Laura McEnaney is a professor of history at Whittier College, where she has taught since 1996. She teaches U.S. history, specializing in the post-1945 era, and her teaching interests include World War II and its aftermath, women and gender, twentieth-century social movements, and war tourism and memory. She is the author of Civil Defense Begins at Home: Militarization Meets Everyday Life in the Fifties (2000), and she has published numerous scholarly articles in journals and edited collections. Her new book, Postwar: Waging Peace in Chicago (2018), explores the social and urban history of America's demobilization from World War II and the whole notion of "postwar" in the twentieth century. Her first article from that project, "Nightmares on Elm Street: Demobilizing in Chicago, 1945–1953," published in the Journal of American History (March 2006), won the OAH Binkley-Stephenson Award. McEnaney has received a grant from National Endowment for the Humanities, a fellowship from Brown University's George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation, and an Arnold L. and Lois S. Graves Award in the Humanities from the American Council of Learned Societies. McEnaney received Whittier College's Harry W. Nerhood Teaching Excellence Award in 2007 and its Presidential Award for Outstanding Advising of First-Year Students in 2017. She is currently working on Project 13, a professional development program to support faculty who teach the U.S. survey course.
Working-class women’s struggle to assemble the ingredients of the postwar “good life” challenges a still-powerful narrative about American women after World War II: that they married, moved to the suburbs, had children, and grew quiet. Although decades of scholarly research has complicated this story, the notion that the wartime Rosie the Riveter became television’s archetypal housewife “June Cleaver” persists. In fact, we still know too little about what happened to urban working-class women between VJ-Day and their much touted middle class suburban entrenchment, a gap that stems not only from the difficulties of tracking war’s timelines for women, but also from a wider scholarly silence on the history of World War II's demobilization. This lecture will examine white ethnic, African American and Japanese American working-class women in Chicago as they endured the transition from war to peace in the forties and fifties.