Why did women want to have babies instead of pursuing careers during the mid-fifties?

  

Betty Friedan,
The Feminine Mystique (1963)

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub, Scouts, and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question Is this all?
By the end of the nineteen-fifties, the average marriage age of women in America dropped to 20, and was still dropping, into the teens. Fourteen million girls were engaged by 17. The proportion of women attending college in comparison with men dropped from 47 per cent in 1920 to 35 per cent in 1958. A century earlier, women had fought for higher education; now girls went to college to get a husband. By the mid-fifties, 60 per cent dropped out of college to marry, or because they were afraid too much education would be a marriage bar. Colleges built dormitories for “married students,” but the students were almost always the husbands. A new degree was instituted for the wives “Ph.T.” (Putting Husband Through).
By the end of the fifties, the United States birthrate was overtaking India’s. The birth-control movement, renamed Planned Parenthood, was asked to find a method whereby women who had been advised that a third or fourth baby would be born dead or defective might have it anyhow. Statisticians were especially astounded at the fantastic increase in the number of babies among college women. Where once they had two children, now they had four, five, six. Women who had once wanted careers were now making careers out of having babies. So rejoiced
Life magazine in a 1956 paean to the movement of American women back to the home.

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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 rughoolag 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.
If a woman had a problem in the 1950’s and 1960’s, she knew that something must be wrong with her marriage, or with herself. Other women were satisfied with their lives, she thought. What kind of a woman was she if she did not feel this mysterious fulfillment waxing the kitchen floor? She was so ashamed to admit her dissatisfaction that she never knew how many other women shared it. If she tried to tell her husband, he didn’t understand what she was talking about. She did not really understand it herself.
For over fifteen years women in America found it harder to talk about the problem than about sex. Even the psychoanalysts had no name for it. When a woman went to a psychiatrist for help, as many women did, she would say, I’m so ashamed, or I must be hopelessly neurotic. I don’t know what’s wrong with women today, a suburban psychiatrist said uneasily. I only know something is wrong because most of my patients happen to be women. And their problem isn’t sexual. Most women with this problem did not go to see a psychoanalyst, however. There’s nothing wrong really, they kept telling themselves, There isn’t any problem.
But on an April morning in 1959, I heard a mother of four, having coffee with four other mothers in a suburban development fifteen miles from New York, say in a tone of quiet desperation, the problem. And the others knew, without words, that she was not talking about a problem with her husband, or her children, or her home. Suddenly they realized they all shared the same problem, the problem that has no name. They began, hesitantly, to talk about it. Later, after they had picked up their children at nursery school and taken them home to nap, two of the women cried, in sheer relief, just to know they were not alone.
Gradually I came to realize that the problem that has no name was shared by countless women in America. As a magazine writer I often interviewed women about problems with their children, or their marriages, or their houses, or their communities. But after a while I began to recognize the telltale signs of this other problem. I saw the same signs in suburban ranch houses and split-levels on Long Island and in New Jersey and Westchester County; in colonial houses in a small Massachusetts town; on patios in Memphis; in suburban and city apartments; in living rooms in the Midwest. Sometimes I sensed the problem, not as a reporter, but as a suburban housewife, for during this time I was also bringing up my own three children in Rockland County, New York. I heard echoes of the problem in college dormitories and semiprivate maternity wards, at PTA meetings and luncheons of the League of Women Voters, at suburban cocktail parties, in station wagons waiting for trains, and in snatches of conversation overheard at Schrafft’s. The groping words I heard from other women, on quiet afternoons when children were at school or on quiet evenings when husbands worked late, I think I understood first as a woman long before I understood their larger social and psychological implications.
Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say I feel empty somehowincomplete. Or she would say, I feel as if I don’t exist. Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilizer.
It is NO longer possible to ignore that voice, to dismiss the desperation of so many American women.
If I am right, the problem that has no name stirring in the minds of so many American women today is not a matter of loss of femininity or too much education, or the demands of domesticity. It is far more important than anyone recognizes. It is the key to these other new and old problems which have been torturing women and their husbands and children, and puzzling their doctors and educators for years. It may well be the key to our future as a nation and a culture. We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.” First

By this point in the class, we’ve seen several ways to achieve major change in society. Change has happened through violence (or the threat of violence), through the ballot box and legislation, through influential books/works, through non-violent/passive resistance, etc. What do you think is the most effective avenue for change? What are some instances where you see this method being effective in U.S. history?

PLEASE NOTE: When I previously posed this question, 90%+ of the class chose passive resistance without really knowing what that means. Non-violent resistance means you allow yourself to be beaten, attacked, and/or humiliated without

any
reaction or defense. You simply stand up (if possible) and continue your protest.

(Two posts required – 200 word minimum
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Are we living in a modern version of the Gilded Age? Be sure to consider what elements defined the Gilded Age in the late 1800s when comparing it to today.

(Two posts required – 200 word minimum first post, 100 word minimum response to classmate)
In these discussion forums, you are allowed and encouraged to use outside resources for your responses. Be sure to carefully cite your sources in Chicago format at the end of your original post.
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Read the attached documents and answer the following question:(no outside sources, it will have documents attached)

1. What was the state of politics during the Gilded Age? Be sure to cite specific examples from both readings.

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Read the attached document and answer the following question:(no outside sources, it will have documents attached)

1. What does Friedan mean by the problem that has no name?
2. What kinds of women seem to be excluded from Friedans account of the problem?
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How important is your gender to how you think about yourself, to your “identity” or self-definition, to your everyday life? Reflect on what it would be like to be a different gender in your culture.
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Choose a popular movie or television series. What messages does it convey regarding gender roles and identities? How does it reflect, reinforce, or subvert gender constructs?
Search entries or author Grover Cleveland,
Veto of Pension Legislation (1886)

To the Senate:
I am so thoroughly tired of disapproving gifts of public money to individuals who in my view have no right or claim to the same, notwithstanding apparent Congressional sanction, that I interpose with a feeling of relief a veto in a case where I find it unnecessary to determine the merits of the application. In speaking of the promiscuous and ill-advised grants of pensions which have lately been presented to me for approval, I have spoken of their “apparent Congressional sanction” in recognition of the fact that a large proportion of these bills have never been submitted to a majority of either branch of Congress, but are the result of nominal sessions held for the express purpose of their consideration and attended by a small minority of the members of the respective Houses of the legislative branch of Government.
I have not been insensible to the suggestions which should influence every citizen, either in private station or official place, to exhibit not only a just but a generous appreciation of the services of our country’s defenders. In reviewing the pension legislation presented to me many bills have been approved upon the theory that every doubt should be resolved in favor of the proposed beneficiary. I have not, however, been able to entirely divest myself of the idea that the public money appropriated for pensions is the soldiers’ fund, which should be devoted to the indemnification of those who in the defense of the Union and in the nation’s service have worthily suffered, and who in the day of their dependence resulting from such suffering are entitled to the benefactions of their Government. This reflection lends to the bestowal of pensions a kind of sacredness which invites the adoption of such principles and regulations as will exclude perversion as well as insure a liberal and generous application of grateful and benevolent designs. Heedlessness and a disregard of the principle which underlies the granting of pensions is unfair to the wounded, crippled soldier who is honored in the just recognition of his Government. Such a man should never find himself side by side on the pension roll with those who have been tempted to attribute the natural ills to which humanity is heir to service in the Army. Every relaxation of principle in the granting of pensions invites applications without merit and encourages those who for gain urge honest men to become dishonest. Thus is the demoralizing lesson taught the people that as against the public Treasury the most questionable expedients are allowable
I have now more than 130 of these bills before me awaiting Executive action. It will be impossible to bestow upon them the examination they deserve, and many will probably become operative which should be rejected.
In the meantime I venture to suggest the significance of the startling increase in this kind of legislation and the consequences involved in its continuance.
GROVER CLEVELAND Senator George W. Plunkitt,
Plunkitt of Tammany Hall (1905)

Everybody is talkin’ these days about Tammany men growin’ rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I’ve made a big fortune out of the game, and I’m gettin’ richer every day, but I’ve not gone in for dishonest graft blackmailin’ gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.
There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”
Just let me explain by examples. My party’s in power in the city, and it’s goin’ to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I’m tipped off, say, that they’re going to layout a new park at a certain place.
I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.
Ain’t it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? of course, it is. Well, that’s honest graft.
I’ll tell you of one case. They were goin’ to fix up a big park, no matter where. I got on to it, and went lookin’ about for land in that neighborhood. I could get nothin’ at a bargain but a big piece of swamp, but I took it fast enough and held on to it. What turned out was just what I counted on. They couldn’t make the park complete without Plunkitt’s swamp, and they had to pay a good price for it. Anything dishonest in that? Now, in conclusion, I want to say that I don’t own a dishonest dollar.
This civil service law is the biggest fraud of the age. It is the curse of the nation. There can’t be no real patriotism while it lasts. How are you goin’ to interest our young men in their country if you have no offices to give them when they work for their party? Just look at things in this city today. There are ten thousand good offices, but we can’t get at more than a few hundred of them. How are we goin’ to provide for the thousands of men who worked for the Tammany ticket? It can’t be done. These men were full of patriotism a short time ago. They expected to be servin’ their city, but when we tell them that we can’t place them, do you think their patriotism is goin’ to last? Not much. They say: “What’s the use of workin’ for your country anyhow? There’s nothin’ in the game.” And what can they do? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what I do know.I know more than one young man in past years who worked for the ticket and was just overflowin’ with patriotism, but when he was knocked out by the civil service humbug he got to hate his country and became an Anarchist.
When the people elected Tammany, they knew just what they were doin’. We didn’t put up any false pretenses. We didn’t go in for humbug civil service and all that rot. We stood as we have always stood, for rewardin’ the men that won the victory. They call that the spoils system. All right; Tammany is for the spoils system, and when we go in we fire every anti-Tammany man form office that can be fired under the law. It’s an elastic sort of law and you can bet it will be stretched to the limit
The civil service humbug is underminin’ our institutions and if a halt ain’t called soon this great republic will tumble down like a Park Avenue house when they were buildin’ the subway, and on its ruins will rise another Russian government.

Introduction:
Betty Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique” provides a glimpse into the sense of dissatisfaction and yearning that American women experienced in the middle of the 20th century. Women who were once fighting for higher education were now getting married at a very young age and giving up their dream careers to become suburban housewives. They were filled with a strange stirring and an unspoken problem that they struggled with alone.

Description:
Betty Friedan’s book was published in 1963 and highlighted the feminist issues during that era. By the end of the 1950s, the average marriage age for American women dropped to 20, and the proportion of women in college compared to men reduced drastically. Women went to college not to further their education but to look for a husband. By the mid-1950s, 60 percent of women dropped out of college to marry, or the fear of too much education would act as a barrier to their marriage. A new degree was introduced for the wives to put their husbands through college, PH.T. (Putting Husband Through). The birthrate in the United States was rising, and the birth-control movement, named Planned Parenthood, was looking for ways to help women who had been advised to not have more children due to defects or death. The American suburban housewife was an image of feminine fulfillment and a dream image of young American women. They were free to choose cars, clothes, and supermarkets and had everything that women had 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.

Objectives:
1. To comprehend and analyze the effects of post-World War II American culture on women’s lives.
2. To understand the emergence and development of the “feminine mystique.”
3. To develop a critical understanding of cultural and societal expectations placed on women during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Learning Outcomes:
1. By the end of this lesson, learners should be able to explain how the feminine mystique emerged in America after World War II.
2. By the end of this lesson, learners should be able to describe the way in which women’s societal roles changed in the mid-twentieth century.
3. By the end of this lesson, learners should be able to evaluate the impact of the “feminine mystique” in shaping societal attitudes towards women in the United States.

Solution 1:
Encouraging Women’s Education
Education is a powerful tool for the empowerment of women. America needs to reform its education system so that women will have greater access to education. Women should be given equal opportunities in education so that they can fulfill their aspirations and seek higher levels of learning. The education system should be designed to create a conducive environment where women can study and acquire relevant skills that will enable them to participate fully in the workforce. By ensuring girls have access to education, the number of those going to college to find husbands and starting families at a young age will decline. Education has the potential to change the mindset and perspectives of women, empowering them to achieve their goals and objectives.

Solution 2:
Promoting Gender Equality at Work and Home
To eradicate the Feminine Mystique, the society needs to encourage gender equality, both at home and at work. The society has to change the traditionally held belief that women are responsible for domestic chores while men are breadwinners. Men should be encouraged to take paternity leave when their partners deliver. This should be implemented by introducing laws like paid parental leave. At the workplace, women should be given the same opportunities as men to advance their careers. This involves creating policies that support the career development of women, such as pay equity, flexible work hours, and leadership programs for women. Gender stereotypes which previously limited women to certain roles should be eradicated to promote gender equality. By promoting gender equality, women will gain the freedom to pursue a career, pursue personal fulfillment, and maintain a work-life balance.

Suggested Resources/Books:
1. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
3. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks
4. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
5. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

Similar asked questions:
1. What were the major societal expectations for women in the mid-twentieth century?
2. How did Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique impact the feminist movement?
3. Why did so many college-educated women choose to become housewives and mothers in the post-WWII era?
4. What role did the birth-control movement, now known as Planned Parenthood, play in women’s empowerment in the mid-twentieth century?
5. How has the image of the “perfect housewife” evolved in American culture since the mid-twentieth century?

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