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Nov. 21, 2022

Keeping Secrets in the 1950s

Americans in the 1950s, yearning to return to normalcy after the Great Depression and World War II, got married, had lots of kids, and used their newly middle-class status to buy cookie-cutter houses in the suburbs. But not everyone conformed to the white middle class American Dream. Black Americans were largely excluded from suburban housing and the benefits of the GI Bill; girls who became pregnant out of wedlock were hidden from sight; children with developmental disabilities were sent to institutions; and gay men hid their homosexual attractions for fear of ostracization, harassment, and even legal consequences. The secrets they kept took a toll on the families who kept them.

Joining me to discuss the secrets of the 1950s is Dr. Margaret K. Nelson, Hepburn Professor Emerita of Sociology at Middlebury College and author of Keeping Family Secrets: Shame and Silence in Memoirs from the 1950s.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The transition audio is “The Great American Dream,” by Vaughn Monroe and His Orchestra, 1950, available in the Public Domain via Archive. Org. The episode image is “1950s family Gloucester Massachusetts USA 5336436883,” via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0.


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Margaret K. Nelson Profile Photo

Margaret K. Nelson

Peggy Nelson is the Hepburn Professor Emerita of Sociology at Middlebury College. She teaches courses in the fields of Sociology of Education, Poverty, and Sociology of the Family. She has conducted research in the fields of Women and the Law, Childbirth, the History of Teaching, Family Strategies in Rural Areas, Caregiving, Single Mothers, and, most recently, Surveillance. Professor Nelson has been a member of the Sociology/Anthropology Department since 1975.