Cold War Kids: Politics and Childhood in Postwar America, 1945-1960

By Connolly, Cynthia | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Cold War Kids: Politics and Childhood in Postwar America, 1945-1960


Connolly, Cynthia, Nursing History Review


Cold War Kids: Politics and Childhood in Postwar America, 1945-1960 By Marilyn Irvin Holt (Lawrence, KS: The University of Kansas Press, 2014) (224 pages; $34.95 cloth)

Conventional wisdom suggests that the decade of the 1940s in the United States was dominated by World War II and its aftermath and that the 1950s was a complacent period before the tumult of the 1960s. Marilyn Holt's new Cold War Kids challenges that narrative and the nostalgia that often surrounds this era. By so doing, she fills an important gap in the scholarly literature.

Holt argues that most scholars of childhood and children's health give short shrift to the early postwar period and, as such, they miss what she maintains is a critical "turning point in state-to-federal relations and in increased federal action directly affecting children and teenagers" (p. 2). The purpose of Holt's book is to examine the ways in which the federal government, in the years between the late 1940s and 1960, expanded its reach in the lives of American children of all ages, races, and social classes. She does so by drawing on archival materials from the Truman and Eisenhower presidencies as well as records of the White House Conferences on Children and Youth in 1950 and 1960.

The book is organized chronologically and thematically. It begins by setting the context of American society in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II and how these events, along with the rise of the Cold War and growing child-centeredness of the United States shaped the 1950 White House Conference on Children and Youth. Subsequent chapters study how the ideas embraced at the conference, such as the need for more federal involvement in children's lives, helped expand governmental involvement in education, create new programs for vulnerable pediatric populations such as orphans, foster children, or those labeled delinquent, and stimulate funding for child-related research and health care during the 1950s. The Conclusion discusses the ways in which this early postwar period influenced subsequent policies such as those surrounding President Kennedy's "New Frontier" and President Johnson's "Great Society" programs. Finally, she argues that the national discussion of children's rights during the late 1940s and 1950s became increasingly very contested terrain legally by the 1970s and 1980s. …

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