Lesson Plan: The Concept of Family in the 1950s

Prosperity and Insecurity

University of Oklahoma professor Jennifer Holland discussed the characteristics of American society in the post-World War II period. Holland is an assistant professor of history at University of Oklahoma and the author of "Tiny You: A Western History of the Anti-Abortion Movement."

Description

This lesson plan opens with two reflective question that ask students to reflect on the concept of family. Students then watch, analyze, and respond to two introductory video clips that present an overview of the characteristics of American society in the post-World War II period and the argument of University of Oklahoma professor Jennifer Holland that the "nuclear family" became central to national identity. Next, students engage in an engagement activity, where they view three video clips that detail comprehensive aspects of the 1950s, including demographic changes, a new "modern way" of life, and elements of civic duty and American superiority. Students then engage in a choice application activity where they study two of five key tensions that emerged during the era, including those of sexuality, education, and work, and that affected groups such as LGBTQ+ and unwed mothers. After viewing the video clips for their selected topics, students then conduct additional research and prepare a presentation to share with the class. The lesson concludes with a summative writing prompt.

Procedures

  • SET UP

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handout and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google resource for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Graphic Organizer (Google Doc).

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.

  • WARM UP

    Pose the following brainstorming questions to your students, directing them to record their responses in their graphic organizer, share with a partner, and then with the class if they choose.

    • Describe your family.
    • How does your family compare to your friends’ families?
  • INTRODUCTION

    Play the two following introductory video clips for your students. Direct your students to answer the following questions on their graphic organizer. Note: all clips in this feature Jennifer Holland, assistant professor of history at University of Oklahoma and the author of "Tiny You: A Western History of the Anti-Abortion Movement."

  • Clip #1: Prosperity and Insecurity (1:40).

    • According to Jennifer Holland, how did the United States compare to other countries at the end of World War II?
    • Based on the clip, what “unified” Americans?
    • What “insecurity” existed in the post-war era?
  • Clip #2: A Honeymoon Story and an Argument (2:35).

    • Describe what you see in the images displayed at the opening of the clip.
    • What does the quote “fallout can be fun” mean?
    • According to Jennifer Holland, how was this considered an “ideal nuclear family?”
    • Summarize Holland’s argument.
  • VOCABULARY

    Direct your students to their graphic organizers to view and define the vocabulary terms that will appear in the lesson in the chart in their graphic organizer handout. The vocabulary words are also listed to the right on this webpage. We recommend having your students define and present the terms in a jigsaw activity to save time.

    Depending on time and resources, you may consider having your students define and present the terms in a Frayer's Model activity, where each student takes one or two items. Students can then post their models around the room for reference throughout the lesson. Note: This is not an all-encompassing list of terms included in each video. We recommend you previewing the video clips to determine any necessary additions/subtractions to this list for your specific students.

  • ENGAGEMENT

    Direct students to the engagement section of their graphic organizers. Instruct your students to view the three video clips, take notes, and answer the related questions in their graphic organizers. Direct your students to share their findings with a partner, small group, or the class when finished.

  • Clip #3: Demographic Changes in the 1950s (5:14).

    • Based on the clip, describe changes to the concept of marriage in the 1950s.
    • According to Jennifer Holland, what was the ideal family size in the 1950s?
    • Compare the “distinct” roles of breadwinners and homemakers. How was this encouraged and made possible?
    • In what ways were the 1950s “unusual,” according to Holland?
  • Clip #4: The Modern Way (3:30).

    • How did Americans describe “this particular type of family?”
    • According to Jennifer Holland, how was the “labor of mothering” in the 1950s different from the past?
    • Based on the clip, what technological changes occurred in the 1950s? Why did housework and child care time still increase, though?
    • How were men impacted during this time, according to Holland?
  • Clip #5: Civic Duty and Superiority (4:06).

    • To what was the 1950s nuclear family “essential?” Why?
    • What were the “Kitchen Debates?” What was discussed?
    • Based on the clip, compare the views of Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev.
  • APPLICATION

    Direct students to the application section of their graphic organizers. Have students choose (or you can assign) two of the five listed topics that detail some of the tensions that emerged in the 1950s with regard to the concept of family. Instruct your students to view the video clips, take notes, and answer the related questions in their graphic organizers. Direct your students to conduct additional self-guided research into their topics and prepare a presentation to share their findings with the class when finished.

  • Clip #6: Sexuality (4:49).

    • Based on the clip, what “new emphasis” about sexuality occurred during the Cold War? What evidence is provided?
    • According to Jennifer Holland, what was the “logic of the time?” What was the “ideal?”
    • What signs of sexuality were present in the 1950s? How was it “contained?”
    • What were two consequences of “boundaries” being crossed?
  • Clip #7: Education and Work (5:07).

    • Why were men and women “encouraged” to seek educational opportunities during the 1950s? Summarize the legislation that Jennifer Holland discusses.
    • Based on the clip, what “tension” did women experience upon arriving at college and after graduation?
    • How did wage labor for women change in the 1950s? Why?
    • According to Holland, what discrimination did women experience in the workplace?
  • Clip #8: LGBTQ+ People and the Lavender Scare (6:27).

    • How does “awareness” of gay people change after World War II?
    • What “paranoia” did Senator Joseph McCarthy act upon during the Red Scare?
    • According to Jennifer Holland, what other “security risks” were removed from government positions? Why?
    • What were the two categories used to “ferret out” certain employees, and which applied to LGBTQ+ people? Why?
    • Based on the clip, what action did President Dwight D. Eisenhower take, and what impact did this action have?
  • Clip #9: Unwed White Mothers (5:14).

    • Aside from homosexuality, what was the “most profound violation?”
    • What was “utilized” for white unwed mothers, and what was the goal of these responses?
    • How were these women “rehabilitated and redeemed?”
    • According to Jennifer Holland, why were the women forced to give up their children for adoption?
  • Clip #10: Unwed Mothers of Color (5:39).

    • What were unwed mothers of color “excluded” from?
    • Based on the clip, what was seen to have “produced” the pregnancies among women of color?
    • According to Jennifer Holland, what were these women prevented from doing? What “pathways for redemption” existed?
    • Describe the “forced sterilization” process of unwed women of color in the post-World War II era and its impact.
  • CLOSURE

    After your students are finished with the reflective clips, direct them to complete the final culminating writing prompt in their graphic organizers, and have students share their responses, comparing their perspectives with their classmates' perspectives: Having now learned about “the modern way” of family in the 1950s, describe its ongoing impact on the concept of family today. Be sure to include evidence from the video clips in the lesson to support your argument.

Additional Resources

Vocabulary

  • Atomic Bomb
  • Baby Boom
  • Capitalist
  • Cold War
  • Communist
  • Demographic
  • Eugenics
  • Facism
  • Flapper
  • National Defense Education Act (1958)
  • Nuclear Family
  • Red Scare
  • Soviet Union
  • Suburb Union
  • World War Two

Topics

U.S. History

Grades

High SchoolUniversity