Bad Girls: Young Women, Sex, and Rebellion before the Sixties

Bad Girls: Young Women, Sex, and Rebellion before the Sixties

Bad Girls: Young Women, Sex, and Rebellion before the Sixties

Bad Girls: Young Women, Sex, and Rebellion before the Sixties


In this innovative and revealing study of midcentury American sex and culture, Amanda Littauer traces the origins of the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s. She argues that sexual liberation was much more than a reaction to 1950s repression because it largely involved the mainstreaming of a counterculture already on the rise among girls and young women decades earlier. From World War II–era "victory girls" to teen lesbians in the 1940s and 1950s, these nonconforming women and girls navigated and resisted intense social and interpersonal pressures to fit existing mores, using the upheavals of the era to pursue new sexual freedoms.

Building on a new generation of research on postwar society, Littauer tells the history of diverse young women who stood at the center of major cultural change and helped transform a society bound by conservative sexual morality into one more open to individualism, plurality, and pleasure in modern sexual life.


In the year the United States finally declared war on Germany and Japan (1941), a seventeen-year-old girl named Annie told a Texas social worker why she had once again run away from her Ohio home. Having worked at taverns, hitchhiked with truck drivers, traveled with a carnival, acquired two soldier boyfriends, and enjoyed sexual relationships with other men, she told her interviewer that “she loves her mother and family, but she has had so much excitement that she is not contented to remain at home under her mother’s supervision.”

A young woman named “Theresa” became sexually involved with a married man while her own husband was serving overseas, according to a work of pulp nonfiction. At the urging of the man’s wife, police charged Theresa with parental neglect. When she was convicted, Theresa reportedly “contended that her life was hers to do with as she pleased” and “demanded to know by what right the state attempted to regulate the private life of its citizens.”

Having made the transition from war time to postwar San Francisco, a drink solicitor named Maria used sexual promises to encourage a male companion to keep the liquor flowing. Witnesses testified to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control that Maria took her patron to a back booth in the bar, where she showed him her breasts and assured him, “if you think this looks good, the rest looks better.” Then she signaled the bartender for another round.

One year after the publication of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, a teen girl identified as “Betty” asked a poignant question in a popular magazine. Referring to Kinsey’s female subjects, one-third of whom reported having had premarital intercourse, Betty reasoned, “If all those hundreds of women went ahead and got a lot of experience with boys, at our age, and they chose better husbands and even had better marriages because of it—what are we waiting for?”

Peggy Fox, a Catholic girl from outside of Chicago, chose not to wait. Decades later, she told an oral history interviewer that she “did it” and “loved . . .

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