The late 1960s were a time of social and political change in both Britain and the United States. In many ways these were the conclusion of shifts begun in the wake of WWII. For the older generation, these changes were disorienting; for Love, Love, Love protagonists Kenneth and Sandra, representatives of the cohort born just after the war, they were a natural evolution of the only society they had ever known.
Sample of a UK Child's
Ration Book, WWII
THE END OF AN EMPIRE
While the United States emerged from WWII as a world power with a strong economy, Britain was left bankrupt and physically devastated, unable to maintain control over its far-flung colonies. Between 1945 and 1968, more than two dozen British colonies, including India, all became independent nations. At the same time, immigration to Britain rose due to the need for new workers to rebuild the British economy. Indians, Poles, and West Indians arrived in large numbers.
A MORE AFFLUENT POPULATION
Though Britain struggled economically after the war, by the late 1950s the country was more affluent than ever before. There was a purposeful effort to build a more equitable, less class-based, society. The creation of the social safety net, including national health insurance and payments to families to offset the cost of caring for children, raised the material standard of living. Employment levels were high, and families could afford cars and televisions for the first time. Housing estates, similar to older American suburbs and early public housing developments, were built to replace housing destroyed in the war and to house those displaced by slum clearance projects. These estates featured amenities uncommon in previous generations: central heating and indoor plumbing.
ACCESS TO EDUCATION
The Education Act of 1944 made secondary school, equivalent to high school in the United States, free and available to all students. Previously, secondary school had been almost exclusively for upper class males. Beginning in 1962, universities in Britain were free: the state paid students’ tuition and awarded maintenance grants to cover living expenses. Between 1960 and 1970 the number of Britons earning a college degree doubled. Kenneth and Sandra are part of this group.
Recruitment Poster for the National Service
THE END OF NATIONAL SERVICE
From 1939 until 1960 all British men between 18 and 21 were conscripted into National Service and required to spend 18 months in the military and four years on reserve. This system was phased out between 1960 and 1963. Kenneth was part of the first group of teenagers not required to join the military in two decades.
Women in Britain in the 1960s did not have the rights or opportunities of their male peers. Most left school at 15, worked for several years, and married by their early twenties. Pursuing a college degree makes Sandra part of an elite group.
Though an official marriage bar — which required women in civil service to give up their jobs after marriage — ended in 1946, women were still expected to leave work after marriage in many fields. Women could not get credit or make large purchases without a male guarantor.
Birth control became available to married women only in 1961, but it was not prescribed to unmarried women until 1974. Abortion was legalized in 1967, but the law required the doctor, not the woman, to make the decision about whether or not abortion was appropriate.
The women’s liberation movement coalesced in the late 1960s around issues of wage equality. Women earned 54% of what men earned on average and in many cases were paid less for exactly the same work.
Students on their way to class, early 1970s
British and American young people in the late 1960s were similar in their rejection of “the establishment,” a term for those who hold political or cultural power in a society. The revolutionary, rebellious music of the decade spanned the Atlantic, as did the appreciation of recreational drugs and free love. But the United States had two challenges the British did not face: direct involvement with the Vietnam War, and a major civil rights movement.
The main political cause for British youth was the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. CND unilaterally opposed nuclear weapons, held at the time by the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union, out of fear of a nuclear war and in moral objection to the loss of civilian life seen after atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945. While CND opposed the war in Vietnam, not many Britons were active participants in the Campaign in the late 1960s.
British youth culture centered on “Swinging London.” Swinging was slang for hip or fashionable, and came into use in the late 1950s. Perhaps because the political situation in Britain felt less urgent, Swinging London was all about music and fashion. “Mod,” short for modern, clothes were in: miniskirts and shift dresses in bold colors and prints, designed by Mary Quant and modeled by Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton.
U.S. AND VIETNAM
U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, which began in the early 1950s, was driven by fear of communist expansion. By the late 1960s many Americans no longer supported the war because they objected to American soldiers dying in another country’s civil war, learned of the death and devastation caused by the American and south Vietnamese militaries, and/or or considered American involvement a form of imperialism. The draft system, which conscripted men between 18-21 to serve in the military, drew heavily from minority populations and was seen as unfair. Student groups, civil rights activists, mothers’ organizations, and clergy were all involved in the anti-war movement.
The U.S. civil rights movement, which began in 1954 and had forced change in U.S. laws and practices in housing, employment, education, and voting rights, continued in the late 1960s. Britain, which didn’t have a significant minority population until the immigration of the 1950s, also passed anti-discrimination laws during this period. Overall, the movement was much larger in the United States.
- Senator Edward Brooke, Republican of Massachusetts, becomes the first popularly elected African-American Senator since Reconstruction.
- The Great Human Be-In in San Francisco features Timothy Leary, who tells the crowd to “Turn on, tune in, drop out”
- The first ATM is installed in a North London bank.
- Male homosexuality is decriminalized in Britain.
- The Outer Space Treaty is signed by the U.S.A, the U.K., and the Soviet Union. It prohibits orbiting weapons of mass destruction.
- The first air conditioned subway car goes into service in NYC.
- The first black police officer joins the the London Metropolitan Police Force.
- The first heart transplants are performed in Cape Town and New York City.
- In Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
Love, Love, Love is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit our website.
Related Categories: 2016-2017 Season
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