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The "All-American" Couple: Dating, Marriage, and the Family during the long 1950s, with a Foray into Boise, Idaho and Portland, Oregon

Abstract : This thesis hopes to contribute to the postwar socio-cultural historiography on the American couple. In putting the national narrative into a discussion with some of its oft taken for granted aspects—generation, age, location, the individual and the institution, and local and national cultures—, this work attempts to provide nuance to the categorical definitions that have come to characterize the 1950s and the 1960s as well as the pervasiveness of the national culture’s voice. Marriage, family, gender, sexuality, dating, sexual activity, and youth culture are the framework through which this study has tried to elucidate the standard embodied in the white, middle-class, heterosexual couple. In incorporating two cities in the northwest United States—Boise, Idaho and Portland, Oregon—into a discussion about the national narrative, this dissertation tries to widen their local histories and complexify national convention. Oral histories paired with documents from the local universities’ archives and yearbooks have allowed for this work to look at how “average” Americans’ experiences differed from and coincided with the national narrative in places that have received very little scholarly attention on this time and these themes. Census data, scientific studies, political documents and speeches substantiate the pervasiveness of the “All-American couple,” while educational films, etiquette books, and advice columns have helped this thesis explore the process through which the ideal came into being. This model experienced a heyday during the long 1950s. Dominant memory tells us that either it was the last beacon of familial tradition or the breaking point for change. This dissertation contends that the archetype was neither traditional nor the catalyst for change. Rather the white, heterosexual middle-class couple was a culmination of political, social, economic, and cultural factors that ultimately undermined the “traditional” couple because it failed to truly embody the ideals of the nation it was purported to represent. By the end of the long 1950s, this model had become the status quo, but the young people who were to carry it into the future had consciously and unconsciously began chipping away at its foundations.
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Contributor : Christen Bryson <>
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Christen Bryson. The "All-American" Couple: Dating, Marriage, and the Family during the long 1950s, with a Foray into Boise, Idaho and Portland, Oregon. History. Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3, 2016. English. ⟨tel-01516214v2⟩

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