Date of Award

Fall 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jablonsky, Thomas J.

Second Advisor

Marten, James A.

Third Advisor

Avella, Steven M.


This dissertation attempts to show how Americans reacted to adolescent female sexuality, looking specifically at unwed school-age pregnancy in the post-World War Two decades. It documents the origins of the transition of the conversation about unwed teens from caring for them in maternity homes and boarding houses to discussing their problems on television shows and in popular magazines. Teenage sexual delinquency and pregnancy have always raised innumerable questions about American culture and values. Because they challenged the traditional concept of motherhood, they offer a lens through which to study American sexuality and reveal that an alternate 1950s existed beyond the traditional stereotypes. Not all girls tacitly accepted the future set out for them. Teenagers actively made decisions regarding their bodies and sexuality. How girls behaved in response to the expectations placed upon them and how the public responded to female adolescents in the past reveals much about American youth, families, and society in general. Despite the fact that historians have devoted significant attention to this time period, few works focus solely on teenagers. The sexuality of female teenagers is often overlooked or combined with studies of women or college co-eds. This dissertation attempts to fill a gap in that literature and prove that the 1950s were indeed a crucial time for adolescents and sex in the United States.

"Girls `in Trouble': A History of Female Adolescent Sexuality in the Midwest, 1946-1964" provides a complex picture of teenage sexuality and pregnancy in the postwar decades. It uses magazines and newspapers, specifically advice columns, to gain insight into public opinion of unwed mothers and teenage females. Letters from girls who wrote to these magazines and newspapers asking for guidance provide a glimpse into their thoughts and fears. Studies conducted by national and local agencies reveal how society addressed the growing problem of unwed pregnancy. Records from maternity homes in Chicago and Milwaukee provide information on the daily experiences of pregnant teens.

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