Childhood in Postwar America

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"Children Watching Television," 1951. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library via California Digital Library.


In the economic boom of the post World War II-era, housing was in high demand. Through a provision of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, a mortgage program provided for returning soldiers in 1944. People were eager to buy homes and settle down, away from crowded cities that afforded little space for their children to play. Enterprising developers went to work building spaces that could specifically accommodate families.

Dr. Spock’s bestselling book on parenting, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, implored parents towards a more empathetic style of parenting, through which children’s needs were listened to and understood. Rigid schedules and firm rules for children were slowly discarded, and children occupied a more empowered position in postwar families. The suburban homes that many families lived in reflected this, with designated playrooms and spacious yards.

However, the safe parks and new schools that so attracted families were not enjoyed by all in the postwar period. Facilities were racially segregated throughout the South, and African American children might be educated in dilapidated army barracks, while their white peers learned in a new and spacious school building.