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America's History in the Making

Postwar Tension and Triumph

Theme 1

World War II and its aftermath ushered in an era of domestic prosperity—a huge baby boom, internal migration, and major scientific and medical breakthroughs.

The war ended the Depression and ushered in an era of domestic prosperity for most Americans. During the war, rationing and increased income led to pent-up desires for consumer goods. After the war, Americans were eager to spend the money they had saved on new appliances, automobiles, and homes. The GI Bill also gave millions of returning veterans low-cost mortgages, medical care through the Veteran's Administration, and tuition for higher education. For African Americans, Native Americans, women, and homosexual GIs, however, the institutional practices of American society denied access to some of the benefits of the GI Bill.

As servicemen returned home with the expectation of finding a job, buying a home, and starting a family, the role of women changed as well. Although many women who had worked during the war left their full-time jobs to raise children and manage the household, a large number of married women continued to work outside the home. A baby boom that had begun prior to the war resulted from a high marriage rate, lower marriage age, and increase in the average number of children per couple. The population further increased with the development of such medical breakthroughs as the polio vaccine, which lowered the death rate.

The nation witnessed a migration out of cities and into the suburbs, where people could afford to buy their homes and there was plenty of space for a growing population. The federal government and business interests promoted and financed suburban expansion instead of investing in the nation's urban centers.

Primary Sources


Text Artifact

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring [excerpt]

Wood, Peter, Jacqueline Jones, Thomas Borstelmann, Elaine Tyler May, and Vicki Ruiz. Silent Spring [excerpted] (2003) 857. Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2003. Reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc.


"Your Children and What to Do with Them"

Portland Public Schools, HANDBOOK FOR NEW WOMEN SHIPYARD WORKERS (1943). Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, #Mss 2547.

Extract From Medical Department, United States Army Preventive Medicine in World War II: Volume IX

U.S. Army, Medical Department, "Results of Winter DDT Spraying in an Endemic Area," in Preventive Medicine in World War II: Volume IX (United States Army, 1945), table 34. Courtesy of the U.S. Army.

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