Welcome to day 6 of the 2nd Annual Spanking A to Z blog challenge. Throughout June, spanking fiction authors will post a blog corresponding to a different letter of the alphabet, beginning with A and ending with Z. Many of the blogs, including mine, will focus on some aspect of spanking and/or the authors’ books, but you’ll also run across many random, but fun topics.
F is for Fifties, as in the 1950s
My husband I and watched a 1950s rock and roll music special on PBS recently. Perhaps because rock was “new” 60 years ago, but the music seemed wholesome, almost innocent. The male singers, who wore suits to perform, seemed like nerds, like 20-year-olds dressing up like 45-year-olds. The music lyrics were about young love, being a teenager, and wanting to have a good time in a wholesome way.
Until recently, what I knew of the decade came from TV shows like Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, and Leave It to Beaver, which I watched in syndication because I wasn’t alive when they first aired. I also remember some things my grandmother and mother told me. Like its music, the decade itself seems imbued with wholesomeness and innocence–when seen through the lens of nostalgia. When you take a serious look at the history of the period, as I’ve been doing lately, reality paints a different picture.
One thing that is often glossed over is the political and military tension between the US and the former Soviet Union. The Cold War raged during the 1950s, and Americans were freaked out by the perceived threat nuclear war and the spread of Communism. Witch hunts for suspected Communists swept across the US and many innocent people lost their jobs.
It was a time of isolationism. After the hard decades of the 1930s (The Great Depression) and the 1940s (WWII), the country and its people wanted to hole up at home. Americans were ready for more prosperous times–and many people got it. Employment, construction, and consumerism boomed. The “American Dream” of upward mobility and success could be attained—provided you were a white male. If you were African American, segregation relegated you to menial service jobs, inferior schools , seating at the back of the bus, and separate and in no-way-equal facilities of all kinds.
American culture of the time urged women to marry well, keep a nice home, and make their husbands and children happy. If they wanted that, well, that was “neato.” But women with other aspirations found options and opportunities limited. The stifling 1950s inspired feminist Betty Friedan to write her 1963 treatise The Feminine Mystique, about the secret unhappiness of wives.
Home, family, conformity, uniformity reigned as the values of the time.
This is the period when the “baby boomers” were born, and the country saw a huge upsurge in births. (Birth control pills were not approved by the FDA until 1960, but were not available to all married women in all states until 1965, and not available to all unmarried women in all states until 1972.)
Fewer women (by percentage) received college degrees in the 1950s than in the 1920s. In the 1920s, 35% of bachelor degrees were awarded to women; in the 1950s, it was 24%.
Many of the Ivy League colleges were still closed to women. Dartmouth didn’t admit women until 1972, Columbia, 1983, Princeton and Yale 1969.
But jobs (for white men anyway) were plentiful, housing tracts sprang up to accommodate returning WWII GIs, and consumerism cranked up to full-swing. Many new labor-saving electrical household appliances were introduced and became the norm.
Some more trivia (unless otherwise specified, the data refers to 1955):
- Minimum wage rose from 75 cents per hour to $1
- The average annual wage was $3,851
- The average rent was $87 per month
- 56.9 % of men and 28.4% of women smoked. In 2010, that figure was 21.5% and 17.3%, respectively.
- In 1954, The Tobacco Industry Research Committee reported there was “no proof…that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer.”
- The first color TV sets (RCA) were sold in 1954 for $1000.
- In 1954, 78% of Americans polled said it was important to report to the FBI relatives or friends suspected as being Communists.
- In 1951, the median age of a first marriage for a man was 22.9 and for women, 20.4.
- In 1950, the median price of a single family home was $10,050 (at 4% interest)
- In the 1950s the top five baby names were: (girls) Mary, Linda, Patricia, Susan, Deborah; and (boys) James, Michael, Robert, John, David. In 2014, the top five names were: (girls) Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Isabella, Ava; and (boys) Noah, Liam, Mason, Jacob, William.
To see the 1950s in pictures, check out my 1950s Pinterest board.
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