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College Women In The Nuclear Age: Cultural Literacy and Female Identity, 1940-1960

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    College Women In The Nuclear Age
    Book Description:

    In the popular imagination, American women during the time between the end of World War II and the 1960s-the era of the so-called "feminine mystique"-were ultraconservative and passive.College Women in the Nuclear Agetakes a fresh look at these women, showing them actively searching for their place in the world while engaging with the larger intellectual and political movements of the times.

    Drawing from the letters and diaries of young women in the Cold War era, Babette Faehmel seeks to restore their unique voices and to chronicle their collective ambitions. She also explores the shifting roles that higher education played in establishing these hopes and dreams, making the case that the GI Bill served to diminish the ambitions of many American women even as it opened opportunities for many American men. A treasure-trove of original research, the book should stimulate scholarly discussion and captivate any reader interested in the thoughts and lives of American women.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5319-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Betty Friedan, a graduate of the private, all-women’s Smith College, in her 1963 bestsellerThe Feminine Mystiquedescribed what had struck her as common sentiments among the young women she met and interviewed when she returned for research to her alma mater. “Taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or presidents,” they had surrendered to fear that too much education hurt their chances to catch a husband. Glorifying marriage and motherhood as the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence, they early on made it their goal to find husbands. On dates, they played...

  5. 1 Campus Life in Times of Crisis: “GREASY GRINDS,” “COEDS,” AND THE LIMITS OF DIVERSITY
    (pp. 12-41)

    In the summer of 1940, shortly before she started her freshman year at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, Helene Harmon, a seventeen-year-old, white, middle-class Catholic turned to her diary to ponder her future. From the time she was a child, Helene reflected, she had imagined herself with a “house, . . . garden, [and] children.” A husband, she mused, would be a necessary and desirable part of this picture, and she certainly expected to fall in love one day. Yet these conventional dreams aside, Helene’s diary also reflects her avid interest in nondomestic pursuits. She wrote in her...

    (pp. 42-75)

    In 1946 sixteen-year-old Janet Brown from the Hudson River Valley small town of Newburgh entered the private, residential, all-women’s Mount Holyoke College in rural Massachusetts with the help of a scholarship. Janet was the first in her extended family to have the opportunity to get a formal degree. Her father was a sales manager for DuPont and her mother had been trained as a classical pianist. Both, however, came from an impoverished background. In addition, the Depression had hurt the Browns, and they were still struggling financially when their only child left for college. Like many students away from home...

    (pp. 76-104)

    In the fall of 1956, Susan Sperry Borman, a first-year Stanford University student, was working on an assignment for her English class. As a guiding question, she had jotted down, “how do I assert my individuality,” and in her response she listed a series of traits as evidence that she was indeed a very individualistic person. Her choice of clothes, of interests, of actions, she wrote, were all motivated by genuineness, not by fashion or peer pressure:

    I do things because I want to do them, not because other people do them and they’re the things to do. I wear...

  8. 4 Individualism and Sexuality: WHY NOT TO CONFORM
    (pp. 105-140)

    In the early 1950s Philip, the son of a Harvard-educated lawyer from Charlotte, North Carolina, left the United States for a year of study abroad in Paris. Philip, who was twenty-two years of age by then, was an introverted, intense, and studious young man, and from the diary he kept, the reader soon learns that he felt ill at ease around other college men who found his love for literature; his interest in psychology, history, and anthropology; and his habit of journaling odd. Philip himself opined that his academic interests had long been simply “a great part of the life...

  9. 5 College Women and the Clash of Mystiques
    (pp. 141-179)

    For Margaret Kennedy, the year 1949 marked not only the start of her studies at Duke University but also separation from her boyfriend Ken. By virtue of her background, Margaret had all the trappings of the model coed. She clearly came from money. Her father, Harvard graduate Frank Hunter Kennedy, was partner in a law firm in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her brother, Philip, was about to embark on the exciting, albeit costly, adventure of a study-abroad year in France. Margaret’s social coming-out was featured in one ofLife Magazine’s special debutante editions. Despite the facts that she bore all the...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 180-182)

    Student diaries and letters reflect the difficulties of college women with professional aspirations to develop a positive self-image. Undeniably, they acquired critical thinking skills, but in the late 1940s and 1950s, even single-sex colleges with a long history of encouraging achievement failed to meet the needs of many of their female charges. Although there certainly remained educators who supported talented female undergraduates’ ambitions, the academic setting reproduced the notion that professional success was available only for particularly driven and exceptional women. These expectations of super-performance were realistic considering the extent to which sexism limited professional and academic opportunities. Yet in...

  11. Student Diaries and Letters Consulted
    (pp. 183-184)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-214)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 215-224)
  14. Index
    (pp. 225-236)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-238)