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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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Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too.

On today's episode, we're discussing the conformity of the 1950s in the United States, and the secrets that families kept when they didn't conform. The October, 1929 Stock Market Crash plunged the United States into the Great Depression, which continued for the next decade. What finally ended the Great Depression was the United States' entry into World War II and the industrial mobilization for the war effort. When the war ended in September, 1945, Americans were eager to return to a normalcy that they hadn't experienced in a decade and a half. That return to normalcy was aided by fantastic economic growth. The United States was the richest country in the world, and increasing numbers of Americans, especially white Americans, saw themselves as part of the middle class. These comfortably middle class families had a lot of babies. Between 1950 and 1960, the population in the US grew from 150 million to 178 million, a jump of nearly 19% in just 10 years. To accommodate their growing families, Americans moved to the suburbs, and pursued the American Dream by buying houses. In 1940, the suburban share of the United States population was 19.5%. By 1960, it had jumped to 30.7%. Between 1950 and 1970, 83% of all population growth in the United States occurred in the suburbs. The homeownership dream was made easier by the affordable cookie cutter houses of the suburbs. In 1947, a businessman named Abraham Levitt and his two sons, William and Alfred, created Levittown in Long Island, New York, replacing potato fields, with over 17,000 identical homes laid out in neat rows. Building the same home over and over and over was cost effective and quick, and during a national housing shortage, the returning World War II veterans flocked to Levittown and similar neighborhoods. The idealized suburb was not ideal for everyone. Levittown town blatantly excluded families of color, with a clause in the standard lease that stated the homes could not be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race. It wasn't just the Levitts who discriminated against Black Americans. When the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI bill was drafted, the chair of the House Veterans Committee was racist Mississippi Congressman John Rankin, who ensured that the bill would be administered by the states and not the federal government. Black veterans were barred admission to southern universities, and even northern universities hesitated to admit them. The low interest mortgages promised veterans through the VA bill, were not actually administered by the VA at all, and financial institutions regularly refused loans to Black veterans. In many places, less than 1% of the VA backed home loans went to Black borrowers. These and others forms of overt discrimination in education and public transportation led to the Civil Rights Movement. The 1950s saw both the Brown v Board education case in the Supreme Court in 1954, and Montgomery Bus Boycott, beginning in December, 1955. Although some Black Americans tried passing as white, many of them could not hide their nonconformity with the American ideal of the white suburban middle class. But other Americans could and did hide their secrets. Even in a decade before hormonal birth control (the pill was approved by the FDA in 1960) and when abortion was illegal everywhere in the United States, American teenagers were still having sex before marriage. When that sex led to pregnancy, sometimes the couples would quickly marry. The median age at marriage for women in the 1950s was 20. When the couple wouldn't or couldn't marry, often, the pregnant girl was sent away or hidden in the house with an excuse of illness until she gave birth, where upon the baby was put up for adoption, often whether the mother wished it or not. The Adoption Institute estimated it was an 80% increase in the number of babies put up for adoption between 1944 and 1955. The adoptive family often kept the adoption secret as well to hide any infertility in an age of baby boom and huge families. As the optimism of postwar America quickly gave way to the paranoia of the Cold War, Americans hid some of their family secrets, not for fear of rebuke by the neighbors, but because revealing some secrets could mean loss of job or even imprisonment. In 1957, Norman Mailer wrote in Dissent Magazine, "A stench of fear has come out of every pore of American life, and we suffer from a collective failure of nerve. The only courage with rare exceptions that we have been witness to has been the isolated courage of isolated people." Not all Americans wanted to speak up and challenge the status quo. But even those who did, like members of the Communist Party of the United States had family members who wanted to keep a lower profile. The children of members of the Communist Party became known as "red diaper babies," and they often lived in fear that their parents would be arrested or killed. They learned to be discreet when talking about their families, and to quickly discern the people outside the family with whom it was safe to speak openly. The Red Scare of the 1950s was accompanied by a Lavender Scare, a panic that gay and lesbian people who worked in the federal government were a security risk and had to be dismissed. In 1950, one of the earliest national gay rights organizations in the United States was founded, the Mattachine Society, and in 1955, the first American organization for lesbians, the Daughters of Bilitis was founded. The Stonewall Riots were still another 14 years in the future, and during the 1950s people often kept their gay attraction secret for fear of being ostracized, harassed, or even arrested. Joining me to discuss the secrets of the 1950s is Dr. Margaret K. Nelson, Hepburn Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Middlebury College, and author of, "Keeping Family Secrets: Shame and Silence in Memoirs from the 1950s."

Music  9:52  
A good day's work for your money, a house by the side of a street, the Bible in the hall and the flag on the wall. That's the great American Dream. You take your kids to the ballgame, and cheer for your favorite team. To listen to all views and believe what you choose. That's the great American Dream. For this is the land of liberty, that's liberty for you and me. So stand by your Pledge of Allegiance, to help keep the glory and free. And you'll find your reward if you trust in the Lord and the great American Dream.

Kelly Therese Pollock  11:04  
Hello, Margaret, thanks so much for joining me today.

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  11:07  
Thank you for having me.

Kelly Therese Pollock  11:09  
Yes, this is a really fun read, and I'm excited to talk to you about it. So I wanted to start just by asking you, you've written lots of books, how did you choose to write this book? Why why this subject and you know, sort of what what drove this research?

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  11:25  
You know, I think I, for a long time, I've been writing about very positive elements of families. The book I wrote, one of the books I wrote before this had been about people who were not actually family members, but were considered to be like family. And so I was interested in the ways that families drew people in, formed bonds, were affectionate to each other. And suddenly, I realized I'd never written about kind of the downsides of families, the hidden sides of families, the things that were harder to understand. So I decided I'd write about family secrets. And to tell the truth, I was tired of interviewing people. I've done a lot of interviewing in my life. I know you do this, but I just have, well, I also, there was no zoom during most of the time I've done interviewing. So I would travel around the country. And I decided I would use memoirs to write about family secrets. And that was actually a lucky decision, because while I started working on it, the pandemic struck. And I was stuck in my house. And I could just spend my days doing what I love doing best, which is reading memoirs. So it came together nicely, I was gonna write about family secrets. And there's a lot of memoirs out there about family secrets. What was harder, and took more time, in a way was focusing on the 1950s, which I hadn't originally thought I would do. But I realized that the 1950s, what, which is when I grew up, you can tell by my gray hair. It was a time when families like my own, kept certain kinds of secrets. So eventually, I just decided I wasn't gonna write about every secret that existed, but mostly secrets that arose during the 1950s.

Kelly Therese Pollock  13:29  
So I definitely want to come back to that in a moment. But I do want to ask you, a lot of most of the people that I interview on here are historians and you're a sociologist. And so I wanted to just ask you, to talk to talk to us a little bit about what what is sociology? What, what sort of a is that field? And then, you know, what, what does that mean for the methodology or the way that you read the sources?

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  13:57  
You know, I, I've been doing a lot of work with a historian, my sister's a historian. And she and I have written one book together and are writing another book together. So I see the difference and the ways that she works. And I had to adapt some of what I did, because I was writing a historical book with the historical information in it. I'm more conscious as a sociologist, I would say about issues like family dynamics, social class, racial interactions, gender, kind of broad, sweeping understandings of those issues, less tied to a historical period, than maybe using that as a framework for analysis. But what I had to do to write this book was rely on a lot of secondary source material to understand about the context in which families kept specific secrets in the 1950s. Usually I would be dealing with a more contemporary or just the society we live in today. This was one of the first times I actually had to do a lot of historical research. But I did not use, which a good historian would do, a lot of primary source material to understand the period. I relied largely on secondary source material, and then primary source material was the memoirs, which were reflective not written at the time.

Kelly Therese Pollock  15:32  
So let's talk then a little bit about memoirs and using memoirs. And, you know, there's obviously really great stuff you can get out of memoirs, there's limitations, of course, and you talk about those some in the book. So I wonder if you could just sort of talk about the genre of memoir and what that looks like, and sort of doing academic research, looking at memoirs.

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  15:57  
Almost everything is called a memoir these days. So it's broadened considerably, I think. I think people don't write autobiographies anymore. They write memoirs, and almost anybody these days, can write and does write a memoir. I mean, it is astonishing, the range that's out there. What I find particularly interesting about them and useful is that people are writing for a public audience. Now that's both an advantage and a disadvantage. It's an advantage because they're trying to reach a lot of people, they're trying to make their experience accessible to a whole range of people at at the same time. It's a disadvantage, because memoir writers are likely to write within a certain framework. And one of the things I found with the memoirs I was using was almost all of them had a redemptive quality to them. Like the framework was something terrible happened in my childhood, there was a secret in my family. It was terrible, I was abused, I abused other people. But at the end, I really love my family and my parents. And that seems to be a kind of narrative arc that was common to a lot of the memoirs that I've read. So I can imagine at a different historical period, people might write memoirs that say, something terrible happened in my family, and I now I hate my parents, and I'm never going to see them again. But that doesn't seem to be what it is today. So you have to take into account in reading memoirs, what's acceptable, what's an acceptable narrative? What is it that people can say, and are willing to say? There are other limitations. Most people who write memoirs, have the time to write memoirs, are now at least middle class and reasonably educated. I think self publication and the fact that it's relatively easy to publish in places like Amazon, mean that a broader range of people do write memoirs and publish them right now. But you don't write memoirs from the depths of poverty. You write memoirs, after you've escaped poverty. You don't write memoirs, without any education, you write it drawing on at least some education. So there's a limit to who, who at least who people are, and the sensibilities they might now have, when you're using memoirs. There are also of course, pieces of memory. You know, it's how precisely do people remember what happened? And there are also recorded pieces of fiction. So nobody, nobody tells everything. Everybody has to stress some things, not other things, make things cohere. They're not, oh, here's the truth, because this is somebody's memoir.

Kelly Therese Pollock  19:01  
Yeah. So let's talk then about the 1950s. You said you didn't initially intend to write about the 1950s, but found yourself, you know, focusing on those stories. So talk to me about what it is about the 1950s that makes this time period sort of ripe for secrets, and the kinds of secrets that you're able to look at that people were keeping, as families or from families during that time period.

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  19:32  
It was an era of great conformity, at least within the white middle class. And there were very strict strict limits on what a family could be and what they could do. And I think that meant that certain kinds of things just had to be hidden. And so girls who got pregnant, you weren't supposed to have sex, you weren't supposed to get pregnant. If you got pregnant, you got hidden away and had to give up a baby for adoption. You were supposed to be able to have your own children and plenty of of them. So people who were adopted, actually ended up having to conceal that fact, often from other people. You were supposed to be Christian. You weren't supposed to be Jewish you weren't supposed to be... And, you know, and there were, there were real dangers attached to some kinds of nonconformity, such as being engaged in left wing political politics. So it was a time of great conformity, and a time, I think, also of great danger attached to deviance.

Kelly Therese Pollock  19:32  
You've just started talking about the kinds of secrets that you're looking at in this. I want to talk about this sort of, you look at not just a range of sort of secrets, but a range of kind of the ways that people keep secrets. And so some of these are things that are kept within a family where the whole family might know, but they're keeping it from the rest of the world. Sometimes it's family members keeping secrets from each other. And that comes out later. So I wonder if you could sort of talk about those dynamics. And this, you know, as a sociologist, I assume this is something that's of particular importance, but sort of the inside outside who's, who's in the secret, who's not, who's in the family who's not, and what that looks like, as you're looking at this sort of range of different kinds of secrets.

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  21:39  
Sociologists have written very little about secrets, astonishingly little. So I did not have a lot to draw on, as I started to do my own research on this. So I consider almost anything I say, to be kind of a baby step within sociology. One of the categories or one, one way of thinking about secrets, comes more from psychologists, and people talk about secrets that some one person in a family knows and keeps from other people, as opposed to secrets that are shared with a number of people within the family, and shared from outsiders. I found almost any attempt to categorize secrets problematic, because secrets change over time. So one of my favorite examples of that is the secret of having an unwed pregnancy and then giving birth to a child. That's a lot of different secrets. We think about, you know, a girl getting pregnant, but first she's having sex. That's a secret, then she's pregnant. That's a secret. She might keep that to herself, even for a while. Then she has to tell somebody in the family, you know, oh, my God, this is what's happening or somebody notices. And then the family has to decide who can know and who cannot know. And in some cases, only some members of a family will know and not others. So secrets change over time. And at each moment, I'd say there's a kind of negotiation about how widespread the information can be. I want to use one other example, which is boys who grew up knowing that they had same sex attractions in the 1950s, which was not allowed. It wasn't discussed, wasn't allowed to be happening. Usually, by the time they're adolescents or adults, everybody in the family knows, but nobody mentions it. So it's kind of a shared secret in the sense that everybody knows, but it's the elephant in the room. And nobody discusses that. And that has different dynamics, of course, and that has different consequences than when people have to be open about a secret and discuss it within the family.

Kelly Therese Pollock  24:11  
You open the book, the first chapter, talking about institutionalizing, in this case, siblings, it's people writing about their siblings. And these are children with mental disabilities or different things that that mean that they're sort of not the perfect 1950s child. And so the advice given is to institutionalize these children. This is sort of personal for me, my my Aunt Peggy was not institutionalized, but you know, my grandparents had been given that that advice. She was born in early 60s, you know, and the family chose to to keep her at home and it had a huge impact on the family keeping her at home and what that meant and the kinds of people that my mom and my aunts and uncles became because they were used to caring for this sibling. So I found this chapter so fascinating to read about. Could you talk about what as you were reading the memoir, sort of what that does to the sibling, the siblings who were still at home, living with this knowledge that they had a sibling or maybe learning later on that they had a sibling. It's not the same as losing a sibling to death, because you're not able to sort of mourn them in the same way they're there, but they're not part of the family. They're not part of your life. So could you talk about sort of what what you found in the memoirs about this kind of secret?

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  25:38  
I think that the worst part of that secret, the most dangerous part of that secret was that children never knew whether they too could be sent away. So the children who lived in a family where a sibling had been sent away because of behavior, because they had some mental disability, because they had grave physical disabilities grew up thinking that family members could be expelled. And I think that was the most terrifying consequence for children growing up with institutionalized siblings. I think, also, for many of them, they didn't know whether the sibling counted as family or not counted as family. Sometimes they were allowed to say, "Yes, I have a sibling who's in an institution." But sometimes it was better kept secret. So they had to navigate, negotiate, figure out, when do I tell people about this other person, and when do I not? And for many of them, there was a sense of extreme loss. I mean, in in a couple of cases of  memoirs, the sibling was a twin. And kids had grown up, lived in utero together, shared cribs, shared beds, and then somebody disappeared, and they live the rest of their lives with some sense of acute loss. So I don't think people have written much. I mean, we know a fair amount about the negative, the problems associated with institutionalization for children who were institutionalized. I don't think people have written much or thought much about what was the impact within the family? What was the impact on the other siblings? What, what problems did they grow up with? A lot of these siblings tried to reconnect as adults. And of course, it's, it's difficult, but they, they, they do make an effort often keep or, or discover or re-invent some kind of relationship with a missing sibling. I'm interested in that you say this is personal for you. It took a lot of bravery for people to resist. Doctors say this child should be sent away. So bravo to your family for having done that.

Kelly Therese Pollock  28:35  
Yeah. I never even met her. She died before I was born. But she's just such a big presence in the family because, because she stayed.

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  28:46  
Yeah, well, the ones who went away I mean, I, I titled this chapter, "The Presence of Absence." The ones who were sent away were very present. They weren't there. But they were very present and their absence spoke loudly.

Kelly Therese Pollock  29:02  
So I wanted to talk some about the chapter that and I had never heard this term before, but the red diaper babies. So the children of communist leftists, which of course we know is, communism is such a fraught thing in the 50s and 60s. So I wonder if you could talk some about those children. And this is the one that I think, you know, it's it's sort of the scariest for the children. It has the most sort of concrete potential outcomes if the secret gets out, including prison for the parents, death for the parents. So could you talk some about that and sort of the the way that these memoirists are reflecting on that period and, and that sort of huge secret and what that meant in their families?

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  29:56  
You know, I think it's one way of thinking about it is to relate it to what's going on today. And a lot of young people and adults, obviously, but a lot of young people live in families where their parents are undocumented individuals and those children live in, well, there are a number of things. One is they have to know who they can trust. Who can they tell, "My parents are not documented. I don't know what my status is. I don't know what their status is." Who can they trust outside the family? How big a community can they create about that? And then, of course, they live in concrete fear that their parents are going to disappear, that their parents will be rounded up at wherever they work, and deported. So when I think I mean, that's actually of all the secrets that I look at, in, in the 1950s, I think that's the one that has, you know, the closest analogy today, within the undocumented community, where people probably get drawn together, and get very close, because they share a secret. But also the secret, if it gets out, can divide families and destroy lives. So I, you know, you asked me, "What was it like for those children?" I think we, we know more, or we are conscious of what it's like for children in families where parents are undocumented. And that's the best way I can answer that, think about that one today. And I have to say, I've been asking people, "What are our secrets today?" And I don't know if you're going to ask me. And it was one of my children, who said to me, "Well, being undocumented is a big secret today within a certain kind of within a certain community." And I realized, yes, those children and those families very much have the same experience as people who were engaged in communist activities in the 1950s.

Kelly Therese Pollock  32:14  
Yeah, I work with students in my day job. And I've known undocumented students and the you can see sort of the the constant negotiation of, "I need to reveal this to certain people, because I need help with XYZ.  Can I reveal it to her?" And some people are very open, and some people are very closed off about, you know, how that information spreads. So yeah, I can I can absolutely see that parallel. That's fascinating. So we've talked some about this. But I you close the book by talking a little bit about the sort of similarities between these secrets, and the differences. And similarities are important, but differences are all also important. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about sort of that, that piece of it. And you know, what, you're not necessarily trying to make a an overall argument about these different kinds of secrets, but what we can sort of draw out of looking at the ways that these different secrets that we've been talking about kind of are the same, and then the ways that they are different and why that's important to look at.

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  33:20  
I think when people in a family have to keep secrets from each other, and from outsiders, there are always going to be some negative consequences. There's always going to be some coercion in the family, or self constraint about sharing secrets. So I think that aside from, "Oh, we're going to plan a surprise party for you and congratulations, it's your birthday" or whatever, those things that we keep secret for short periods of time, secrets are destructive. Almost all secrets are destructive. I think they're destructive in different ways. When you have to keep secrets from other people in the family, you're isolated from them. You don't you can't open up you can't create certain kinds of intimacies. So secrets that people like a boy with same sex sexual desires, or a girl who's pregnant had or even a child who was mourning the sibling sent away, and not allowed to discuss that with parents. Those kinds of secrets are destructive of intimacy, in a family, not that all intimacy is wonderful, not that we should strive to know everything about each other. But when things that are very important to you, you have to keep from other family members, I I think that that creates pain at the simplest level. I think that when parents keep secrets from children like, "You were adopted," or "I used a sperm donor or an egg donor," or, you know, "We're Jewish, but we haven't ever told you that," children have to reassess their relationships with their parents. So they probably sense all along, there's something they're not being told. And they can have a sense of a strong feeling of betrayal. And then, "I can't trust my parents," or "Who can I trust?" in some ways. So, you know, I think that almost all secrets, keep, create pain, and distrust within a family. Clearly, sometimes secrets tie people together. Clearly, you know, when a family shares a secret, even if they're keeping it from outsiders, that can create intimacy within a family. And that sometimes, you know, something affirmative for a good. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  36:05  
Yeah. So the opposite of a secret, in some ways is the memoir. People take this experience of having secrets, keeping secrets or learning secrets later and decide to share it with the entire world. So what, you talk a little bit, this isn't the focus, but you talk a little bit about what happens after memoirs are written or published and what that can do to a family. I wonder if you could reflect on that just a bit. In the cases that we know, we don't always know what might have happened after the memoir was published. But in some cases, they write like a second memoir or something and talk about that. So what what that looks like when it's sort of the flip. And now everyone knows the secret that somebody had been keeping,

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  36:53  
I can't generalize, I think some of these memoirs, you wonder how other family members react, and the pain you cause other family members who have for their entire lives, wanted to keep something secret. And now it's told to the whole world. Some of these memoirs, writers ended up being, you know, cast out of their families because they had written memoirs. So it's dangerous, it's dangerous to relationships, to reveal things that people have wanted to keep secret, which may be part of why so many of these have this kind of redemptive quality, like except me, I, you know, I don't want to break up the family. I forgive you for not having, you know, accepted this or accepted that. So I think memoirs, can occasionally bring people back together again, but it's a risky thing to expose your family to, to the public eye. And I guess people have to decide what I have to say is more important than my what other people wanted to keep secret for my life.

Kelly Therese Pollock  38:14  
So I want to ask, you mentioned you wrote a book with your sister. And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that book, too. And the sort of unsung hero who you're talking about in that book.

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  38:26  
My sister and I, she's, she's the historian, and she and I wrote a book about an African American woman who took care of us when we were little girls. And I guess in a sense, we were revealing a secret. We were revealing we were privileged, we were white. An African American woman left her family behind and came and lived with our family for a number of years. And there were memoir elements to that too. We had to expose various aspects of our of our family, which I think, had our parents still been alive, they might have been bothered by but they're no longer alive. What was wonderful about that was to be able to bring bring to the public, the life of the kind of woman who normally nobody knows about. She She was not well educated, she had to leave school when she was in high school. She never had a higher education. She spent her whole life taking care of other people's families. And as a consequence, at least some of her own family had a lot of difficulty. Neither of her sons were able to make much of themselves, but we felt it was important to to say how what a significant role somebody who could just easily disappear from history, what a significant role she has had in our lives. One of the most gratifying parts of writing that book has been that her grandchildren, a number of her grandchildren have read the book, and have appreciated learning about their history, their family history, going back, actually, we think we traced her family back to enslaved people. And they didn't know a lot of this history. And so it's been gratifying for us that we've been able to share the history of somebody who was important to us in one way to the history of some people who, for whom she was important in a very, very different way.

Kelly Therese Pollock  40:49  
So if people would like to read either of these books, how can they get them?

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  40:55  
My book on family secrets is coming out from New York University Press, and I'm sure they would be happy to send you a copy for a certain amount of money. And our book about Mabel Jones is with the University of Virginia Press, and I'm sure they would be happy to send you a copy.

Kelly Therese Pollock  41:18  
Excellent. I'll put links in the show notes so people can find it that way as well. Was there anything else that you wanted to make sure we talked about?

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  41:27  
I link the issue of growing up with communist parents to being undocumented today. I just want to say that a couple of several of the secrets that I wrote about, in particular having a child as an unwed, adolescent or unwed person, being a boy who feels that he has same sex sexual desires, and even being Jewish are things that two years ago, I would have said, "People don't keep these things secret today." But we're living in a different moment in history. And I worry about children, lesbian and gay, and trans youth, bisexual youth in Florida, who can't go to a teacher, who can't speak to their classmates about these issues. I worry about girls who young girls, adolescent girls, women who are not going to be able to have abortions, and who may have to conceal their pregnancies these days, because they want to give a child up for adoption. I worry about the pain of giving up a child that you never wanted to bear, because the books about unmarried girls who had babies talking about the pain of giving birth to a child that they didn't want to give birth to and having to relinquish that child. Those are  excruciating pains. And I worry about anti-semitism. And I worry about people's willingness to acknowledge, you know, I have a 17 year old granddaughter, and she was in a working in an internship on an internship in Boston this summer. And her boss, the person who was supervising her internship said something about Jews. And she said, "Well, actually, you know, you should know that I'm Jewish." And he said, "Oh Maya, I knew you weren't entirely white." And so it's kind of an astonishing comment at this particular historic moment. And I worry that she will be more reluctant to reveal. She won't, because she's very brave, but people might be reluctant to reveal who and what they are. So when I was writing this book, even a couple of years ago, I thought I was writing about the past. And as I reflect on this particular historic moment, it's become obvious to me I'm writing about the present as well.

Kelly Therese Pollock  44:28  
Yeah, definitely. Well, I hope people will check out the book. I think it's very, very relevant right now. So I thank you so much, Margaret, for speaking with me.

Dr. Margaret K. Nelson  44:40  
And thank you for speaking with me. I enjoyed this.

Teddy  44:43  
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Margaret K. NelsonProfile 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.