The 1940s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Headline Makers

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The 1940s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Headline Makers

Hannah Arendt
Marcel Breuer
Mary McLeod Bethune
James Farmer
Claire McCardell
Robert Moses
Reinhold Niebuhr

Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) Best known for her book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Hannah Arendt also published many articles on politics and philosophy. Imprisoned by the Nazis in 1933, she lived in Paris before escaping to New York in 1941. She spent the 1940s and 1950s studying totalitarianism, and concluded that the Nazis were not evil or psychopathic, but just thoughtless and crude. Her frightening message was that every human being is capable of the cruelty and violence that was carried out by the Nazis.

Marcel Breuer (1902–1981) Marcel Breuer moved to the United States from Germany in 1937. His style as an architect was to combine wood and brick with more contemporary materials such as metal and concrete. He designed many houses and residential blocks in America throughout the 1940s. Among his most notable designs are the Aluminum City Terrace Housing buildings (1942) in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, and the Robinson House (1947) in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In 1968, Breuer was awarded the American Institute of Architects' Gold Medal, its highest award.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955) For more than three decades, Mary McLeod Bethune was the most influential black woman in America. She believed that African Americans should organize themselves through the government to fight racism. In 1904, she established the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute, which became Bethune-Cookman College after World War I (1914–18). In 1943, the college bestowed its first four-year degrees on graduates in teacher education. Bethune was also a renowned civil rights leader, working closely with the federal government to get black workers into the defense industries in the 1940s. She was an active civil rights campaigner until her death.

James Farmer (1920–1999) In 1942, James Farmer cofounded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and was its national director until 1966. Through CORE, he brought nonviolent protest tactics to the civil rights movement, and in doing so inspired some of its most impressive victories. CORE's first successful sit-in was at a restaurant in Chicago in 1943. Multiracial protesters occupied seats reserved for members of specific races. During the 1960s, Farmer became involved with encouraging eligible black people to register to vote. He left CORE in 1966 when younger members began arguing for a separate black state.

Claire McCardell (1905–1958) Claire McCardell's first clothing collection, released in 1941, introduced American fashion to the idea that sportswear could be designed for any occasion. She put as much care into designing, and used similar materials for everything from bathing suits to evening dresses. She was particularly well known for her "Popover" housedress, designed to withstand the wear and tear of housework. During the war, she introduced ballet slippers as accessories to get around restrictions on the use of shoe leather. She won many awards, including the Women's National Press Club Award (1950).

Robert Moses (1888–1981) For nearly forty years Robert Moses helped shape the landscape of New York City. His projects were sometimes beneficial, but just as frequently damaging to urban life. In 1920, he submitted a plan for the improvement of parks and highways in the city. Many of the parks and public spaces he commissioned in the 1930s were accessible only by car, earning him a reputation for helping only the wealthy. Moses' plans for new highways eased travel into the city, but they also destroyed established neighborhoods. More positively, as New York City parks commissioner from 1934 to 1960, Moses built over six hundred new playgrounds and city parks.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) Like his German-born father, Reinhold Niebuhr studied at the Eden Theological Seminary in Wellston, Missouri. In 1913, he took over his father's pulpit in Lincoln, Illinois. But within a few years he had stepped out from his father's shadow. Niebuhr became well known as a theologian of the liberal left, arguing that Christian theology was a better framework for understanding society than Marxism or other political philosophies. In later life, he became a figurehead of the establishment. But in 1969, his ideas were still radical enough for him to be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

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The 1940s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Headline Makers