"Meeting the Needs of Today's Girl": Youth Organizations and the Making of a Modern Girlhood, 1945-1980


In the 1910s, groups of middle-class women began organizing voluntary youth organizations to provide a blend of recreation, spirituality, patriotism, and character development for America's girls. Since their modest beginnings, girls' clubs have cycled millions of young women through character training programs that contained within them gendered notions of citizenship, work, education, and sexuality. This dissertation examines two of these groups, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. and the Young Women's Christian Association's Y-Teens, from the end of World War II through 1980. Drawing on training manuals, handbooks, correspondence, periodicals, contemporary social science, oral histories, and surveys, it explores how femininity and womanhood were related to girls in the mid-twentieth century, as well as how girls constructed their own identities within these spaces.At their heart, girls' organizations sought an ideal of American girlhood that balanced the development of individual interests, talents, and abilities with social expectations for women. Chapters examine the Girl Scouts' and YWCA's conception of the female citizen in the immediate postwar period, their approach to interracial cooperation and integration in the 1950s and early 1960s, and their initiatives with respect to vocational and educational planning for girls. The final chapter examines their feminist evolution in the 1970s, which found them preparing young women for a much wider range of social and political roles. Standing at the intersection of American beliefs about childhood, citizenship, gender, and womanhood, this dissertation argues that in a relatively conservative period that celebrated women's place in the domestic sphere, these organizations encouraged adolescent girls to embrace a model of adult womanhood that valorized individual agency, careers outside the home, and progressive ideas on racial and social equality, in addition to domesticity.
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2010)

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Foley, Jessica L., "'Meeting the Needs of Today's Girl': Youth Organizations and the Making of a Modern Girlhood, 1945-1980" (2010). History Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://doi.org/10.7301/Z0J67F5C