Harry S. Truman: The Man from Independence

By William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview
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every philosophy. This strategy, however, resulted in only a very small, albeit highly-publicized, number of women in policy-making positions. The period of postwar turbulence proved inhospitable to a restructuring of sex roles endorsement of the ERA would have implied. In fact, the social disorganization of the war era inspired not a wish to institutionalize the changes which had occurred during the conflict but to eradicate them. The nation had a clear agenda with respect to the role of women. It wanted it restored to the status quo antebellum. A commission to evaluate female roles was therefore superfluous. Even enactment of equal pay legislation would have been misguided if the government wanted women to leave the workforce to raise families. Moreover, such a law would encourage the attachment of marginal workers to the labor force before the economic outcome of the return to peacetime production was known, a hazardous political policy for the government to pursue.

Women leaders, riven by conflicts over fundamental ideas of women's nature and of the best political strategies, could not present a united front to counter such forces and to take advantage of the small amount of favorable sentiment toward women that emerged in the postwar period. Without a consensus of views on which programs to implement, politicians preferred to do nothing. The disagreement continued to divide women activists throughout the 1950s. Neither group won enough public support to persuade policy-makers to follow its lead, nor succeeded in achieving exclusive access to a power center within the government that could implement a program of its choosing outside the normal legislative channels.

The stalemate persisted until the early 1960s. By then, a decade of relative peace and prosperity enabled leaders to offer proposals for change and growth, rather than stabilization. Large numbers of women had become permanently integrated into the labor force, and a concern for underutilization of talent to meet international challenges replaced worries over sufficient numbers of jobs to employ male breadwinners. Civil rights activism raised insistent questions about equal opportunity and provided models for federal action which women leaders could point to and emulate. The status of women became a focus of federal action in 1961 and some of the proposals, like that for a commission on women and equal pay legislation, inaugurated in the postwar period, bore fruit. It took another decade still and the emergence of a popular wave of feminism to forge a coherent philosophy of women's nature and status and to generate a successful legislative program on behalf of women.

For a fuller discussion of the events on the federal level during this period, see Cynthia Ellen Harrison, "Prelude to Feminism: Women's Organizations, the Federal Government and the Rise of the Women's Movement, 1942 to 1968" Ph.D. diss. ( Columbia University, 1982), chapters 1-4.
It is worth noting that the federal funding for child care was grossly inadequate and


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Harry S. Truman: The Man from Independence
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