The baby boom and the suburban boom went hand in hand. Almost as soon as World War II ended, developers such as William Levitt (whose “Levittowns” in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania would become the most famous symbols of suburban life in the 1950s) began to buy land on the outskirts of cities and use mass production techniques to build modest, inexpensive tract houses there. The G.I. Bill subsidized low-cost mortgages for returning soldiers, which meant that it was often cheaper to buy one of these suburban houses than it was to rent an apartment in the city.
These houses were perfect for young families–they had informal “family rooms,” open floor plans and backyards–and so suburban developments earned nicknames like “Fertility Valley” and “The Rabbit Hutch.” However, they were often not so perfect for the women who lived in them. In fact, the booms of the 1950s had a particularly confining effect on many American women. Advice books and magazine articles (“Don’t Be Afraid to Marry Young,” “Cooking To Me Is Poetry,” “Femininity Begins At Home”) urged women to leave the workforce and embrace their roles as wives and mothers. The idea that a woman’s most important job was to bear and rear children was hardly a new one, but it began to generate a great deal of dissatisfaction among women who yearned for a more fulfilling life. (In her 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique,” women’s rights advocate Betty Friedan argued that the suburbs were “burying women alive.”) This dissatisfaction, in turn, contributed to the rebirth of the feminist movement in the 1960s.
Add this episode to your queue to receive more information about
Moving to the Suburbs and we will let you know when it becomes available.