Texas through Women's Eyes: The Twentieth-Century Experience

By Judith N. McArthur; Harold L. Smith | Go to book overview

Part Three
CONFORMITY, CIVIL RIGHTS,
AND SOCIAL PROTEST,
1945–1965

In the two decades after World War II, Texas underwent profound economic and social change. Foremost was the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy. By 1950 the state ranked twelfth in the nation in manufacturing, with petroleum refining and chemical industries leading the way, while in the 1960s electronics (most famously Texas Instruments and Electronic Data Systems) outpaced all other sectors. The mechanization of agriculture transformed farming into agribusiness and led to the collapse of sharecropping—the 1960 census listed no croppers at all—and the near disappearance of tenant farm families. Seventy-five percent of Texans lived in urban areas by 1960, and Latinos, at 15 percent of the population, had surpassed African Americans (12 percent) to become the largest minority group.

The old racial and political order, however, died hard. As southerners, Texans experienced two decades of turbulent and transformational politics. Separate African American and Hispanic civil rights movements pulled down the walls of legal segregation, with assistance from the U.S. Supreme Court, and struggled against white resistance to make integration a reality. Disgruntled anti-Roosevelt conservatives decamped from the Democratic Party to support the Republicans, foretelling the eventual end of one-party rule. And like the rest of the country, Texas was caught up in the Cold War with a new antagonist, the USSR, and the fear that Communist “subversives” in government and the public schools were secretly working for the destruction of capitalism.

Historian Nancy MacLean suggests that a useful way to approach the history of American women in the second half of the twentieth century is through socioeconomic class, specifically by examining the relationship of various groups to the family wage system.1 The idea that a male breadwinner should be paid sufficiently to provide for a dependent wife and children—a family wage—traces back to the trade unionists of the nineteenth century. During the Progressive Era, middle-class reformers of both sexes advocated it as a way to end child labor and permit working-class mothers to stay home with their children instead of toiling in sweatshops. Improved wages made

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