As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University”s Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.
History 111 – Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer The Cold War and the Domestic Arena
Discussion Goals To understand the origins of second American Red Scare and the federal government”s role in enforcing it. To learn about the role of American corporations and the American public in fostering an anti-communist, fearful environment. To examine the history of the American family from colonial times to the Cold War – a history that culminates in the creation of the ideal American family on television.
Goal #1: To understand the origins of Second American Red Scare and the federal government”s role in enforcing it
Review of 1st Red Scare: Who was scared of whom and why?
Origins of the Second Red Scare: As WWII came to a close and the Great Depression was over, Congressional conservatives began to look for a way to discredit FDR’s New Deal policies – policies they believed to be too liberal and out of character with traditional American goals.
Liberal – Derived from Middle English term liberalis, meaning befitting free men. Also the Latin term liber meaning freedom Adjective = broad-minded, favorable to progress or reform. Noun = a person with broad-minded, progressive views who is open to change, especially in politics or religion. In the 1950s, the liberal mind set generally defined freedom as having individual rights that the government was expected to protect and preserve. Conservative – Derived from Middle English term conserven, meaning to save, guard, preserve. Adjective = marked by moderation or caution. Noun = a person with moderate or cautious views who is resistent to change, especially in politics or religion. In the 1950s, the conservative mind set generally defined freedom as individual autonomy that opposed a strong national government and instead supported limited government and unregulated capitalism. Increasingly throughout the decade, “new” conservatives believed that independent men and women should and could lead virtuous lives if the government stayed out their economic lives, but at the same time, supported governmental action forcing Americans to live a virtuous life as they defined it.
During the late 1940s, some conservatives began to spread the belief that the New Deal had been influenced by communism and communists. Further, some conservatives claimed that Truman was soft toward communism and ignorant of its real threat to America.Such conservative thought dramatically influenced the 1946 congressional elections when, for the first time since the 1920s, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress. Within a few years, the Second Red Scare was in full force.
What was the Second Red Scare? It targeted so-called “un-Americanism” – those people who were not believed to be patriotic or 100% American.
The targets of the Second Red Scare were governmental officials, those who disapproved of governmental actions and actively sought change, and people in the movie industry – in other words, “liberals.” As the famous historian Henry Steel Commager wrote in 1947 about those who called for a “new loyalty” – “It is above all, conformity. It is the uncritical and unquestioning acceptance of America as it is – the political instituions, the social relationships, and the economic practices.” Those who began the Red Scare shared the widespread belief that dissent and change were subversive and that anyone who supported dissent or change was a communist. This meant containing the communist threat within the United States as well as outside its borders. As Foner tells us, “Containment – not only of communism but of unorthodox opinions of all kinds – took place at home as well as abroad.” The Second Red Scare – containing communism at home – was initially launched within federal governmental circles.
The federal government enforced the fear of communism and encouraged the growth of the second red scare through four distinct avenues: President Truman”s anti-communist beliefs and rhetoric; Congressionalanti-communist actions; Senator Joe McCarthy”s “Witch Hunt;” and J. Edgar Hoover”s determination to stamp out communistic influences within the U.S.
1. President Truman”s anti-communist beliefs and rhetoric. Although Truman was clearly a liberal follower of New Deal politics that committed the federal government to civil rights programs – ensuring equal access to jobs and education, outlawing lynching and poll taxes, and desegregating the armed forces – he was no liberal when it came to communism.Remember, that while FDR had not liked the fact that the Soviets wanted to create an Eastern European buffer zone of communist states, he could understand and accept it as a legitimate security objective – much like U.S. intervention in Latin America. But President Truman”s view differed markedly from FDR”s. Since Truman”s long-term goal was freedom and democracy for Eastern Europe,the Soviet Union, China, and the undeveloped world, the U.S. was obligedto confront any disagreement aggressively – not with negotiation, but withmilitary might.Thus, Truman and his administration were directly responsible for changingnational opinion – for transforming the Soviets from a great power thathad goals that sometimes conflicted with the U.S. but were resolvable throughnegotiation and international diplomacy – into the “Soviet Anti-Christ”that threatened national security.Truman”s rhetoric helped to create a distinctly conservative mood- a mood that eventually required absolute security and adherence to thestatus quo.To put some bite into his rhetoric, Truman then set out to prove to theAmerican public that he was not, in fact, soft on Communism by creatingthe Federal Employee Loyalty Program. This was the first general loyalty program in the U.S. and it was designed to root out communist influence within the federal government. After a hearing, any federal employee could be fired if “reasonable grounds” existed for believing he or she was disloyal in belief or in actions. Civil servants suspected of disloyalty were not allowed to face their accusers nor were their investigators required to reveal their sources. Between 1947-51, loyalty boards forced almost 3,000 government employees to resign and 300 were fired for charges of disloyalty. This program, however, failed to uncover any evidence of subversion, espionage, or any threat to American security. With this program, Truman aimed to rally public opinion behind his Cold War policies. He also hoped to quiet right-wing critics who accused Democrats of being soft on communism. In the meantime, conservatives continued to criticize Truman – claiming that he had not gone far enough in his effort to “root the Communists out of the government.” Thus, Congress launched its own endeavor to get to the heart of the disloyalty problem. 2. Congressional anti-communist actions. During WWII, the Communist Party claimed 80,000 members in the US. Some – but only a very few – certainly occupied sensitive government positions. The American public, and some members of Congress, believed all of these Americans posed a huge threat to the security of the U.S. Thus, between 1947 and1952, Congress took two steps that bolstered the nation”s anti-communistsentiments.Passed the Alien Registration Act of 1940 making it illegal for anyone in the US to advocate overthrowing the government. It required all alien residents in the US over the age of 14 to file a statement of their personal and occupational status, as well as their political beliefs.
By 1950, only 30,000 Americans were still registered members of the Party. While the vast majority of the rank-and-file communists were not involved in any type of espionage or disloyalty, we now know that the Soviets did support the American Communist Party during this period and that some of its most prominent leaders passed on American secrets to the Soviets. J. Edgar Hoover activated national fear by announcing that there was one American Communist for every 1,814 loyal citizens. Empowered the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 to work with the FBI to root out communism in the government and within society as a whole. HUAC”s first official target was the entertainment industry. HUAC sought to remove those films with liberal, leftist viewpoints from the entertainment industry and thus ensure that the mass media promoted American capitalism, traditional American values, and the “right images.” In 1947, HUAC began to call influential Hollywood film directors and screenwriters to testify about Communist influence in the industry. A few, like the president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan, denounced Communist methods that “sucked” people into carrying out “red policy without knowing what they are doing” and testfied that the Conference of Studio Unions was full of Reds. HUAC”s next target were spies that worked in the American government. HUAC”s first sensational case was one of the editors of Time magazine, an ex-communist named Whittaker Chambers who accused one-time State Department official and New Deal liberal Algier Hiss of being a communist. At first Hiss denied knowing Chambers, but under questioning from Richard M. Nixon, prominent HUAC member, Hiss admitted being acquainted with Chambers in the 1930s but denied he was or ever had been a communist. Hiss sued for libel, Chambers then stated that Hiss had passed State Department secrets to him in the 1930s. In a controversial and sensationalized trial, Hiss was found guilty of perjury (statute of limitations on espionage had expired) and sentenced to five years in prison. Then, in early 1950, the British arrested Klaus Fuchs, a German-born scientist who was involved in the Manhattan project. Fuchs named an American accomplice who in turn named an army sergeant named David Greenglass who then claimed that his sister Ethel and her husband Julius Rosenberg were part of the Soviet atomic spy ring. The Rosenbergs, members of the Communist party, were arrested. At their trial, the prosecution alleged that the information passed on by the Rosenbergs was largely responsible for the success of the Russian atom bomb. The Rosenbergs contended they were being tried because they were Jewish and Communists. They steadfastly maintained their innocence. In March 1951, they were found guilty of conspiring to commit espionage and two years later they were executed. In April 1995, historians who reviewed Soviet archives of this period could find absolutely no reference to the Rosenbergs, although they found numerous references to other prominent American Communists involved in espionage and passing atomic secrets. New evidence arose a few years later indicating that the Rosenberg”s probably were involved in some type of espionage. Into this mess stepped Senator Joseph McCarthy.
3. Senator Joseph McCarthy“s “Witch Hunt” – McCarthyism. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin won a Senate seat in 1946 after inventing a glorious war record for himself that included the nickname “Tail-gunner Joe” and several wounds – he even walked with a fake limp during the election.
As a Senator, he was regarded as among the worse – available to lobbyists, without principles, and absent from the floor most of the time. In February 1950 he was searching for a re-election issue and settled on the internal threat of Communism as an issue “with sex appeal.” While on the campaign trail, he announced in Wheeling, West Virgina that the U.S. was losing the Cold War because of traitors in the government. He then claimed to know of 205 communists working within the State Department. In Denver, on route to his next speech, he told reporters he had a list of “207 bad risks” but it was in his baggage on the plane. In Salt Lake CIty, the number was reduced to “57 card-carrying members of the Communist party” who actually made State Department policy. He never produced a list or names. Thus began a chain of accusations that led to the period now known as McCarthyism.
During his first few years in the Senate, McCarthy tested the anti-communist waters with accusations. After the 1952 election, McCarthy became chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and began a rampage through the nation”s foreign affairs agencies by accusing communists of being everywhere in America
He began by attacking Democrats employed by Voice of America and the US Information Agency (USIA). USIA discharged government workers thought to be security risks, pressured others to resign, and was directed to purge certain books and works of art of “any Communists, fellow travelers, etc.” from U.S. information centers abroad – including Mark Twain. Some books were even burned. His accusations were examined by a Senate committee and shown to be at best inaccurate. But when the chair of the committee, Democrat Millary Tydings, pronounced McCarthy a hoax and fraud, McCarthy countered by accusing Tydings of questionable loyalty. McCarthy then helped to defeat Tydings in his 1950 re-election campaign – using a phony photograph showing him conversing with the head of the American Communist Party (see below). His stature and threat thereafter swelled – Republicans and conservative Democrats rarely opposed him out of fear that they would become his next target. On December 2, 1954, after the Democratic victory had deprived him of his chairmanship, the Senate voted 67 to 22 (no negative Democrat votes and Republicans evenly divided) to “condemn” McCarthy. And what made McCarthy so popular? First and foremost, McCarthy reflected the distinctly conservative and suspicious mood that had been fostered by Truman and Congress from 1945-52. McCarthy and his conservative colleagues were able to “explain” to Americans that the real Soviet threat to the national security was internal subversion – a problem that Truman and other liberals were not willing to tackle seriously. McCarthy flouted convention by aggressive attacks on the government and encouraged the media to take pictures of him disheveled and looking like the common man who was “not afraid to get tough” McCarthy had a gift for creating a government villain – the well-educated, cultural elite, a snob who, McCarthy sometimes suggested, might also be a homosexual. This appealed to a diverse following: less educated, manual workers, lower socioeconomic groups, and Catholics who identified with his Irish background supported him. But so did some eastern seaboard patricians who lived his tirades against “striped-pants diplomats” and State Department “perverts” who had been “selling the Nation out.
4. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI”s influence during the Red Scare. Hoover was one of the most powerful men in America and he was paranoid about Communism and its dangers to American democracy. How was he able to maintain his power for almost 50 years?
He had the ear of President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, and both of their staffs.These policy makers allowed, and even encouraged him, to help shape policy, particularly in matters of law enforcement, internal security, and civil rights. He was able to convince the Justice Department to give him free rein. If the President and Attorney General differed in opinion about Hoover’s powers, President Eisenhower always sided with Hoover. He had control over important members of Congress.
Many members were southern, conservative, and racist, as was Hoover. He exerted control over all three congressional committees that were investigating communists. In addition to HUAC, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee. He exerted control over a number of state investigating committees that were looking for Communist subversion. New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco all had police “Red Squads.” In universities across the nation, campus police were former FBI agents who were trained to monitor student and faculty organizations and to conduct loyalty-oath investigations at the request of Hoover.
The FBI cleared all U.S. Supreme Court nominees.During the Eisenhower years, the president filled four vacancies on the Court. Hoover approved all four and actually selected one of them. Hoover presided over a “mail cover” program consisting of 8 separate programs that lasted over 26 years. Hoove”rs agents opened millions of pieces of mail of ordinary citizens whom they felt were a threat to the U.S. Hoover began COINTELPRO in the 1950s. It began by investigating the tax returns of FBI suspects and continued by investigating personal information of over a half million Americans and more than 10,000 American organizations. Hoover had a great deal of influence with several important American organizations: the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Catholic War Veterans. These organizations pledged to help Hoover’s fight against communism and attacked Americans who criticized the FBI or Hoover. Hoover had great control over local law enforcement, especially through his creation of the FBI Academy. The best and the brightest of local law enforcers were slected to attend the prestigious 12-training course. In return, when they went back to their local agencies, they were made “to feel part of a very select fraternity” of men who were expected to help the FBI in the field.
In short, Hoover was “a despot who ruled his fiefdom with complete autonomy.” (J. Edgar Hoover: the Man and his Secrets. Curt Gentry, p. 407-414 )But the anti-communist hysteria was also promoted by corporate America and within the American public at large
Goal #2: To learn about the role of American corporations and the American public in fostering an anti-communist, fearfulenvironment.
Hysteria in corporate America.
Hysteria in the American public.
Many universities, schools, city, and state governments required all employees to sign loyalty oaths or lose their jobs. 39 states created loyalty programs. Neighborhoods and communities organized watch groups to protect themselves from the subversion of communists. They groups screened books, movies, and public speakers, and questioned teachers and public officials – recommending banning or dismissing those who they considered suspect. A library in Indiana removed Robin Hood from its shelves because it glorified robbing the rich and giving to the poor; community members attacked over 100 people who came to Peekskill,NY to hear singer, actor and political activist Paul Robeson. The myth of the American Family arose in order to encourage traditional beliefs, traditional families, and traditional role models.
Goal #3: To examine the history of the American family from colonial times to the Cold War – a history that culminates in the creation of the ideal American family on television
Note – The following is summarized and adapted from Dr. Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were.
In colonial America, several types of families coexisted: Native American families – marriage involved the creation of a large network of alliances and kin obligations that guaranteed that no single family was forced to go it alone.
Step-families – a majority of colonial families spent some time in a step-family with step mothers, fathers, and siblings. Wealthy settler families – formed extended family households that depended on the labor of indentured servants, slaves, and poor laborers. African American families – with no legal protection for marriage and parenthood, slaves built extensive kinship ties, ritual co-parenting, and naming patterns designed to preserve family links across time and space. Not one of these families mirror our “traditional American family” model = the nuclear family consisting of the male breadwinner, with the female homemaker and several childrren. All families depended in some way or another on the community in which they lived in for survival. Family life and childhood was also very different in colonial America. Children were considered adults sometime after the age of 7, depending on the colony. There was no concept of the “teenager” or “adolescent” until the early 20th Century. Many children did not live with their families after the ages of 7 or 8 and were instead apprenticed out to other families. Colonial mothers spent very little time caring for their children. If they were poor or self-sufficient families, they were too busy trying to make ends meet. If they were servants, they spent most of their time caring for other people’s children. If they were wealthy, child rearing tasks were generally delegated to servants. Families were governed by a strict patriarchy. Disobedience by a wife or child was often seen as a small form of treason. Family relations were largely based on power and economic needs, not love.
Nineteenth Century Families
The introduction of the wage labor system brings changes to the American family: For the white middle and upper classes, the ideal of the male breadwinner and nurturing mother first appeared. This ideal of separate spheres for such families was only possible for the minority of Americans – those upper and upper middle class families. The vast majority of Americans – slaves, laborers, immigrants, servants – were lower middle class and the poor and as such, both husband and wife and often their children worked six days a week in the work force. The creation of the separate spheres within the middle and upper class insured that male-female relations were usually quite stilted. Women turned to other women, not their husbands, for intimate relations, and men often turned to women other than their wives for sexual satisfaction. Most families still experienced a great deal of disruption – war, disease, economic downturns, westward migration and resettlement. Slaves, servants, laborers could not have a solid family life because of their work demands.
Early 20th Century Families
Early 20th Century families were based on new ideas within the white middle and lower middle classes – that family life was private and should not be touched by outside intervention, was not connected to the community, and that the family had a large role in fostering the individual fulfillment of its members The creation of the period that came to be known as adolescence gave youth a longer period of childhood A new belief arose that marriage should be the center of one’s emotional fulfillment – women did not need other women, and men did not need to turn to other women.
1950s Cold War Families
For white America, the ideal families were shaped by the familiar television shows: Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver.
television families, we see the qualities that today are often thought to be those of the “traditional family.” Stephanie Coontz, however, explains that far from being the traditional family as seen in history, the introduction of television families as the ideal American family produced “a qualitatively new phenomenon.”This family was nuclear and separate from society and extended family networks and was based upon the idea that the nuclear family fulfilled virtually all its members” personal needs. Thus: Women began to do all the housework, to spend more time raising their children, to express their femininity – especially in terms of their appearance, and to greet their husbands at the door after a hard day of work with a martini in hand. In essence, women began submerging their individuality by accepting their wifely and parenting roles. This mother, this family, became the centerpiece for the 1950s television family. Several historians have argued that this perception of women and this 1950s family was a product of Cold War anxieties. Thus, a “normal family” and vigilant mother became the “front line” of defense against treason and communism. (Coontz, p. 33; Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light, 1983.) This was a created family – a pretend family dreamed up by Hollywood that buried the actual complexity and history of the American family. It suggests that the traditional family has always looked like Leave it to Beaver. The reality is that the 1950s family is more of a historical fluke – what Stephanie Coontz calls a “unique and temporary conjuncture of economic, social, and political factors.” This created television family suggests that families who do not fit the 1950s sit-com stereotype have “problems” that do not plague white, middle class families – and that these families are somehow responsible for such problems. How? It suggests that there are no major drug and alcohol consumption problems in these ideal families and that such problems are confined to poor and ethnic families. In reality, alcohol and drug use and abuse were widespread well before the modern family configuration. When the Puritan settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony dropped anchor in 1630, 12 gallons of distilled spirits, 10,000 gallons of beer, and 120 hogsheads of brewing malt arrived with them. (Thomas E. Pegram, Battling Demon Rum, pp 6-8) Americans between 1800 and 1830 drank more alcohol, on an individual basis, than at any other time in the history of the nation. During that span Americans above the age of 14 on average consumed each year between 6.6 and 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol. The current American consumption is about 2.8 gallons annually. Pegram,pp 6-8) So many injured soldiers who survived the Civil War became addicted to morphine that morphine addiction was most commonly called “the soldier”s disease.” More people were addicted to drugs in 1900 than in any other time in our nation”s history. Somewhere between 2-5% of the entire adult population was addicted to drugs in 1900. (Charles Whitebread, “The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States.” www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm) Why? Patent medicines – like cough medicine and other health elixers that could be bought in a general store – were often 50% morphine. Precisely because patients did feel better when taking these medicines, they easily became addicted. Most people who were addicted were middle-aged white women who lived in rural America – addicted to patent medicines or medicines received after surgical procedures. Most addiction was accidental – that is, people did not know what drug they were taking, nor did they understand its addictive nature. It suggests that the ideal American family had no economic problems. In reality, poverty has been a constant in American family life. In the 1950s, 25% of Americans were poor and 1/3 of all American children lived in poverty. In 2006, 36.5 million people (approx 1 in 8 Americans) were below the official poverty thresholds, compared to 31.1 million in 2000. This television image perpetuates the myth that stable families consist of a motherwho stays at home, a working father, and two well-behaved children whoattend school. How? It suggests that in stable families, mothers do not work. In reality, poor and lower-middle class women have always worked. In colonial America, all but the very wealthy of women worked. In the earliest years, all women worked because they had to survive. In the 19th Century, most middle and upper class women did not work because they depended on the labor of lower class women to raise their children and do all the housework. During times of war, millions of women happily entered the work force. Many of them only grudgiingly returned to the home when the war was over. It suggests that in stable families, children behave and go to school – they do not work. In reality, urban and rural poor and lower-middle class children have always worked and urban areas have always experienced high rates of juvenile delinquency. It suggests that families have always consisted of a magic combination – a nuclear family of one mother, one father, 2 children. In reality, family configurations have always been diverse – single parents, combinations of stepfamilies, various adoptions and fostering, apprentices – and throughout much of American history, children often did not live with their parents. In colonial America, children were often sent to live with other family members, or more often, apprenticed out to neighbors to learn a service or how to prepare for being a wife. In the 18th and 19th centuries, poor children were routinely taken from their families and placed in orphanages or “better” homes. As late as 1940, 10% of American children did not live with either of their parents; comparable 1990 statistics found that 4% of American children no longer lived with at least one parent. This image projects marital bliss. How? It suggests that marriages were happy and worked best when the mom stayed home, the father made and controlled the money and was responsible for the behavior of his family, and when there was no disagreement about this arrangement.
In reality, many marriages were happy and miserable – and everything in between – survived or failed based upon a wide range of realities. While marriage satisfaction prior to the mid-20th Century is hard to gauge, we do know that by 1889, the US had the highest divorce rate in the world and the highest number of people remaining single – usually by choice. Polls conducted in the 1950s showed 20% of those who remained in their marriages described themselves as “unhappy,” and another 20% said they experienced “medium happiness.” Women were more unhappy than men. Many reported boredom, feeling trapped. In 1958, tranquilizer consumption was 452,000 pounds; by 1959, it had increased to 1.15 million pounds. Sharp increases among women and men occurred in the 1950s. It suggests that divorce is unthinkable and that in good families, the husband and wife work out their problems. In reality, marriages have always ended in a wide variety of ways – divorce, death, abandonment. In colonial America, the high mortality rates found that the average length of marriage was 12 years. One-third of all children in the northern colonies lost a parent before turning 21; more than half of all children over 13 lost one parent in the southern colonies. Some sociologists have concluded that some marriages that would have ended in divorce, instead ended with the death of a spouse. Divorce figures are calculated on a 40-year period; yet, many marriages in the past were terminated by death before the 40-year period, leading to the conclusion that divorce today has “become a functional substitute for death.” By the late 19th century, US had highest divorce rate in the world. In the 1950s, between one-fourth and one-third of all marriages begun in the 1950s ended in divorce. Today, 50% of all marriages end in divorce – but fewer people remain single their entire lives than 100 years ago, and those that remain married describe themselves as happier in their relationships than have those in the past. This image projects a self-reliant family that depends on the father”sincome and does not need a “handout.” How?
It suggests that depending on sources outside the family for support is weak, wrong, and atypical. In reality, almost all families throughout history have depended on support outside the family structure or experienced unwanted external intrusion. When the colonists arrived, many had to depend upon the local Indians to learn how to survive in the wilderness, and to hunt and farm native foods. 17th and 18th century American families took care of each other”s children through apprenticeships; they pried into everybody”s business, and punished families who did not take appropriate care of their children. By the late 1700s, children of the poor were commonly removed from their homes and placed elsewhere – or put in orphan asylums or almshouses. Slave children were routinely sold and taken from their parents; Indian children were forcibly taken from their homes and taught the white man”s ways. From colonial times forward, Americans benefitted from assistance: most came through corporate assistance, an indentured contract, loans. In early America, middle and upper class families as well as corporations benefitted greatly from government subsidies. During the era of manifest destiny, pioneer families received free land grants, the government funded the railroad and communication industries, the government confiscated Indian land that was later given or sold to families and corporations. In the 20th century, the federal government subsidized the building of dams for irrigation and began to subsidize farmers. The 1950s was the most heavily subsidized period in American history. Middle class, suburban families became more dependent upon the government than at any other time in the 20th Century: Federal GI benefits were available to 40% of the male population between 20-24; National Defense Education Act subsidized American industry and educated individual scientists; the VA required a $1 down payment for houses; •government-funded research developed the technological basis for the postwar housing boom – prefabricated walls and ceilings, plywood panels, etc.; theInterstate Highway Act; Middle-class working men received workman”s compensation, disability, and Medicare. Most of these things benefitted the suburban, but not urban families – little was spent to improve urban America. So while the middle class received assistance, we never heard anyone say that receiving these benefits somehow decreased their work ethic and they looked for a government handout instead of working. II.Invention.
Bottom line: this information gives us some clarity about how the sit com family was invented, but do we know why it was invented and why we still cling to this myth? Recently, some historians and sociologists have supported Stephanie Coontz”s belief that these white, middle class, suburban families were invented to be capitalism”s “answer to the communist threat.” (p. 28) What better way to control information that to posit that the nuclear, not the extended family, was the one safe place for people to be – that is was to be controlled by the working father and that all other family ideas were to be subordinated to his beliefs Most people who study families believe that we continue to hold onto this idealized version of the American family for clear political reasons – there are some sectors in American society that believe societal values – especially those of the American family- have so declined that we are in danger of losing forever the so-called “traditional” family of the 1950s. Their reasoning continues that we must do everything we can to reproduce the era of prosperity and family stability in order to keep our economy, our families, and our children safe.
The origins of the second Red Scare involved the actions of President Truman and Congressional conservatives who wanted to discredit Roosevelt”s actions under the New Deal and to promote governmental actions designed to spread anti-communist beliefs. Communists were active in American politics before, during, and after World War II. Some clearly passed important information to the USSR. However, the vast majority of rank-and-file communists were not involved in any type of espionage or disloyalty. Remember, it was not – and still is not – against the law to be a “card-carrying member of the Communist Party.” Based upon limited knowledge and a great deal of supposition on the part of influential congressmen and President Truman, the nation was engulfed in an anticommunist hysteria that lasted throughout the 1950s and part of the 1960s. This hysteria infiltrated the federal government, corporate American, and the public at large. Such fear tactics were hardly revolutionary in American society. Since colonial times forward, Americans have vilified various “enemies” – people whom they perceived endangered the social, political, economic, and ideological status quo: witches, freed African Americans, Native Americans, anti-war activists, communists, terrorists. The 1950s television family was a new invention in American history – an invention created and maintained for political, social, and economic reasons. The image of the 1950s television family largely was created and has been supported by white, middle-class Americans. However, Family life and families have always been diverse; to portray them in terms of the 1950s television sit com encourages false beliefs about the past as well as unrealistic expectations for the present and future. There is no one family form that has ever protected Americans from poverty, social disruption, and dysfunction, and there currently is no single model for the best way to organize modern families. The only way we can really deal with the problems confronted by American families is to gain a realistic understanding of how families have and have not worked in the past and then make informed decisions about how to support today”s families and to improve their futures. Because a large percentage of American mothers have always worked and will continue to work, we must meet the challenge this poses for family life – especially by exploring ways that employers, schools, and the government can make it possible for women to successfully combine work and family life.
The Happy Family (story by Nicole, pictures by Corinne Malvern, Simon and Schuster 1955). Book contents quoted below come directly fromr http://www.collectiblechildrensbooks.com/2009_05_01_archive.html
Father and Mother live in a pretty little house with their little boy Tony and their little girl Peggy. They have a pussy cat called Kiki and a dog called Skipper. They are a very happy family. The happiest time of day is when Father comes home from work. Mother gives him a kiss. Tony and Peggy run and shout: “Daddy, Daddy! Hello, Daddy!”
Father hangs up his coat and goes to work in the garden. Tony helps with the lawn mower. Peggy picks radishes and cuts flowers for the table. They work hard and get very hungry. But soon Mother calls from the window: “Wash your hands, everybody! Dinner is ready!” What a nice dinner! There is roast beef with baked potatoes, a big dish of peas from the garden, and lettuce and tomato salad. Most wonderful of all, there is an apple pie cooling on the window sill.
Kiki likes the roast beef. She looks at it and says: “Meow! Meow! Please somebody, give me a taste of this roast beef.” Skipper too, looks at the roast beef with longing, and he lets out a big sigh. “I wish I had the bone, “he says. But Mother is smart and she knows just what Kiki and Skipper are thinking. “All right!” she says. “Come here, you two.” She gives Skipper a bone and sets out a dish of gravy for Kiki.
Right after dinner, Mother says: “Let”s do the dishes,” and everybody goes into the kitchen. It is lots of fun. First Mother fills the sink with hot water and soap powder. Then she rinses the glasses. They come out clean and sparkling. Father says: “Let”s help Mother. Tony and Peggy, will you please wipe the dishes? I will put them away.” In a few minutes, they have washed, rinsed, and wiped all the glases, the plates, the knives, the forks and spoons, and the pots and pans.
Then Mother takes off her apron and they all go into the living room. “Now Daddy, tell us some stories,” say Tony and Peggy. Father opens a book and reads them the story of The Three Bears and the story of Little Red Riding Hood and about Tom Thumb and the Little Gingerbread Boy and Hansel and Gretel. Suddenly Dad puts down the book and says “Eight o”clock!” Mother puts her knitting down and says to the children: “Time to go to bed.” Before going to bed, Tony and Peggy have one more thing to do. They go to the bathroom and brush their teeth. Then Mother tucks them in bed and gives each one a big kiss.
It is morning again and the milkman brings milk for the family. Clickety-click go the bottles in a wire basket. Skipper watches him but does not bark. He just wags his tail. The milkman is a friend of his and Skipper does not bark at his friends. After everyone has had breakfast, Father is ready to go to work. Today he is picked up by a neighbor and sits beside the driver. “Good-bye!” says Mother to both of them. “Don”t drive too fast, now!” Tony and Peggy take their lunch boxes and they go out to meet the school bus. All their little friends are at the corner, waiting for the bus too. They call out to Tony and Peggy: “Hurry! Hurry! The bus is almost here!”
Now Mother is all alone in the house. She is very busy because she likes to have everything clean and in order. She makes the beds and she cleans the rugs with the vacuum cleaner. Then she puts the soiled clothes in the washing machine. Swish, swish, go the clothes. Soon they are clean and hung on the line to dry. Later she irons a suit for Tony and a white dress for Peggy. When Tony and Peggy come home from school, they go with their mother to do the marketing. As they walk along, Mother thinks: “Now let”s see, what do I have to buy today?” Tony and Peggy follow her and carry the bags. They are careful not to drop anything in the street.
Today is a big day. It is Peggy”s birthday and Mother has baked a beautiful cake. She is very busy decorating the cake with candles and little flowers. Now with pink frosting she writes on the icing: PEGGY What a beautiful cake! How good it looks! When, oh when, is the party going to begin? At last the guests come and Peggy and Tony and all their friends sit around a table in the garden. Mother brings out the cake. All the candles are lighted and the children sing: “Happy Birthday, dear Peggy, Happy Birthday to you!” Just as the party is going to end, Father comes with two big boxes. One box is for Peggy and one is for Tony. “What is it? What is it?” they cry. They can hardly wait to open them. They hurry as fast as they can. Oh, what a wonderful surprise! Father has bought them two beautiful shiny bicycles.
The next day the whole family helps to pack a lunch. Then they jump on their bicycles and ride to the beach. Tony and Peggy have a lot of fun ringing the bells of their new bicycles: “Ding-a-ling. Watch out, everybody!” As soon as they arrive at the beach, Tony puts on his bathing suit and dives from the raft. “Come on in, Peggy! The water is fine!” While Tony and Peggy have their swim, Father and Mother unpack the lunch: hard-boiled eggs, all kinds of sandwiches, salad peaches, and ice-cream. A nice breeze is blowing from the sea and everyone has a big appetite.
It is late when they get back to their little house and everyone is tired. Soon, very soon, the whole family will be in bed and asleep. Good night.