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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of federal efforts to push women back into the home after WWII

Johnson discusses the pressure placed on women to return to the home after being drawn into the public sphere during World War II. In particular, she recalls hearing a government-sponsored radio program in 1947 that intended to make women feel guilty if they went to work rather than staying home with their children. While Johnson was outraged by these kinds of maneuverings meant to manipulate women, she argues that they were a huge part of women's retreat into the home during the 1950s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

GUION JOHNSON:
The government mounted a campaign, beginning in '47, perhaps in '46, the last of '46 and '47. I remember the stories that would come over the radio about how terrible it was for a mother to continue to work. She was needed during the war, and it was patriotic . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Whereas five years before, they had been saying that it was patriotic to work.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes. That's true. It was patriotic for her to work, but now the war is over, our men are coming back and we need to give them employment and it's patriotic now for a woman to leave her job and turn it over to our war veterans. This was a concerted campaign launched by the government and supported by many state agencies. And I remember so well when I came back from my office one day in early 1947, Edward had the radio on and here was this gory story being related about the mother who had worked during the war and refused to give up her job, because she was now having some pocket change for once in her life and she wanted this money to buy extra things for the house. She really didn't need the money, but she selfishly wanted a new carpet for her living room and was staying on to work. And she suddenly had a telephone call, which said, "Your son has been killed. He has been run over by an automobile." And she rushed out and saw the mangled body of her dear child, and she said, "Oh, why didn't I stay at home and take care of my baby? Why did I, why was I so thoughtless and selfish? I want all mothers in the United States to hear my tragic story and give up their jobs." (laughter) I was furious.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, were you acquainted with anyone who was . . . you were in Atlanta?
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, I was in Atlanta at the time?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And were any of the state agencies there supporting it?
GUION JOHNSON:
Not that I know of. I was not aware of it if they were. I was working very closely with all the social welfare agencies and I would have know about it if they had. No, this was a federally sponsored program. But the radio stations were carrying these gory tales. This was the emotional pressure that was being placed upon women.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Very strong emotional pressure.
GUION JOHNSON:
Oh yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I mean, it worked.