The peculiarly passive obsession with security as the ultimate happiness, the compulsive conformity of life styles (engenderedat least in part by the virulent anti-communism of McCarthyismin odd combination with the Eisenhower era’s pacifying blandness),and the pervasive apathy of most of the ’50s was replaced in the1960s with an extraordinary and even reckless social energy and political activism. First Blacks, then other racial minorities, students, the New Left, peace protesters, and finally women, emerged one by oneas forces demanding social change. Each group became inflamed with a passion for the possible. The momentum of the feminist movement of the earlier decades ofthe 20th century had waned in the post-World War II decades. Thoughwork for women’s rights actually continued by core organizations, it had become almost an underground resistance to a nearly overwhelmingly negative media blitz that insisted on proclaiming the death of feminism and on writing its obituary as it celebrated the happy suburban housewife.
As early as 1946, Doris Stevens, a long-time militant suffragist with the National Woman’s Party, wrote to a friend, wondering “if those who were living at the beginning of the last Dark Ages. . . knew the darkness had descended!”1However, hope for a revival of feminist momentum in the UnitedStates was stimulated in part by a curious series of events. On August 26, 1957, (the uncelebrated 37th anniversary of the woman’s suffrage amendment to the U.
S. Constitution), the Soviet Union announced it had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile. On October 4, it launched Sputnik I, the first”man-made” space satellite, and on November 3, Sputnik II, which carried a live dog. This demonstration of a challenging superiority in space technology spurred what was immediately termed “the space race”between the U.
S. and the Soviet Union. The demands in the United States for a skilled and educated workforce escalated to the point where even women-who, along with minorities, constituted the traditional reserve labor force summonedforth in national emergencies —were worth serious consideration.