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Part six: Making Babies for America


DURING AND AFTER WORLD WAR II, American magazines and films described making babies in patriotic terms. Presumably, these children of democracy would help offset the growth of enemy nations such as Nazi Germany and the communist Soviet Union.

A couple seeks infertility counseling in 1950. [Library of Congress]
One 1946 newsreel bragged: "Among the wartime production feats of which the United States is pardonably proud, not least are those which have led to a spectacular rise in the nation's birth rate."

With men just back from war and the nation recovering from the Great Depression, Americans commenced a baby boom. Birthrates rose for virtually every racial and income group in the country. While the baby boom certainly reflected a new sense of economic prosperity, historian Elaine Tyler May says there was also a sense of "patriotic parenthood" at work. Babies had become a badge of citizenship for white, middle-class Americans.

Conducting a semen analysis, 1956. [Library of Congress]
"The Baby Boom era was a time of extreme pro-natalism, or a strong cultural sense that everyone ought to have children and ought to want children," May says. "You find headlines in the 1950s like one that I found, a picture of Elizabeth Taylor holding a baby that said, 'A Woman at Last!'"

Couples whose infertility eluded diagnosis were sometimes screened for psychological problems. May says that the 1950s "witnessed a romance with all forms of psychology." Women were scrutinized to determine whether they were too neurotic to become pregnant -- some were suspected of being emotionally cold and un-motherly. Psychologists theorized that infertile men subconsciously resisted their masculinity or just didn't want children.

Part seven: "Child-Free"