In the popular imagination, American women during the time between the end of World War II and the 1960s—the era of the so-called “feminine mystique”—were ultraconservative and passive. College Women in the Nuclear Age takes a fresh look at these women, showing them actively searching for their place in the world while engaging with the larger intellectual and political movements of the times.
Drawing from the letters and diaries of young women in the Cold War era, Babette Faehmel seeks to restore their unique voices and to chronicle their collective ambitions. She also explores the shifting roles that higher education played in establishing these hopes and dreams, making the case that the GI Bill served to diminish the ambitions of many American women even as it opened opportunities for many American men. A treasure-trove of original research, the book should stimulate scholarly discussion and captivate any reader interested in the thoughts and lives of American women.
BABETTE FAEHMEL is an assistant professor in the Liberal Arts Division at Schenectady County Community College, where she teaches U.S. and women’s history.
“An insightful exploration of how college women in the 1940s and 1950s struggled to reconcile their intellectual and sexual drives with the gender constraints of that era. Beautifully researched.”
— Stephanie Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique
“This original and fascinating study provides an intimate glimpse into the minds, emotions, hopes, and decisions of 1940s and 1950s college women. Faehmel skillfully shows how young women adhered to and challenged dominant gender norms . . . a lively read!”
— Susan Hartman, author of The Other Feminists: Activists in the Liberal Establishment
"Faehmel challenges Betty Friedan's famous description of young women from liberal arts colleges as dupable consumers who made little use of their education. Faehmel's prose is lively, and her summation of an era that is often ignored in accounts of women's history makes this into a useful book for college classrooms. Undergraduates are particularly likely to connect with the diarists as they ruminate about identity, sexuality, and the life ahead of them. Recommended."
"An important contribution to the literature on the history of women's higher education."