Single Life and Marriage in the 20th Century

Course Description

This class explores how social expectations of both married and single men and women changed throughout the twentieth century. Gender roles, economic independence, and conceptions of marriage, sexuality and proper behavior were only some of the social norms affected by the century’s sexual revolutions and movements. Students will engage with a wide variety of sources from depictions of marriage and single life in both popular culture and scholarly writings, students and develop critical thinking skills through the analysis of these works. The course will pay special attention to varying experiences of men and women, people with and without children, and working and middle class people.

Required Texts

Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
Age of the Bachelor
Ladies of Labor
Feminine Mystique
Women’s magazines, 1940-1960 : Gender Roles and the Popular Press
Sex in the Heartland
Bachelors and bunnies : The Sexual Politics of Playboy
Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s Debate over Gay Equality

How to Murder Your Wife (1965)
Old School (2003)
The Kids Are Alright (2010)

A textbook, other short readings, and selected episodes of various TV shows will supplement these main texts.

4 responses to “Single Life and Marriage in the 20th Century”

  1. Svetlana Rasmussen Avatar
    Svetlana Rasmussen

    Single Life and Marriage in the 20th Century America


  2. Svetlana Rasmussen Avatar
    Svetlana Rasmussen

    Actually, “Single Life and Marriage in the 20th Century White Middle and Upper-class America”


    1. I had thought of this issue, particularly thinking I’d use episodes of various non-middle class and non-white family sitcoms (as well as addressing the issue through articles and lectures). If I ever actually teach the class I imagine the reading list would be tweaked, so if you have some good titles feel free to suggest them. But in the end, there was just a limit to how much effort I wanted to put into a fictional class


      1. Svetlana Rasmussen Avatar
        Svetlana Rasmussen

        Ok, I’m sorry, I guess I should have offered constructive criticism outright.

        I thought about it for the last few days and here is what I would have come up with if this class were mine (I guess I could make it my class, couldn’t I?)

        1) Think of a fictional class not in terms of books to read and things to watch, but the themes by weeks. So under your original title one could have come up with class themes like “bachelors at the turn of the century America” or “Working women in turn of the century America” or “Family life in Soviet Russia after WWII” (based on watching such wonderful films as “The Thief” (dir. Pavel Chukhrai – check this out, it is in the UNL library and I believe easily Netflixable/ordered) and “The Edge” (came out recently, but more fictionalized compared to “the Thief”)

        2) Either limited the title to America’s white middle class or tried to come up with the title that would be both engaging and more cosmopolitan
        Title 1 “Men and Women In and Out of Bed in America and Europe after WWII”
        Title 2 “Men, Women, Sex: Family and Social life in Europe and America after WWII”

        3) The best part: get students to read something and watch something for every theme covered in class. Aside from classics like “Leave it to Beaver” and the Russian ones I named, I recently discovered for myself a guy named Ed Wood and his film “Glen or Glenda.” I could also include watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 shorts “A Date with Your Family” and “Are You Ready for Marriage?” and a documentary on the “Little Red Schoolbook” ( , as well as chapters on the history of Russian sexuality in the 20th century from Igor Kon ( Some episodes from Alfred Hitchcock Presents might also be useful – he has some nice stuff on the 50s’ sensibilities.


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