Resource

Housing Disparities

A set of photographs comparing suburban and urban housing in the St. Louis area.

Home in the Glasgow Village Subdivision decorated for Christmas

Home in the Glasgow Village Subdivision decorated for Christmas, 1956. Photographs depicting Glasgow Village. Henry T. Mizuki / Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

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Pruitt-Igoe Apartment Buildings

Pruitt-Igoe Apartment Buildings, 1965 [Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project]. Henry T. Mizuki / Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

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Children at a Playground in Glasgow Village Subdivision

Children at a Playground in Glasgow Village Subdivision, 1956. Photographs depicting Glasgow Village. Henry T. Mizuki / Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

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Pruitt-Igoe Apartment Buildings

Pruitt-Igoe Apartment Buildings, 1956 [Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project]. Henry T. Mizuki / Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

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Builder’s Display home in the Glasgow Village Subdivision, North St. Louis County

Builder’s Display home in the Glasgow Village Subdivision, North St. Louis County, 1956. Photographs depicting Glasgow Village. Henry T. Mizuki / Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

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Mrs. Mattie Mason in her apartment in the Pruitt-Igoe public Housing Project at 2229 O’Fallon Street

Mrs. Mattie Mason in her apartment in the Pruitt-Igoe public Housing Project at 2229 O’Fallon Street, 1955-1976. Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

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Women’s Bowling Team from the Glasgow Village Subdivision

Women’s Bowling Team from the Glasgow Village Subdivision, 1956. Photographs Glasgow Village. Henry T. Mizuki / Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

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Two women in the division of welfare office across from the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Project

Two women in the division of welfare office across from the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Project, 1955-1976. Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

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Background

Popular culture and the federal government celebrated the suburbs as the post-war American ideal. But this ideal was not intended or attainable for everyone. Housing in the United States was deeply segregated even before the rise of the suburbs. Federal and state policies denied Blacks and other marginalized groups access to fair housing for decades.

Nearly 7 million white Americans left cities between 1950 and 1970. Suburban developers seeking business catered to the newcomers. The developers promoted communities where like-minded neighbors could build an American dream together. Many suburban developers included clauses in real estate contracts guaranteeing white residents that Black families would be kept out of the neighborhood. The founder of the famous Levittown in Long Island, New York, argued that such policies were necessary to attract residents.

In the same two decades, nearly 3 million Black Americans left the rural south for the urban North, continuing the Great Migration. They were not welcomed in most suburbs. Because they lacked options, many Black families moved into new government-sponsored public housing. Public housing was designed to provide low-income families with a home. The large apartment buildings packed many people into a small amount of space without any amenities.

The domestic reality for white and Black women was very different. White women were more likely to stay home full time to care for their families. Most married white women who worked earned a modest income, which added to the family’s spending money. They had access to better-quality homes filled with time-saving appliances. They also had the support of and participated in volunteer organizations that benefited their schools and communities. Black women rarely had the option to care for their families at home full time. Economic inequalities and employment discrimination based on race meant that most Black families needed two incomes to survive. As working mothers, Black women had less support and time to invest in their homes, children, and other needs. And no amount of hard work would earn them access to the suburbs.

About the Image

This is a set of eight photographs comparing two housing developments in the St. Louis area. Glasgow Village was a suburban development built in the mid-1950s. The Pruitt-Igoe public housing project was completed in 1956.

The population shifts in St. Louis mimic those of other major cities across the United States in this era. White families fled the city, while Black families migrated to the city.

Glasgow Village was one of many new suburban developments built in the mid-1950s. It offered multi-bedroom, air-conditioned houses for growing middle-class families. Promotional images showed easy access to local schools, churches, and a shopping center.

The Pruitt-Igoe public housing project was celebrated by the city as a marvel of modern architecture. But the reality was grim. Outdoor spaces offered no trees or shade. Each of the building’s elevators stopped on only the 4th, 7th, and 10th floors. As a result, residents had to use dark stairwells to access the floors in between. The buildings’ walls were made of cold cinderblocks. Many apartments with multiple bedrooms had only one bathroom. In addition, the kitchens and living rooms were the same size in all apartments, regardless of the number of bedrooms. This meant a family of ten would have the same size kitchen as a family of two. A welfare office across the street provided easy access to families seeking benefits. But it also served as a public reminder of the economic status of the families living at Pruitt-Igoe.

Vocabulary

  • amenities: A desirable feature of a building or place.
  • appliances: A piece of equipment that helps with tasks in the home.
  • cater: To serve or provide special support.
  • cinderblock: A large, inexpensive, and lightweight brick.
  • development: A residential area.
  • domestic: Relating to running a home.
  • housewife: A married woman whose primary responsibility is taking care of the home.
  • ideal: A level of perfection that is often unrealistic or unattainable.
  • post-war: Referring to the period after World War II.
  • public housing: Housing built for people with low incomes that is rented at a lower price through government support.
  • shopping center: An indoor or outdoor area with many stores that includes a parking lot for easy access.
  • welfare: Government-provided financial support given to people in need.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you notice as you compare these images? How did life in the suburbs differ from life in public housing?
  • All of these photographs were used as publicity images. Do you think the images are compelling?
  • Why do you think the developers of Glasgow Village wanted to highlight the local bowling alley and local playgrounds? What does this tell you about life in the suburbs, particularly for women?
  • How did racially segregated housing shape women’s lives?
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Suggested Activities

  • Assign students to do a deep dive into one pair of images from this set. The images can be divided into four pairs: exterior of housing, living rooms, playgrounds, and nearby “amenities.” Ask students to highlight similarities and differences and share what they have learned with other groups.
  • Explore the ideal and reality of post-war life in greater detail by combining this resource with the Kitchen Debates and the resources on consumerism.
  • Glasgow Village had its own dedicated shopping center. Watch the shopping center film in conjunction with looking at these photographs to develop a deeper understanding about the allure of suburban life.
  • Life in the suburbs was often presented as an ideal, but was it? Combine the photographs of Glasgow Village and the post-war consumerism resources with the life story of Betty Friedan to explore this question.
  • School and housing integration were closely linked, as location often informed a student’s school zone. Pair this resource with the document about the Little Rock Nine to explore the inequities Black women and their children faced in this era.
  • Explore housing segregation in the 20th century in greater detail by pairing this resource with the data available on Mapping Inequality, a website that studies the impact of redlining and other Depression-era policies in detail.
  • Many of the Pruitt-Igoe residents were part of the migration of Black Americans from the rural South to the urban North. Connect this resource to the larger narrative of women and the Great Migration by exploring these additional resources.
  • Housing was only one part of racial segregation in post-war America. Combine this resource with the document on the Little Rock Nine, the life stories of Mamie Till-Mobley and Katherine Johnson, and the Barbie and Christie dolls to study the Black experience in the 1950s.

Themes

IMMIGRATION, MIGRATION, AND SETTLEMENT; AMERICAN CULTURE; DOMESTICITY AND FAMILY

Source Notes
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