Study Guide

Postwar Suburbia People

  • Robert Moses

    Robert Moses (1888–1981) was a builder and planner of parks, highways, and major public road works for the state of New York. 

    Moses was also active in New York City and New York state governments, once holding 12 positions simultaneously (from New York City Parks Commissioner to chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority).

    Moses was fairly unconcerned with the problems of suburban sprawl and highway congestion because he saw those issues as peripheral to the greater project of building an efficient future. This focus was standard for American builders in the postwar era. So, Moses' notoriety and influence extended far beyond the state of New York, and into cities all across the nation.

  • Betty Friedan

    Betty Friedan (1921–2006) was an American icon of second-wave feminism, an activist, and a writer best known for her work The Feminine Mystique (1963), which questioned women's domestic roles in the suburban landscape. Friedan also conceived of the National Organization of Women, of which she became the first president in 1966.

    To write The Feminine Mystique, Friedan drew on conversations and interviews with her former classmates from Smith College. Many of the women had become "successful" suburban housewives, yet they were fundamentally dissatisfied. In the book, Freidan identified the "Problem That Has No Name"—that is, the restlessness and dissatisfaction middle-class American women felt during the 1950s. 

    Friedan herself had once been one of the housewives she'd later write about; her husband carried on numerous affairs, and Friedan later alleged that he'd physically abused her (Carl Friedan denied those charges). Friedan also had a long history of union and political activism, which she chose to omit from her self-description in The Feminine Mystique.

  • Herbert Hoover

    Herbert Hoover (1874–1964) was a self-made millionaire in the mining industry, a very successful Secretary of Commerce from 1921 to 1928, and a very unsuccessful President of the United States from 1929 to 1933. 

    His term saw the onset of the Great Depression, which began with the stock market crash just a few months after he took office. Today, Hoover's name is most associated with the shanty towns—"Hoovervilles"—erected during the Depression by the nation's unemployed and homeless.

    In the early 1930s, President Hoover attempted to address the housing crisis that resulted from the Great Depression, but with limited success. Hoover managed to pass legislation that aimed at helping working-class Americans secure home loans, but few families qualified for aid. Still, Hoover claimed that he saw homeownership as the foundation of a solid economic and social system.

  • Thurgood Marshall

    Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993) was a student of Charles Houston, special counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He followed in his mentor's footsteps and began working for the NAACP in 1938. 

    Marshall became a key prosecuting attorney in several school segregation cases argued before the Supreme Court, including the 1954 landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson successfully nominated him for a seat on the Court, making Marshall the first African American to hold a position on the highest court in the land.

    Marshall was serving as Chief Counsel for the NAACP in 1948 when the landmark case Shelley v. Kraemer came before the Supreme Court. He successfully represented the Shelleys in their fight against restrictive covenants, which excluded non-whites from buying property in white communities.

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969), a Republican, was the popular 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. Prior to his presidency, Eisenhower was a lifelong military man, commanding the D-Day invasion while serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II.

    Eisenhower encountered the poor conditions of America's roadways firsthand in 1919. As a member of the Transcontinental Motor Convoy, he toured the country with a group of military officials sent from Washington, D.C. to California to investigate the conditions of America's roads. These experiences later inspired Eisenhower to advocate for the improvement of roads and the construction of highways. 

    As president, he signed the Interstate Highway Act into law in 1956. Today, the American highway system is formally known as the "Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways."

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was the 32nd President of the United States and the only chief executive to be elected to more than two terms in office. Roosevelt held the presidency from 1934 to 1945, leading the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. His legislative program, the New Deal, greatly expanded the role of the federal government in American society.

    Roosevelt's New Deal programs made tremendous contributions to the course of development in postwar America. The president himself oversaw the creation of the Homeowners Loan Corporation to serve urban needs and protect small homeowners from foreclosure, a particular problem that poor and working-class Americans faced during the Great Depression. 

    One of Roosevelt's most influential programs was the Federal Housing Administration, which provided employment, enabled Americans to invest safely in real estate, and gave millions of Americans their first opportunity at homeownership.

  • Jack Kerouac

    Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) was an American writer and poet at the helm of the Beat Generation, the disaffected artists and youth of the 1950s.

    Kerouac is best known for his work, On the Road, which he published in 1957. The novel features an autobiographical character named Sal Paradise who, along with his traveling companions, is stricken by an inexplicable and insatiable wanderlust. This restlessness reflected Kerouac's dissatisfaction with his nation and his life.

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