The other 1950s single women sexuality unwed mothers
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The “Other” 1950s: Single Women, Sexuality, & Unwed Mothers. I. 1950s Marriage Mania. By 1951 = 69% of all US women are married 1 in 3 wed by 19 By 1957 = 14 million girls engaged by 17. Single Women in the 1950s. “Lone Female” studied by writers & psychiatrists

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The “Other” 1950s: Single Women, Sexuality, & Unwed Mothers

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The other 1950s single women sexuality unwed mothers

The “Other” 1950s: Single Women, Sexuality, & Unwed Mothers


I 1950s marriage mania

I. 1950s Marriage Mania

  • By 1951 = 69% of all US women are married

  • 1 in 3 wed by 19

  • By 1957 = 14 million girls engaged by 17


Single women in the 1950s

Single Women in the 1950s

  • “Lone Female” studied by writers & psychiatrists

  • Hostility & suspicion directed towards single women & working women

  • 1955 = Over 300 pro-marriage books published for women


Home economics textbook 1956

Home Economics Textbook, 1956

  • Have dinner ready: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal—on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home!

  • Minimize the noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Have them properly dressed to give their greetings.

  • Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow…speak in a low soothing and pleasant voice.


Beauty standards

Beauty Standards

  • Products marketed to “keep your husband”

  • 1956 = Average weight for women is 15 pounds lighter than 1926 average weight

  • 1956 = $1.3 billion spent on cosmetics, $660 million on beauty treatments, $400 million on soap and electric grooming, $65 million on “reducing”


Urban hotels for single women

Urban Hotels for Single Women

  • High rise, all-girl hotels & boarding houses

  • NYC’s Barbizon Hotel for Women used by movie stars Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, writers Gael Greene, Sylvia Plath

  • Gael Greene, New York Post, 1958, claimed hotels evoked fears of spinsterhood


Portrayals of single women in media

Portrayals of Single Women in Media

  • Portrayed as Unfulfilled background characters

  • Doris Day: Working Single Women in films emphasized double standards about dating & sex

  • Etiquette Books taught girls how to avoid sex


Ii single pregnancy abortion adoption race

II. Single Pregnancy: Abortion, Adoption, & Race

  • 1944 – 1955 = 80% increase in # of white babies up for adoption

  • All abortion illegal in 1950s: 800 – 1,000 women died each year

  • Hospital abortion committee required 2 letters diagnosing a woman as psychologically impaired

  • Options = Quick marriage, illegal/unsafe abortion, “Home for Wayward Girls” before adoption

  • Race determined options of a single mother


Iii sexuality in the 1950s

III. Sexuality in the 1950s

  • Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s Studies on Sex in Marriage, 1948 & 1953

  • Surveys uncovered pre-marital sex, masturbation, affairs, & homosexuality

  • Attitudes towards marital sex no longer about procreation

  • Promoted female sexuality as normal


Giving birth in the 1950s

Giving Birth in the 1950s

  • Ob/Gyn almost always male

  • No lamaze, few midwives

  • Women had little knowledge of anesthesia, c-sections, hysterectomies

  • Ob/Gyns hostile to breastfeeding; 25% breastfeed from 1940 - 1970


Unhappiness of 1950s housewives

Unhappiness of 1950s Housewives

  • 51 – 56 hours of weekly housekeeping (unpaid labor)

  • Alcoholism, domestic violence ignored by police

  • “Mother’s Little Helper” used for housework

  • 1/4 - 1/3 of couples married in 1950s would eventually divorce

  • Strict gender roles pressured women to stay out of the workforce


The feminine mystique betty friedan 1963

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, 1963

  • Exposed the plight of housewives, “The Problem With No Name”

  • Sold more than 1 million copies

  • Re-launched Feminist movement


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