Americans living in the mid 20th century saw momentous change. A decade of severe economic depression in the 1930s was followed by the largest scale war the world had ever seen. In Pushing the Limits, Elaine Tyler May shows how women's lives in the United States reflected and helped to shape these world changes. During the war, women joined the military effort through the WACS (Women's Army Corps) and the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services). Production demands drew women into manufacturing jobs and broadcast the famous image of Rosie the Riveter. After the war, women were encouraged to give up their jobs to the returning veterans and resume their tasks as wives and mothers.
We discover that women of all backgrounds pushed the limits of their circumstances, whether they were college educated homemakers working to elevate the job of housewife to a respected career, working class women struggling to preserve the gains of wartime, or African American women leading the struggle for civil rights. Popular culture of the 1950s--TV shows such as "Ozzie and Harriet," "Leave It To Beaver," and "Father Knows Best"--promoted the subservient wife in a traditional nuclear family and kept women as homemakers. At the same time, however, women such as Rosa Parks became household names as they challenged racial and gender discrimination. These women, May reveals, paved the way for the political, sexual, and social movements of the 1960s and the feminist gains that would follow.
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From Kirkus Reviews:
Elaine Tyler May is professor of American studies and history at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, Great Expectations: Marriage and Divorce in Post Victorian America, and Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness.
First to appear of a projected ten volumes in The Young Oxford History of Women in the United States, covering ``the public and private lives of...women over the past four centuries.'' May, University of Minnesota professor and specialist in women's issues, traces women's status from the Depression, when many women began to share wage-earning responsibilities, through their success in tradition-shattering jobs during WW II and into the postwar reaction, when one-income families were idealized as the reward of hard-earned peace and prosperity. Contrasting women's and men's roles, May deals with education, employment, sexuality, child-rearing, domesticity, and political action as they evolved in these critical years, laying firm ground for the more turbulent changes of the 60's. Backing generalizations with ample statistics and telling incidents, she's especially careful to differentiate between white middle class and minority experiences--for example, African-Americans were more likely to complete college: in an era when white women believed that earning an ``M.R.S.'' was the path to security and fulfillment, blacks saw education as a way out of poverty. The author concludes with individuals and groups who went ``Against the Grain'' in the 40's and 50's--black civil rights activists, Women Strike for Peace members who successfully confronted the House Un-American Activities Committee, giants like Eleanor Roosevelt and Rachel Carson. Lively, fascinating, lucid, accessible, balanced--a fine resource that belongs in every library. B&w photos; chronology; lengthy bibliography; index. (Nonfiction. 12+) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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