HIST 102 AMU week 5 lesson The Modern State and the Age of LiberalismAmerican History since 1877 American Military university
Cold War America: 1945-1960 and The Rise of the Middle Class : 1945-1960
Following World War II, increased economic prosperity moved many Americans to the growing middle class. Societal changes were also on the horizon, as Americans’ views on sexuality changed and marginalized people including African-Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans began to fight for equal rights.
Topics covered will include:
- Postwar Economic Growth
- Middle Class Life
- Urban America
- The Baby Boom
- Roots of the Sexual Revolution
- Early Years of the Civil Rights Movement
- Direct Action
- Legislating Civil Rights
- Split in the Movement
Postwar Economic Growth
In 1944, it was clear that the end of World War II was near and that an Allied victory was imminent. It was also clear that the war would foster many permanent changes on the international front. In July of that year, representatives from 44 countries met in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire to discuss the financial arrangements following the war. The goal of the Bretton Woods conference was to establish a framework that would lead to a prosperous world economy, which would in turn be more conducive to preserving world peace.
A Nation of Consumers
- GI BILL
- HOME LIFE
Shortly before the end of World War II, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (better known as the GI Bill) was passed to assist veterans of the war once they returned home. The GI Bill had a tremendous effect on American society, largely because it allowed millions of men to attend college who would otherwise have been unable to afford to go.
As incomes rose with education rates, the middle class grew dramatically. Paired with the low-interest mortgages that the GI Bill made available, higher incomes also led to a drastic increase in homeownership.
Signing of the GI Bill.
Religion in Postwar America
In addition to becoming more affluent and comfortable in the material sense, American life changed in other ways after World War II as well. Growing church attendance in the years following World War II pointed towards a culture more reliant on conservative, family-friendly values—and one that directly linked morality with material blessings.‹1/4 ›
- Religion, and specifically Evangelical Protestantism, became integral to the middle-class lifestyle in the United States. One of the people who worked to make that a reality was the minister Billy Graham. Through large indoor and outdoor rallies called revivals, Graham brought his religious message to millions of Americans, while quickly becoming a household name. Graham was also one of the first to bring his ministry to television.Billy Graham.
- FEDERAL AID HIGHWAY ACT
The first suburbs had been established around the late nineteenth century, when advances in transportation allowed middle-class urban workers to move outside of the cities and commute to work from communities on their outskirts. Now that the middle class had grown, and the GI Bill had allowed more Americans to buy homes, the nation’s suburbs were poised to grow as well—though the new suburban communities would be strikingly different from those that had preceded them.
The model for the new suburb was Levittown, a planned community built by the Levitt family in Long Island, New York. Levittown was composed of thousands of identical homes, all very small but modern in every respect. The Levitts applied mass production techniques, such as the division of labor to home building, formulating a twenty-seven-step process to build each home and dedicating workers to each step. Soon, two other Levittowns were established in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Aerial view of Levittown, PA in 1959.
As the suburbs flourished, racial discrimination became rampant. African-American GIs returned to the United States to find difficulties that white GIs did not face, such as discriminatory housing policies. They were often denied the same low-interest loans that had enabled others to buy homes. Policies such as these created a wealth gap between white and non-white Americans and kept non-whites in the cities as whites moved outward.
HOUSING ACT OF 1949
DISPLACED PERSONS ACT OF 1948
Health, Education, and the Role of Women
By 1954, the annual birth rate in the United States had soared to over four million. This rate would not fall until the mid-1960s. There were many reasons why Americans were having more children. The most obvious was the economic prosperity that the middle class enjoyed at the time. Another involved medical advances that had lowered the childhood mortality rate drastically.‹1/7 ›
- Americans who could not afford to raise families during the Great Depression and World War II quickly made up for lost time. A huge emphasis was placed on family and child rearing, including new ideas for what was best for children.Baby feet wrapped in a blue-green aqua knitted blanket.
The Middle Class and Alfred Kinsey
The prevailing attitudes towards sex in the early 1950s were similar to those that had existed in most of American history. Sex was considered to be something to be enjoyed between a husband and wife, and to be engaged in primarily for the purpose of bearing children. Society encouraged men and women to marry at an early age, giving the average American few sex partners. Following World War II, the idea of sex outside of the context of marriage and procreation was growing—but very slowly.
Sex was considered such a private issue that it was rarely discussed openly, even among scientific circles. The man who would change that was a biology professor named Alfred Kinsey, the first person to publish a study on the sexual behavior of the average American. Published in 1948, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male chronicled the results of over five thousand interviews conducted by Kinsey and his assistants. In 1953, he published its follow-up, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.KINSEY’S
By the late 1950s, the first children born after World War II were now teenagers. The term “teenager” was itself a new term; within a few years, the country had more of them than they ever had before, and they soon proved to be an important demographic.
In the past, young people usually began working full-time as soon as they were able to in order to help support their families. With the economic success that marked the generation’s middle class, this was no longer necessary. Many teens worked part-time jobs solely for the discretionary income, while others received allowances from their parents. The growth of America’s youth culture, as a result of the postwar Baby Boom, created a major consumer force as advertisers began to market products to teens.‹1/4 ›
- The growth of America’s youth culture, as a result of the postwar Baby Boom, created a major consumer force as advertisers began to market products to teens. In addition to clothing and consumer goods, entertainment was also marketed to people this age. Movies continued to rise in popularity as Hollywood began to make “teenpics,” films, aimed largely at the teenage audience that included the emerging genres of horror and science fiction.