The Fifties: A Women’s Oral History

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Author: Brett Harvey

My Rating: 5/5

This is an incredible collection of unique stories told by different American women who all were coming-of-age in the 50’s. I knew very little about the 50’s before I read this book. I had a naive assumption that the fifties was the “golden age” of families. I guess thinking Leave it To Beaver was the average 50’s family was a stupid assumption to have, on my part.

In reality, behind the awesome cars and colourful clothing, the 50’s was an incredibly difficult time for women. Each woman interviewed in this book talks about the societal and peer pressures they felt as they were figuring out what the wanted their lives to be. (Aka: If you’re a women, you go to college, get married and then settle down and have kids.) While this book does feature women who tried to go against the flow, such as attending graduate school, each run into the same sexist, financial and/or racist struggles. With the already obvious financial issues and peer pressure, most admitted to falling back on the traditional marriage and family route. I was quite saddened by this, as many of these women were incredibly gifted and intelligent. I’m not saying they were “less” by becoming wives and mothers, but it is sad that they couldn’t reach their full potential in those areas, whether it was academics or their preforming arts dreams.

There was so much more pressure back then for women to be the same when it came to their futures. Each women discussed pregnancy (or their incredibly fear of it,) abortion and general reproductive rights. Each rather had nearly no knowledge or went through very sketchy and painful procedures.

What I especially loved about this book was that black and lesbian women were featured, not just straight white women.

Brett Harvey really covered every area of being an American coming-of-age woman in the fifties.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in Women’s Studies and/or 19 century history.

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