October 2000 – January 2001

The decade of the 1950s was an extraordinary period in American history. It was “The Fabulous Fifties” for some, and yet for others, the decade was far from fabulous.

In political and international affairs, the year 1950 ushered in the decade as the “Point of No Return.” The Korean War, NSC-68, and the nuclear arms race set the stage for the future development of the Cold War. Early in the decade anticommunist hysteria reached its height, and the derisive term “McCarthyism” entered the American lexicon. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the ensuing race to space challenged America’s scientific, business, and educational communities.

In contrast, on the domestic scene, post-war economic prosperity spurred unbridled consumerism. The suburban home became the American ideal, and the Baby Boom exploded. The television set became the cultural and social center of American life. Automobiles dazzled with chrome and fins. Rock-and-roll music captured the hearts of the nation’s youth.

But all was not well at home. Many Americans were still far from reaching the “American Dream.” Discrimination and poverty limited the lives of vast numbers of citizens. In response to discriminatory practices, Brown v Board of Education and the Montgomery bus boycott ignited the modern civil rights movement.

This exhibit explores the politics, culture, and social life of the 1950s, highlighting the incongruities between the stereotypes and realities of American life at mid-century. The exhibit also compliments Point of No Return: 1950, The Cold War, and the Twentieth Century, a series of symposia sponsored by the University of Iowa, Truman State University, and the Hoover Presidential Library.

The events of the 1950s helped define who we are today. As we enter the new millennium, this exhibit peers back into that complex and extraordinary decade— The Fifties

This exhibition was prepared by Ellen Hammond, Karen Mason, Marguerite Perret, Bob McCown, and Stephen Dew, with the assistance of Gary Frost and Anna Embree.