/miss.html.
Women in SNCC
Primary source: Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Women in the Movement, position paper, 1964.
Background information: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) played a prominent role in the civil-rights movement. While many women were active in SNCC, some objected that they were being denied leadership positions.
- Staff was involved in crucial constitutional revisions at the Atlanta staff meeting in October. A large committee was appointed to present revisions to the staff. The committee was all men.
- Two organizers were working together to form a farmers league. Without asking any questions, the male organizer immediately assigned the clerical work to the female organizer although both had had equal experience in organizing campaigns.
- Although there are some women in Mississippi project who have been working as long as some of the men, the leadership group in COFO is all men.
- A woman in a field office wondered why she was held responsible for day to day decisions, only to find out later that she had been appointed project director but not told.
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Position Paper: Women in the Movement (November 1964), reprinted in Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left (New York: Vintage, 1980), 233–35.
The following document is an excerpt from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which was published in 1963. Betty Friedan helped to form the National Organization for Women (NOW), and she worked hard to get an Equal Rights Amendment, which was not ratified by enough states to be added to the Constitution.
The suburban housewife—she was the dream image of the young American women and the envy, it was said, of women all over the world. The American housewife—freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth and the illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment. As a housewife and mother, she was respected as a full and equal partner to man in his world. She was free to choose automobiles, clothes, appliances, supermarkets; she had everything that women ever dreamed of.
In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife, kissing their husbands goodbye in front of the picture window, depositing their stationwagonsful of children at school, and smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen floor. They baked their own bread, sewed their own and their children’s clothes, kept their new washing machines and dryers running all day. They changed the sheets on the beds twice a week instead of once, took the rug-hooking class in adult education, and pitied their poor frustrated mothers, who had dreamed of having a career. Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the unfeminine problems of the world outside the home; they wanted the men to make the major decisions. They gloried in their role as women, and wrote proudly on the census blank: “Occupation: housewife.”…