American Women Through Time
1950s
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Go to: II. RESEARCH SOURCES (Historical Overviews, Primary Sources, and Secondary Sources)

I. TIMELINE

1950 The Korean War begins.
Search the Veterans History Project database for digitized collections of oral history interviews and related sources. One can limit a search by conflict, gender, and to digitized collections.

Coffee, Doughnuts and a Witty Line of Chatter: The Photos and Letters of Helen Stevenson Meyner in Japan and Korea, 1950-1952 [ Lafayette College Special Collections and College Archives]
Includes over twenty photographs and short excerpts from Meyner's letters to her family.

1950 Senator Margaret Chase Smith denounces the tactics used by Joseph McCarthy in her Declaration of Conscience speech [Margaret Chase Smith Library].

1951 Barbara Johns and other high school students organize a strike in Prince Edward County, Virginia. This strike will lead to Dorothy Davis v. Prince Edward County School Board, one of the cases decided in the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.
Television News in the Civil Rights Era includes oral history interviews with Edwilda Allen Isaac, one of the student leaders in the strike, and her mother.

1951 Barbara McClintock discovers mobile genetic elements in plants.
The Barbara McClintock Papers [Profiles in Science, National Library of Medicine] includes correspondence, lecture notes, and numerous photographs.

1951 Brownie Wise is appointed general sales manager of Tupperware Home Parties.
See American Experience: Tupperware [PBS] a profile of Wise, primary sources (e.g., "Brownie and Earl's Aphorisms"), a program transcript, a timeline, and more.

1951 I Love Lucy premiers on CBS.
American Masters: Lucille Ball [PBS] includes a brief essay, career timeline, video clips not found in the documentary, and an interview with the filmmaker.
The online Encyclopedia of Television provides a good biographical profile of Lucille Ball.

1952 Virginia Apgar develops and introduces the Apgar Score, a system for rating a newborn's pulse, respiration, muscle tone, color and reflexes.
The Virginia Apgar Papers [Profiles in Science, National Library of Medicine] offers an overview of Apgar's career and a wide range of online primary sources (articles, correspondence, photographs, speeches).
Dr. Virginia Apgar, part of Changing the Face of Medicine from the National Library of Medicine, includes a biographical profile and a small collection of photographs.
Virginia Apgar - Newborn Baby Evaluation [They Made America - PBS]

1953 Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Female is published.
Google Book Search offers a limited preview of the 1998 edition.

1953 The American Association of University Women (AAUW) issues "The Communist Threat to Freedom and Democracy." This document, available online from the AAUW's Online Musuem, argues that "the attempt to fight communism by using totalitarian techniques is not only ineffectual but actually aids the communist enemies of democracy by undermining our free institutions."

1953 Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are executed for treason.
Government Views of the Rosenberg Spy Case (Grace-Ellen McCrann, Cohen Library, City College of New York)
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Dwight D. Eisenhower Library)
Listen to 50th Anniversary of the Rosenberg Executions (Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio, 18 June 2003).

1954 Anne Braden and her husband Carl purchase a home in a white Louisville suburb and sell to the Wades, an African American family.
Braden recalls this decision and its aftermath in an oral history interview, part of the Kentucky Historical Society's Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project. Access note: conduct a "Quick Search" for Braden or browse the Open Housing interviews.
Catherine Fosl places this and other events in Braden's life in historical context in Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

1954 Brown v. Board of Education
Building a Bridge: The AFT and Brown v. Board of Education [Reuther Library, Wayne State University] explores The American Federation of Teachers' support for for Brown, as well as the AFT's efforts to integrate its own locals.
Also see the Library of Congress online exhibit "With an Even Hand": Brown v. Brown at Fifty.

1954 Journalist Ethel Payne asks President Eisenhower, "When can we expect that you will issue an executive order ending segregation in interstate travel?"
Payne recalls this question and Eisenhower's reaction in a Women in Journalism oral history interview. See page 46 of Session 2.
Askia Muhammad Commentary: Ethel Payne Stamp includes a portion of a 1980 interview with Payne in which she mentions Eisenhower and the significance of her advocacy style of reporting.

1955 Emmet Till is brutally murdered in Mississippi.
Listen to the Studs Terkel interview with Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmet Till's mother.
See the brief story (3 min., 43 sec.) about Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmet Till, appears on WGBH's 10 O'Clock News site.

1955 Maria Goeppert Mayer and Hans D. Jensen publish Elementary Theory of Nuclear Shell Structure. In 1963, Mayer and Jensen will share the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work.
Nobelprize.org includes a biographical profile, Mayer's Nobel lecture in text format, and links to other resources.

1955 Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest sparks a 381-day boycott of the city's bus system.
See Teaching With Documents: The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks [National Archives].
Watch an interview with Rosa Parks [Teachers' Domain]; Parks recalls her role in Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Access note: although access is free, registration is required.
They Changed the World: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott [Montgomery Advertiser] documents the roles of Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, and others in boycott. The site includes brief video clips of interviews, newspaper articles, biographical profiles, and a timeline.

1955 WHER: The First All-Girl Radio Station in The World.
Listen to WHER 1000 Beautiful Watts: Part I and Part II, part of National Public Radio's Lost and Found Sound series.

1956 Autherine Lucy enrolls at the University of Alabama after more than three years of court action.
Segment 3: "From the Archives: Autherine Lucy and Thurgood Marshall Press Conference, January 1956." [Talking History, 13 January 2005]

See also: Autherine Lucy and the University of Alabama [Library of Congress].

1956 Chien-Shiung Wu's experiments prove that parity is not conserved in nuclear beta decay.
Although Chien-Shiung Wu did not win the Nobel Prize, she is featured in Sharon Bertsch McGrayne's Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries (1993).
Columbia University features Chien-Shiung Wu on its Columbians Ahead of Their Time site.

1957 Althea Gibson wins the women's singles title at Wimbledon.
Remembering Tennis Great Althea Gibson [Tavis Smiley Show; audio; 10 min.] includes interviews with David Dinkins and tennis star Zina Garrison.

1957 Billie Holiday performs "Fine and Mellow" on the CBS live broadcast of The Sound of Jazz.
"Fine and Mellow" is part of The NPR 100, National Public Radio's selection of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century. The audio clip includes Holiday's performance, as well as Village Voice writer Nat Hentoff's thoughts on this groundbreaking concert.

1957 Dorothy Height becomes president of the National Council of Negro Women.
Height discusses her memoir with National Public Radio's Juan Williams in Open Wide the Freedom Gates: Dorothy Height Relates Her Struggle for Civil Rights [Time: 7:21].

1957 The first African American students were to be admitted to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Watch the interview with Melba Pattillo Beals [Teachers' Domain]; Beals recalls her experience as one of the "Little Rock Nine."
Arkansas History Commission Photographs includes photographs of Elizabeth Eckford and other key figures (e.g., Daisy Bates). Search for Central High School.
Read A Letter from Daisy Bates to Roy Wilkins, part of the Pages from Her Story [Library of Congress].

1958 Mahalia Jackson performs "His Eye is on the Sparrow" at the Newport Jazz Festival.
"His Eye is on the Sparrow" is part of The NPR 100, National Public Radio's selection of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century. The audio clip includes an appreciation by Deborah Williams, short clips from Studs Terkel's interview with Jackson, and clips from "His Eye is on the Sparrow."


II. Research Sources

Advice Literature

Peterson, Kelsy. The Glory of Woman: Prescriptive Literature in the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture [online]. Durham, NC: Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture, Duke University, 2003 [cited 21 November 2005]. Available from: http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/women/prescriptive-lit/.
Researchers can browse this extensive, annotated bibliography by date.


Clothing and Fashion

Digital Dress Costume Collections allows researchers to search four collections simultaneously. Enter 1950-1959 to search for items from the 1950s.

Wisconsin Historical Museum Children's Clothing Collection [online]. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, updated 26 June 2001 [cited 10 December 2001]. Available from: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum/collections/online/.
Tour the collection by decade (then by gender and type of clothing).


Historic Film / Television News

Alaska's Digital Archive includes short clips from films that depict Alaska Native culture (e.g., "Eskimo women and children weaving baskets at Unalakleet") during the 1950s. Search for women and moving images.

Television News of the Civil Rights Era, 1950-1970 [online]. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia, Virginia Center for Digital History, 2005- .


Historical Statistics

Historical Census Browser
Researchers can examine state and county topics for individual census years and over time, as well as generate maps of selected data.

Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1975.
Also available online in two parts: Part 1 and Part II.

Statistical Abstract of the United States [online]. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1879- .
A valuable online tool for locating historical statistics for a given year.


Oral History

The sites listed below are just a few of the many oral history collections that cover the 1950s. Use In the First Person to locate additional oral history collections.

Norfolk Women's History [online]. Norfolk, Va.: Old Dominion University Library, 2000- . Available from: http://www.lib.odu.edu/special/oralhistory/womenhistory/. Interviews focus on such topics as "Women Physicians in Tidewater, 1945-1960," the Girl Scout Movement, religion, and politics.

In a Southern Oral History Program interview, Norma Scott Baynes recalls life as an African American student during the final years of legal segregation.

Video Reflection Project: Expectations includes interviews with Mount Holyoke College students from the class of 1955.


Public Opinion

See the Public Opinion section for citations to print and electronic sources.


Women's Periodicals

Walker, Nancy A. Women's Magazines, 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, c1998.


Explore Further

America: History & Life [online]. Santa Barbara, CA : ABC-Clio, Inc., 1998- .
This database offers a simple option for limiting a search for articles and other sources to a specific time period.



American Women Through Time

Ken Middleton
kmiddlet@mtsu.edu
Middle Tennessee State Univ. Library
Murfreesboro, TN 37132