Awful 1962 marriage textbook speaks out against feminism, communism and interracial dating

This 1962 high-school textbook, "When You Marry," is a long, mind-bendingly awful manual for marriage, including sticking to traditional gender roles, staying away from race-mixing, resisting communism and saving yourself for your wedding night.

Love, 1962 American High School Style (via Making Light)


  1. *sigh*
    When did we lose our way and our decent, proper values?
    I bet it was the right to vote that gave them the first delusions of grandeur.

  2. Though the phrasing of the excerpt quoted above is clearly old-fashioned patriarchy-speak, the sentiment is not inaccurate.

    For anyone (male or female) who wants a partner who is hyper detail-oriented and prone to perfectionism is likely to find someone who would keep a very clean house but also be a very strict and inflexible partner. The converse is also true: someone who is more likely to roll with the punches and be flexible and adaptable to problems that arise is less likely to be a taskmaster about cleanliness.

  3. And in fifty years, should someone come across some archived version of this site, would they snicker as roundly at the unenlightened and naive political and social opinions of the owners?

    Never confuse your social mores with universal law.

  4. Including sticking to traditional gender roles +.5
    staying away from race-mixing -1
    resisting communism +1 (have you seen what communism has done?)
    and saving yourself for your wedding night +1

    Overall score: + 1.5

  5. @Cicada And, if our sensibilities have evolved in 50 years (and I hope they do!) would we not deserve to be mocked? Also, this was 1962, not 1862. It’s not as if everyone thought that way, and so they “couldn’t help it” (not that I think that defense is a good one whatever year we’re talking about).

    In my experience, poking fun at the absurdity of racism and sexism and the other forms of bigotry that plague our culture is one of the best ways to effect change. It’s using peer pressure for social progress! People who find themselves the objects of ridicule in this manner can learn to 1) get a thicker skin and 2) be less *ist. I’m not going to lose any sleep over hurting the feelings of the people who wrote this book.

    1. Sure, sensibilities evolve over time…but evolution means change, not change with an end goal in mind.

      Things go from “Whew, thank goodness we know now that all people are alike in dignity, unlike our heathen ancestors” to “Whew, thank goodness we know now to dilute the purity of our group, unlike our heathen ancestors”, and both groups would swear that they’re pointing their politics along the arrow of destiny.

      If, say, you asked Charles Sumner (orator, senator, and quite smart man) in 1860 about the issue, he’d have eloquently told you of the potential of all people. If you asked Woodrow Wilson in 1910 about it, he’d have eloquently defended European racial superiority.
      Flippity, floppity, and there’s no more a direction to it than there is to clothing fashions.

      1. It is true that biological evolution doesn’t have any end goal, but animal morphology can and has been directed often by means of animal husbandry.

        By the same token social evolution can be a random walk, and in things like clothing fashions it often is. But like animal husbandry the form of society can be and often is directed.

        I would argue that the growth of personal liberties and freedoms are examples of this kind of directed change, and that it is no accident that customs such as slavery and human sacrifice have been largely eliminated. Barring a collapse of modern civilization, I seriously doubt that such institutions will ever see much of a resurgence.

        1. This might be wishful thinking as to personal liberties– consider how class-, race- and other group-based ideologies grow.

          Heck, use the word “Libertarian” around here to get an opinion on the doctrine of personal liberty as the chief good.
          “Yes, comrade, you may do anything you wish. As long as it supports the revolution/social good/cultural ideals”

          The other thing to consider is that certain basic concepts occur in different forms over time– for example, if you look at prison labor in California you’d be hard-pressed to tell much of a difference from actual slavery as practiced by the Romans or Greeks.

          1. if you look at prison labor in California you’d be hard-pressed to tell much of a difference from actual slavery as practiced by the Romans or Greeks.

            um..yeah, I guess, unless you consider the fact that prisoners have (usually) committed some crime to get to where they are at, and unless they are lifers they will be free again someday, and they can refuse to do it if they don’t mind forfeiting good time…unlike Roman and Greek slaves who were regularly killed for insubordination…

          2. Ah, so it’s justified, then. And they can stay in their cells if they don’t want to. Check. Well, sounds all better to me, then.

            Hooray for prison labor!

          3. I’m guessing you’re making some kind of subtle argument for the random, non-directed evolution of thought here.

            Nicely done.

          4. unless you consider the fact that prisoners have (usually) committed some crime to get to where they are at, and unless they are lifers they will be free again someday, and they can refuse to do it if they don’t mind forfeiting good time…unlike Roman and Greek slaves who were regularly killed for insubordination

            You’ve used the word “fact” where I think you should have used the phrase “my opinion”.

            In the opionion of the slaveholders of ancient times, all slaves had committed crimes – often the crime of being born members of a “barbarian” race, or the crime of poverty. Substitute your own cultural or personal shibboleths.

          5. No, I meant fact. Conviction of a crime is in the legal sense a “fact”. Feel free to look it up. I included the term (usually) to cover cases of wrongful conviction. I don’t make up the language, I just use it, but feel free to redefine words in any way you see fit to support your opinions.

            It is my opinion that the judicial system we use has a number of serious flaws, not the least of which is the overuse of incarceration as punishment and the nearly inescapable lifelong prejudice faced by ex-cons.

            It still doesn’t make prison work the equivalent of slavery in the ancient world.

          6. Ancharis of Tyre said that laws are like spiders’ webs; the mighty burst through them, and the least slip between the strands – only the middle-sized are trapped and destroyed.

            But I’ll admit I’ve spent much more time studying slavery in the ancient world than I’ve spent studying modern prison populations. Cato the Elder was an exception, not the rule, which is why his views were notorious; the treatment of slaves (particularly during the Roman conquest of Italy) by the Romans was considered harsh by other peoples, because slaves used for mining and fieldwork were not permitted to earn their freedom, enjoy the theatre, or move freely in the cities.

        2. hmm. an alternate-history short about the repeal of the 13th amendment due to concerns about crime and unemployment in some dystopian future would be quite something.

  6. I didn’t think this needed to be said, but I’m going to go with “Including sticking to traditional gender roles -1000000.”

  7. goddamn it I was going to comment on the sheared beaver! Anyway, can someone over the age of 50 tell us what “petting” actually MEANS? I’m 30 and I have never heard a good explanation. I fear it is a definition lost to the sands of time forever. Are we talking full on fingerbang/handjob territory here, or merely a slobbery, embarrassing gropefest? Furthermore, when you reported to Betty in homeroom the morning after your hot night out with Frank at the opening of My Fair Lady that your petting was “heavy”, what did THAT mean exactly? Inquiring minds need to know.

    1. No Petting means you are not allowed to kiss your girlfriend in public.

      “fingerbang/handjob” would be called “heavy petting”.

      (I’m 44 BTW).

  8. to be fair to the authors, they do make it clear that biological sex, gender and sexual orientation are three completely different things. which is awesome from something that was basically post-war.

  9. Unless I missed the magic page, BoingBoing has seriously misrepresented this book. With respect to interracial dating there are two references:

    One is a simple statement that “white-Negro” marriage is not allowed in some states. This is simply factual information, and good to know if one is dating in that era.

    The other is a chart showing how chromosomes combine titled “If a Negro mates with a white”. While culturally insensitive in today’s culture, the chart is completely factual. Today’s version would pick something less socially charged, such as tracing chromosomes shared between people of different eye colours rather than skin colours.

    This book is clearly dated, but in general I was struck by how progressive it was for its age. Reading it also made me realize how many taboo topics we have today. That’s a step backwards in my opinion.

    1. It is kind of interesting how there’s a hell of a taboo against attributing traits to nature versus nurture.

      1. It is kind of interesting how there’s a hell of a taboo against attributing traits to nature versus nurture.

        Do you mean traits like homosexuality or traits like xenophobia? I think you’ll find that people here will generally attribute one of those traits to nature and another to nurture, generally speaking.

        1. Both, probably.

          But if they’re both strongly influenced by biology, where does that leave us?
          You (presumably) wouldn’t say to someone “How about trying to be a little less gay”. Would you say “How about being a little less xenophobic” if it turns out that’s biologically-determined (or strongly influenced) as well?

    1. The quiz (p. 322) consisted of true/false questions. The statement in question #8 was “Members of certain human races cannot reproduce if mated with members of a widely different race”, which is false, as explained on the following page.

      The “false” in your quote doesn’t mean the following statement is false; it means that the correct answer to question #8 is “false”, and the following statement explains why.

  10. When I was pregnant my mother-in-law gave me her the advice books that she had saved from the sixties. One of them advised against drinking any more than two cocktails at a time, but it was more because this was unladylike rather than dangerous to the baby. Also, when packing your suitcase to leave by the door for the “big moment”, don’t forget to pack your cigarettes- most hospital gift shops don’t sell cigarettes.

  11. 1. Every home had a mommy and a daddy who lived at the same address.
    2. Wives stayed home all day.
    3. Daddies, all by themselves, with just one job each, earned enough to pay all the family bills.
    4. Everybody LIKED living that way.

    As for the interracial thing, that was a simple practicality: right or wrong, you could get killed for interracial dating.

    1. but this is the interwebz, and all is not as it would seem. un-selectively quoted on the linked site, but in the book, it’s more like:

      “the traditional methods of child rearing employed by the family of yesterday and sanctioned by authority deliberately terrorized, brutallized and humiliated the child…. unless we break with the past by carefully evaluating our family practices in terms of modern science, we may continue the cycle in our own homes.”

      “ours is a day of transition, in which change is not only permissible, but encouraged. it is a day of image breaking for which we pay a price in social disorganisation and breakdown. one of the changes now underway is the final break with the patriarchal, male-dominated home of the past, with it’s obsolescent ideas and beliefs and destructive practices” – p453

    2. 1. Every home had a mommy and a daddy who lived at the same address. 2. Wives stayed home all day. 3. Daddies, all by themselves, with just one job each, earned enough to pay all the family bills. 4. Everybody LIKED living that way.

      Funny. My parents lived in separate homes. My research scientist mother made less than her male colleagues. Most adults seemed to be shitfaced drunk for the better part of the day. Maybe because that made it easier to ignore the rampant child abuse.

      Good times.

  12. As much as I adore the styles and fashions of the era, this kind of creep-tastic thinking was also a part of the age of “Mad Men”.

    It’s also why I shudder when I hear political blatherers on the right talk about returning to the “simpler time”.

  13. Am I the only one who is surprised to see eugenics included in a schoolbook about dating and marriage? I mean, seriously, eugenics? This book is roughly twenty years after Hitler and contemplates “superior” and “inferior” races?!

    1. I HAVE the 1945 version of the book, sitting here on my desk now. My wife and I bought it as sort of a novelty at a used book store for $1.50.

      I haven’t read it end-to-end, but I wouldn’t mind digging through and pulling out a few quotes.

  14. Am I the only person around today who is NOT nostalgic for those times? I wish this Mad Men fixation would die already.

  15. 4. Everybody LIKED living that way.

    Somebody needs to read The Feminine Mystique. No, dumbass, everybody did not like living that way, women suffered tremendously because of it. They just weren’t allowed to complain, lest they be considered “unfeminine” or “bad wives”. For many (even most) people, it was absolutely terrible.

    And by the way, where did this notion come from that this was the configuration that was standard at that time? This was an upper-middle-class way of living, the vast majority of people could not live this way. Just as it is today, the only way “daddy” could afford to pay all the bills was if “daddy” had a very well-paying job that enabled the family to move into their wealthy suburban prisons. Most people needed two incomes to put food on the table.

    (and this is not even to mention minorities, who had it a thousand times rougher, but that’s another discussion)

    I hate it when people glorify that age. I really, really do.

  16. The lead paragraph you quote really isn’t all that bad. Change it to two guys living together–say The Odd Couple–and you should easily understand that it’s not good to marry someone you’re obviously incompatible with and make each other miserable forever. Do you have a problem with that concept?

  17. You want to see a real piece of crap, look up the original edition of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) by David Reuben, the (very loosely adapted) inspiration for the Woody Allen movie of the same name. Incredibly homophobic; Reuben had the section on lesbians in the chapter on prostitution, because they both hate men, see. (He published an “updated” edition later that answered the question “What do lesbians do in bed?” with “The best they can”, the reason that it wasn’t that great being that they could never experience the joys of a real penis. SRSLY.) It was a huge best-seller.

  18. Hahahahaha! And I thought expectations about marriage /today/ were unbelievably dreary. Sadly I don’t think a lot has changed below the surface.

  19. I’m so glad I live in a day and age when girls my age are not constricted by outdated gender roles and, instead, wear cowboy boots with dresses and fedoras, have full sleeve tattoos, drink, smoke, swear and do drugs like it’s going out of style, and also get into fights at bars, f*ck strangers, then kick them out of their beds and thoughts without any remorse. I love these empowered, independent women I’m surrounded with in Brooklyn, they’re like the jocks I hated when I was younger, except I can’t complain because they’re so empowered, and to even question it means that I’m sexist. Even when they’re puking in the street and brag about it later.

    1. Yeah. It sucks not to have control over people. I hate other people’s freedom too. They should act like I want them to and look like I want them to because goddammit I’m important!

    2. I plan on using all my empowerment and independence into developing my career so that I will be able to support myself and any children I may have independently. Because despite the ideal situation described in outdated texts such as this, a girl never knows when hubby may die in a horrible bus accident leaving her single and the sole means of financial support for the family. If I were to stick to my ‘traditional’ gender role, I’d risk ending up careerless and financially screwed. But don’t worry, I promise never to wear a fedora and cowboy boots simultaneously. I’ll also try and suppress that intense urge I feel to get full sleeve tattoos and start smoking and binge drinking.

    1. As was I, LB. But I wound up reading the entire dang thing a couple weeks ago when it was first posted. Worth the read, mind-boggling social control we had back then, ayup.

  20. And for contrast with modern times, the banner ads have latched onto the keywords and are now advertising interracial dating sites.

  21. @Oskar
    You are dead on with the “two incomes” hardly being uncommon in this (and even earlier) era. Both my grandmother and great-grandmother worked (out of need, not for the satisfaction of having a “career”) long before the feminist movement existed. What the feminist movement did was make married women working *respectable* and thus opened opportunities to upper-middle class women. The lower-middle class and working class women had always worked. This seems to have been often forgotten.

  22. Actually, it depends on the type of perfectionism. With pathological maladaptive perfectionism, you’re just as likely to procrastinate on performing a task because you feel that you don’t have the time or the resources to get it done “right”.

  23. “4. Everybody LIKED living that way.”

    Really? You are aware of the phrase ‘Mommy’s little helper’, which referred to the copious volumes of anti-depressants which were prescribed to women after WWII. With the men at war many had jobs, jobs that the media persuaded them they didn’t want at the end of the war to open up vacancies for returning vets. These women, now denied the freedom that they had recently had, were driven to depression by a culture that told them that wanting more meant that there was something wrong with them.

    1. RikF, I experienced this when I attempted to take two weeks off to “live as a housewife and see if I like it”. Any woman that is considering quitting their job to become a housewife really should do this. I was incredibly unhappy and it didn’t take very long for it to set in.

      “Idle hands do the devil’s work” has a very personal meaning for me.

  24. My mother owns a book called Happy Living: A Guidebook for Brides (a wedding present, 1967). At least it is mostly about housekeeping and not overtly dogmatic, but the prescriptive subtext is clear. It has become pure kitsch and is kept in the family only for a fabulous cinnamon coffee cake recipe in the breakfast section.

    The book is OOP and you can get more of an impression of it here (I am NOT recommending this person’s blog, twee up the wazoo)

  25. was it just me or did “rough and tumble” sound slightly more strong-arm than ‘roll with the punches’?
    or did I just miss the punchline?

  26. This is the very -foundation- of traditional marriage, people. This is your -history-.

    Also this comment was originally intended to be funny/snarky, but it did not turn out that way at all.

  27. On Friday night, I gave my brother-in-law’s intended the gift of the 1953 edition of “When You Marry.” She loved it.

    On Saturday, October 24, Zaq and Stef were wed. And Cory posted this oh-so apropos entry on Boing-Boing!

    Thanks for the Zeitgift, Mr. Doctorow.

    — MrJM

  28. Even though much of the advice in the book is bad and dated, at least kids were apparently getting some sort of advice back then. These days, there seems to be no education whatsoever in high schools to help kids learn how to make relationships work. It’s no wonder so many marriages fail when so many people go into it with so little knowledge of what works and how to keep it together. Especially since so many modern teens grew up in single parent homes, they need education more than ever. They can’t just model their own ideas off of what worked for mom and dad. A little guidance in school might be helpful. Schools should start teaching a modern, tolerant, updated version of that kind of pre-marriage program. Less abstinence and racism and sexism and more advice about picking a mate and making your marriage last.

    1. Interesting! Probably one of those things they don’t do just because of the battles that would ensue between right and left when they tried to write the accompanying textbook.

    2. Kids can’t even count on their schools providing thorough and accurate information about birth control options in the human reproductive portion of their biology classes anymore (thank you “abstinence only” education!). What the hell makes you think accurate and reasonable information about successful relationships could ever make it into the classroom at this point?

      Good luck with introducing that to your local school board.

  29. Am I the only one who was wondering whatever became of Brenda and Zion (or 2wn)? I feel like Brenda’s love was doomed since marrying Zion was not legal, and aborting their baby was also not legal. Kind of a grim tale.

    If anyone is lost as to what I am talking about, I’m referring to the doodles referenced throughout the scanned pages of the book, and the drama inferred by the blogger. Good stuff!

    1. wylkyn: No, I’ve been wondering that as well. I like to think they ran away to Paris and moved in together, living decent lives and having lots of bright and beautiful children.

      Call me an optimist. :-)

  30. @ danlalan

    Ivan Boseky used to do my lawn! (he was sentenced to Lompoc Federal Prison/Vandenberg AFB in California).

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