Cold War Kids
Politics and Childhood in Postwar America, 1945-1960
Marilyn Irvin Holt
Today we take it for granted that political leaders and presidential administrations will address issues related to children and teenagers. But in the not-so-distant past, politicians had little to say, and federal programs less to do with children—except those of very specific populations. This book shows how the Cold War changed all that. Against the backdrop of the postwar baby boom, and the rise of a distinct teen culture, Cold War Kids unfolds the little-known story of how politics and federal policy expanded their influence in shaping childrens lives and experiences—making way for the youth-attuned political culture that weve come to expect.
In the first part of the twentieth century, narrow and incremental policies focused on children were the norm. And then, in the postwar years, monumental events such as the introduction of the Salk vaccine or the Soviet launch of Sputnik delivered jolts to the body politic, producing a federal response that included all children. Cold War Kids charts the changes that followed, making the mid-twentieth century a turning point in federal action directly affecting children and teenagers. With the 1950 and 1960 White House Conferences on Children and Youth as a framework, Marilyn Irvin Holt examines childhood policy and childrens experience in relation to population shifts, suburbia, divorce and family stability, working mothers, and the influence of television. Here we see how the government, driven by a Cold War mentality, was becoming ever more involved in aspects of health, education, and welfare even as the baby boom shaped American thought, promoting societal acceptance of the argument that all children, not just the poorest and neediest, merited their governments attention. This period, largely viewed as a time of stagnation in studies of children and childhood after World War II, emerges in Holts cogent account as a distinct period in the history of children in America.
“Marilyn Holt skillfully shows that the Cold War competition among the super powers further enhanced public policy trends in the United States with roots in the New Deal and the Second World War.”
—Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth
“Comprehensive and cogent.”
—American StudiesSee all reviews...
“Holt’s book undoubtedly fills an important gap in the literature. Other authors have discussed postwar childhood, but no other author has investigated so thoroughly the numerous ways in which the federal government began to assume responsibility for children’s lives in the postwar period. Holt’s book also examines childhood populations that have gone largely unexamined by scholars writing about any period in American history. Among the children discussed are Native American children, war refugees, children of migrant laborers and disabled children.”
—Reviews in American History
“In sum, Cold War Kids is a well-researched and nicely argued book that improves our understanding of Cold War political culture.”
—American Historical Review
“The book is at its best when Holt situates the work of various federal bureaus, committees, and departments within the larger cultural context.”
—Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“Throughout the book, Holt successfully highlights the things that Americans said they wanted for their children—health, education, and hope in a world of insecurities—while specifying how Cold War tensions influenced government programs in form and function. Hold convincingly argues that childhood ‘achieved a new importance both culturally and politically’ on the frontline of democracy in postwar America.”
—The Annals of Iowa
“During the immediate post-World War II years, a national preoccupation with children and youth heralded notable shifts in American housing, education, child-welfare policies, and health care. In Cold War Kids, historian Marilyn Holt offers a broad lens for surveying this changing landscape, focusing on how the federal government enlarged its activities on behalf of children's welfare, sometimes in tension with state and local governments, but more often as a welcome resource. By focusing on national policies positing that all children have rights, Holt offers a convincing argument that many Americans, by the the 1950s, had come to embrace child-centered notions of family and cultural life that would continue through the second half of the twentieth century.”
“Marilyn Irvin Holt’s Cold War Kids is a brisk and nuanced exploration of the unexplored decade-and-a-half before the troubled and dramatic 1960s. From health to entertainment, from education to housing, and from crime to welfare—with insights into the effects of race, class, and gender sprinkled throughout—Holt covers all of the pertinent issues tentatively addressed by post-war politicians and policy-makers as they took the first steps toward re-imagining the governments role in the lives of American families and children.”
—James Marten, President of the Society for the History of Children and YouthSee fewer reviews...