Not June Cleaver

Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960

Edited by Joanne Meyerowitz
Book Cover

PB: $36.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-171-9
Publication: May 94

HC: $69.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-170-2
Publication: May 94

424 pages
6 x 9
4 tables, 12 halftones

A denouncement of the housewife stereotype imposed on post-World War II women


In the popular stereotype of post-World War II America, women abandoned their wartime jobs and contentedly retreated to the home. These mythical women were like the 1950s TV character June Cleaver, white, middle-class, suburban housewives. Not June Cleaver unveils the diversity of postwar women, showing how far women departed form this one-dimensional image.

This collection of fifteen revisionist essays charts new directions in American women's history and provides connections to scholarship that, until recently, has focused primarily on the years before 1945 and after 1960. The contributors explore the work and activism of postwar American women and also point to the contradictions and ambiguities in postwar concepts of gender.

Including examinations of such aspects of postwar women's history as the arrival of Chinese women immigrants in New York City; women's changing presence in the labor force and in union organization; and the precarious lives of women abortionists, lesbians, and single mothers, the authors effectively demonstrate how postwar women's identities were not only an expression of their gender but also of their class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, occupation, and politics.


"Not June Cleaver reconsiders the roles of women as mothers, workers, activists, unionists and pacifists and read together these fine essays signify a systematic devaluation of women that eventually manifested itself in the coming of age of the women's movement."
Publishers Weekly

"An astonishingly successful effort to rewrite the history of American women in the postwar era... (that) challenges well-established interpretations of postwar gender ideology, shows how gender politics were integral to Cold War politics, and complicates and deepens our understanding of postwar women...—working and middle-class, Chicana, white, black, and Asian...and essential text for historians of the Cold War and postwar gender politics"
George Chauncey, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Women and Gender in the Postwar United States – Joanne Meyerowitz

Part I: Women and Wage Labor
2. When Women Arrived: The Transformation of New York's Chinatown – Xiaolan Bao
3. An "Obligation to Participate": Married Nurses' Labor Force Participation in the 1950s – Susan Rimby Leighow
4. Recapturing Working-Class Feminism: Union Women in the Postwar Era – Dorothy Sue Cobble
5. Women's Employment and the Domestic Ideal in the Early Cold War Years – Susan M. Hartmann

Part II: Activist Women and Their Organizations
6. Gender and Post-World War II Progressive Politics: A Bridge to Social Activism of the 1960s – Susan Lynn
7. Mayhem and Moderation: Women Peace Activists During the McCarthy Era, 1945-1955 – Harriet Hyman Alonso
8. "Is Family Devotion Now Subversive?": Familialism Against McCarthyism – Deborah A. Gerson
9. Gender and Civic Activism in Mexican American Barrios in California: The Community Service Organization, 1947-1962 – Margaret Rose
10. "Our Skirts Gave Them Courage!": The Civil Defense Protest Movement in New York City, 1955-1961 – Dee Garrison

Part III: Constructions of Womanhood
11. Beyond the Feminine Mystique: A Reassessment of Postwar Mass Culture, 1946-1958 – Joanne Meyerowitz
12. "I Wanted the Whole World to See": Race, Gender, and Constructions of Motherhood in the Death of Emmett Till – Ruth Feldstein
13. White Neurosis, Black Pathology: Constructing Out-of-Wedlock Pregnancy in the Wartime and Postwar United States – Regina G. Kunzel

Part IV: Sexual Outlaws and Cultural Rebels
14. Extreme Danger: Women Abortionists and Their Clients Before Roe v. Wade – Rickie Solinger
15. The Sexualized Woman: The Lesbian, the Prostitute, and the Containment of Female Sexuality in Postwar America – Donna Penn
16. The "Other" Fifties: Beats and Bad Girls – Wini Breines
About the Contributors

About the Author(s)

Joanne Meyerowitz is Associate Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati and author of Women Adrift: Independent Wage Earners in Chicago, 1880-1930.


In the Series

  • Critical Perspectives on the Past edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig

    Critical Perspectives on the Past, edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, is concerned with the traditional and nontraditional ways in which historical ideas are formed. In its attentiveness to issues of race, class, and gender and to the role of human agency in shaping events, the series is as critical of traditional historical method as content. Emphasizing that history is itself an interpretation of material events, the series demonstrates that the historian's choices of subject, narrative technique, and documentation are politically as well as intellectually constructed.