How Did Suburban Development and Domesticity Shape
Women's Activism in Queens, New York, 1945-1968?

Abstract

      The experience of the immediate postwar generation of suburban, middle-class women has long been characterized as monotonous, meaningless, and essentially private and apolitical. The period was profoundly shaped by the resurgence of a family-centered ideology, the migration of large number of young families to newly-developed suburbs, and the traumatic international and national events related to the Cold War and to McCarthyist repression at home. But while the anxieties generated by these events should not be minimized, the peacefulness and quietude of the domestic environment can and have been overstated. Drawing from a variety of sources--including Betty Friedan's unpublished essays written in her early days as a free-lance magazine writer and Queens resident, correspondence between Queens community activists and New York policy makers, and daily and weekly newspaper accounts of local political battles--this project explores the rich and complex experience of public and political involvement of a group of housewives in a set of semi-suburban neighborhoods in Queens, New York City. Women were active at the local level and took key leadership roles in community organizations. Their activism was mostly (although not exclusively) related to issues close to home, such as children's and neighborhoods' needs. But although battles to obtain sufficient school seats and appropriate traffic regulation were central to the political lives of suburbanites--and for good reason, since the neighborhoods in which a large number of families with young children lived had been recently developed--issues of national and international importance also mobilized local activists. With the children and neighborhood needs as an excuse, to paraphrase Friedan, women of the 1950s generation shaped an important episode in the history of women's activism.

   
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