Doug White (photographer), The Most Popular New Appliance in the Postwar Era was the Television, 1956. Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives, 05-54286, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
By 1948, after years of economic depression and a world war, Americans were ready to enter a new era. The social and economic trends that began post war continued into the 1950s and early 1960s. Marriage and birth rates grew exponentially. The economy expanded due in large part to growing consumerism. Fear of atomic power and spreading communism informed immigration restrictions, public policies, and informal definitions of what it meant to be American.
In reality, most Americans did not have access to the white, middle-class suburban lifestyle. Black Americans, other people of color, and immigrants also wanted access to post-war comforts and freedoms. African Americans still lived under threat of lynching, violence, and daily discrimination. The landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education promised an end to school segregation but achieving integration was incredibly difficult. As more attention was given to tensions between white and Black Americans, other groups, including immigrants and LGBTQ citizens, questioned where they fit into the conversation about equal rights.
Even among those women who initially embraced suburban life, many began to feel their lives were far from ideal. The backlash to new advances in birth control and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique reminded them that women held little power in post-war America.
Public policy overlooked America’s increasing diversity, racial divides and tensions were at a boiling point, and women of all backgrounds were actively pushed out of decision-making positions—at home, at work, and in government. By the early 1960s, many Americans were questioning the so-called triumph of post-war democracy and stability.