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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“The Veteran, His Wife, and Their Mothers: Prescriptions for Psychological Rehabilitation after World War II”

  • Author(s): Plant, Rebecca Jo
  • et al.

After World War II, psychological experts and popular commentators urged American women to embrace domesticity to better ease veterans’ readjustment to civilian society. Historians have interpreted such prescriptive literature as part of a larger push to reverse women’s wartime gains and re-establish traditional gender roles after the war’s social disruptions. This essay argues for a more nuanced interpretation by emphasizing how messages directed toward women differed radically according to age and life stage. Whereas young girlfriends and wives were urged to act as supportive helpmates by adopting a therapeutic stance toward returning boyfriends and husbands, middle-aged mothers were admonished to not be overly solicitous when dealing with their sons. Youthful heterosexual romance was depicted as an antidote to excessive mother-son intimacy, which was widely associated with dependency, immaturity and homosexuality. Rather than seeking to restore gender roles, advice givers and cultural producers sought to redefine the proper roles of “mother” and “wife” along generational lines.

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