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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 >>

Changing nature of marriage and divorce in the 1970s

Johnson talks about contemporary concerns regarding the future of the family unit in American society. Johnson recalls her reaction to similar arguments during the 1920s while she was a graduate student and points out that the family unit had remained intact throughout the twentieth century. She emphasizes the changing nature of marriage and divorce and the growing tendencies of people to live in family groups outside of marriage. According to Johnson, this was illustrative of the impact of the women's movement in that women no longer felt bound to remain in marriages where they were unhappy. For Johnson, this did not necessarily correlate to concerns about "family breakdown."

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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
What do you think will happen to the family as a unit?
GUION JOHNSON:
Oh, I am very confident that the family as a unit will be maintained despite all the Cassandras who say that the family is disintegrating. I remember going, in 1924-we went to Chicago for the meeting of the American Sociological Association and we attended one of the sections on the family and three or four sociologists, this is 1924, three or four sociologists arose and explained why it was that the family is disintegrating and that within fifty years, it would be a temporary liason between a man and a woman, but no solid family structure would be maintained and that the United States now, that society now, should move to do something to cope with this changing pattern of family life. And only one man, and I wish I could remember his name, only one sociologist arose on the panel and said, "All of this is foolishness. Nurturing the child has been the cause for the origin of the family, the importance of nurturing the child. And this is, of course, the chief function of the family until now. It will no longer be the chief function of the family in years ahead, but the family itself will be maintained. We will still have family solidarity." And he told about Europeans, I think that he was a first generation American, about going back to Czechoslovakia to meet his family and about how immediately he felt that he had been living in that family situation all his life, although he was meeting them for the first time. He was accepted. He said, "It's this need for human companionship, and a sense of belonging which will be as important as the nurturing of the child, and even in families where there are no children, the need for companionship and the need to belong to an intimate, relevant, important group, will keep the family structure intact." I accepted what he said then, and I accept it today. I see, just in working in groups on campus, what it does to a student in a large student body, 20,000, to come into a small intimate group and to feel as though he belongs and is loved and supported by this group. I've seen this happen over and over again, so this observation that I've made, what happens to the personality of the loner student when he is welcomed into a group, makes me feel that this is a basic human need, which the family will meet.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, certainly there have been changes, I think, directly related to efficient methods of birth control, where perhaps people living together before marriage will occur more and more frequently, before permanent commitment is made.
GUION JOHNSON:
Well, you see, trial marriage was being very much discussed in 1924, and I think this was one reason that the sociologists felt that this was the family of the future. And that the couple might not feel it important to marry. They might feel that it was important to have a flexible situation, whereby if you became bored with your partner, you would move on and find some other partner. And, of course, it probably is true-I'm sure that it is true-that we have more such situations now.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
At least more openly being done.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, that's true. It might have been done covertly. (laughter)
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Certainly on college campuses, you see this a lot.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And I don't know, I tend to see it as a short lived thing that would go on into a permanent thing, or the persons involved would move on to find other commitments. But the divorce rate is so high, which is a problem. A lot of this is directly related to women perhaps.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes, very likely. Now that they feel that they have other options other than living with this man . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
With this man who has been telling them that this is your role to stay home and take care of me.
GUION JOHNSON:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
They are moving on, there is much more of a freedom to leave, I think.
GUION JOHNSON:
I think that is to the good. I don't think that is a threat to the family.