America following the Second World War can best be characterized as a content society, primarily concerned with consumer goods and conformity.  

Using the documents and your knowledge of the period 1945-1961, assess the validity of this statement.




It is my tentative conclusion that the feeling of helplessness of modern man results from both the vastly enhanced power of the social group and the incorporation of its authority into his very character.  And the point at issue is not that the other-directed character is more opportunistic than the inner-directed--if anything, the contrary is true.  Rather, the point is that the individual is psychologically dependent on others for clues to the meaning of life.  He thus fails to resist authority or fears to exercise freedom of choice even where he might safely do so....

Source:  David Riesman, "The Saving Remnant:  A Study of Character," 1949.




Source:  Westinghouse television commercial montage, 1949.




Having taken the constitutional oath of office required by the State of California, I hereby formally acknowledge my acceptance of the position and salary named, and also state that I am not a member of the Communist Party or any other organization which advocates the overthrow of the Government by force or violence, and that I have no commitments in conflict with my responsibilities with respect to impartial scholarship and free pursuit of truth.  I understand that the foregoing statement is a condition of my employment and a consideration of payment of my salary.

Source:  Board of Regents, University of California, Berkeley, April 12, 1950.




The Howard Handlers have lived here only since September, but when Howard talks about his neighbors--you'd think he was talking about his closest kin....For newcomers it sometimes becomes overwhelming.  You come home from work to find your neighbor (whom you hadn't met yar) had put your milk in her refrigerator so the sun wouldn't spoil it.  If you don't have a car, neighbors with cars are always asking your wife, "I'm going shopping.  Do you want to come along?"....Before you can ask somebody for the neighbor's lawnmower, he usually volunteers it....When you talk to pediatricians (there are six here now, more due any minute), they tell you how much better physically children are here, compared to city kids.

Source:  Ralph G. Martin, "Life in the New Suburbia," New York Times Magazine, January 15, 1950.




Gross National Product, 
1946 - 1958
1946 $212 billion
1950 $288 billion
1954 $372 billion
1958 $457 billion

Source:  Economic Report of the President.




          "I don't know what's the matter with us," Betsy said one night.  "Your job is plenty good enough.  We've got three nice kids, and lots of people would be glad to have a house like this.  We shouldn't be so discontented all the time.

          "Of course we shouldn't!" Tom said....The next morning, Tom put on his best suit, a freshly cleaned and pressed gray flannel.  On his way to work he stopped in Grand Central Station to buy a clean white handkerchief and to have his shoes shined.  During his luncheon hour he set out to visit the United Broadcasting Corporation.  As he walked across Rockefeller Plaza, he thought wryly of the days when he and Betsy had assured each other that money didn't matter.  They had told each other that when they were married, before the war, and during the war they had repeated it in long letters.  "The important thing is to find a kind of work you really like, and something that is useful," Betsy had written him.  "The money doesn't matter."

          The hell with that, he thought.  The real trouble is that up to now we've been kidding ourselves.  We might as well admit that what we want is a big house and a new car and trips to Florida in the winter, and plenty of life insurance.  When you come right down to it, a man with three children has no damn right to say that money doesn't matter.

Source:  Sloan Wilson, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, 1955.




          Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down.  It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing.  This has to be stopped.  Negroes have rights, too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they would not operate.  Three-fourths of the riders are Negroes, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats.  If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue.  The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother.  This woman's case will come up on Monday.  We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial.  Don't ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday....

Source:  Leaflet from the Women's Political Council of Montgomery, Alabama, December 2, 1955.




The last years of an amazing decade is about to end [1947-1957].  These 10 years have been a time of change and accomplishment unmatched in the history of America, or of any other nation.

Look back 10 years,...people quickly accepted new products and new inventions.  TV sets, only a curiosity 10 years ago, were acquired by most American families during the decade.  High-fidelity phonographs were developed and sold in huge numbers.  So were filtered cigarettes of many kinds.  Housewives took to detergents.  FM radios caught on.  Lawn work was made easier with a wide variety of power mowers.  People began to buy tape recorders, boats of glass fiber, instant foods, long-playing records.

With the growth of suburban developments, many families found they needed two cars to transport all members of the family to schools, shopping centers and jobs.  Traffic increased enormously, with a net increase of 25 million new cars on the road.

Source:  "10 Amazing Years, 1947-1957:  A Decade of Miracles," U. S. News & World Report, 1957.




The family which takes its...air-conditioned, power-steered, and power-braked automobile out for a tour passes through cities that are badly paved, made hideous by litter, blighted buildings, billboards, and posts for wires that should long since have been put underground....They picnic on exquisitely packaged food from a portable icebox by a polluted stream and go on to spend the night at a park which is a menace to public health and morals.  Just before dozing off on an air mattress, beneath a nylon tent, amid the stench of decaying refuse, they may reflect vaguely on the curious unevenness of their blessings.  Is this, indeed, the American genius?

Source:  John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society, 1958.




Source:  Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, 1961.


DBQ Question created by:

Mr. Bob McHugh
Saucon Valley H. S.
Hellertown, PA
 April, 2001