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Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Oh, Baby—Learn More

Conditions were ripe in post-war America for a surge in population. Thousands of young men returned home from the war, eager to pursue dreams postponed during the war. The G.I. Bill enabled many to purchase a first home of their own, and a stronger economy encouraged them to begin to raise a family. The result was an unprecedented birthrate that began in 1946 and extended through 1964, reaching a peak of 4.3 million births in 1957.

Members of Minnesota's Greatest Generation who had grown up with hardship during the Great Depression and had dealt with shortages imposed by war wanted their children to have happy, carefree and abundant lives. Mothers turned to Dr. Benjamin Spock's bestselling baby care manual, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, for advice on raising their children. Families moved to the suburbs to provide a safer, more expansive environment for children to play. Stores catered to the desire of parents with more expendable income to provide a better life for their children with a range of furniture, clothing, toys and other childhood accoutrements.

The health and welfare of children was a high priority, particularly during the polio epidemic of the 1950s, which brought immunizations into the schools. The University of Minnesota placed a strong emphasis on child development studies, and offered educational programs for expectant parents.

Keen on providing the best possible education for baby boom children, taxpayers across the state supported the construction of larger, more modern schools and the hiring of more teachers to accommodate the growing numbers of students.

New father views child through nursery window, Abbott Hospital, 1950. Loc. no. R3.1 p18
New father views child through nursery window, Abbott Hospital, 1950.
Mike and Harry Sieben dressed in cowboy outfits, standing in front of Christmas tree, 1951. Loc. no. GV8.1 p31
Mike and Harry Sieben dressed in cowboy outfits, standing in front of Christmas tree, 1951.
Christmas window, Dayton's, Minneapolis, 1949. Loc. no. NP191696
Christmas window, Dayton's, Minneapolis, 1949.
Over-crowded kindergarten at Como Park School, West Wheelock and Grotto, St. Paul, 1951. Loc. no. L3.2 m7
Over-crowded kindergarten at Como Park School, West Wheelock and Grotto, St. Paul, 1951.
 

Oh, Baby!

Post-war prosperity combined with millions of young G.I.s returning to civilian life with a longing to marry and settle down prompted an unprecedented boom in the birthrate in the U.S. and around the world. During the period beginning in 1946 and ending in 1964, approximately 75 million babies were born in the United States, with 1,455,917 of them born in Minnesota. The Baby Boom peaked in the United States in 1957 when 4.3 milllion babies were born (123 out of every 1,000 women gave birth). Minnesota peaked two years later with 88,333 births.

Many members of Minnesota's Greatest Generation experienced their own "baby boom". Ed and Lee Sworsky, expecting their first child, were surprised with twins. Tom and Rose Marie Cousins, whose first child was born in 1953, went on to raise a brood of nine children.

Marian Maxson remembered her Richfield neighborhood to be teeming with kids, and recalled how all the neighbors pitched in to help watch the children while their mothers socialized. She and her friends enjoyed their stay-at-home moms status, and looked to each other for support and advice while raising their kids.

Great expectations, 1954.
Great expectations, 1954. Source: Linda A. Cameron, used with permission. Learn more.
 

A Better Life For Our Children

Minnesota's Greatest Generation, with strong memories of growing up during the Great Depression, wanted to give their children advantages they didn't have.

To protect the health and well-being of their children, they sought expert advice on how to care for them, often reaching for a popular child care manual in addition to relying on tips from their parents and doctors. Richfield resident Carolyn Frederick credited the famous pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock, for helping her to raise her children.

As families grew, they migrated to the suburbs in search of more room and a safer place for their children to grow up. Parents eagerly embraced local amenities that offered benefits to their families, such as parks and playgrounds. Stay-at-home moms socialized while their children played together, and helped to babysit for friends who held jobs. Emily Day of Richfield enjoyed her family's close proximity to Wood Lake Nature Center, family day trips into the country, and the support structure of good neighbors.

Post-war parents supported increases in tax levies to help pay for new, larger schools, and saved for homes and college educations. Shirley Boeser remembered the suburb of Bloomington opening thirteen schools in a single year to accommodate the large student population in that city.

Parents set aside time and money each year so that they could pack the kids into the station wagon and take a family vacation. They spent money on more toys and clothing than they could have imagined during their own childhoods, all in the hope of providing a better life for their children.

Children visiting a Minneapolis public Library bookmobile, 1952. Loc. no. L7 r133
Children visiting a Minneapolis public Library bookmobile, 1952. Source: Minneapolis Star Journal Tribune; Minnesota Historical Society Photograph Collection. Learn more.
 

Citations:

  • Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1946 to 1964. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Minnesota State Demographic Center, St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • Sworsky, Edmond; Douglas Bekke, Interviewer, Edmond Sworsky Oral History Interview, 2006. Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection.
  • Cousins, Daniel T. (Tom), Minneapolis Cousins' Family History through Christmas Letters, 2003.
  • Maxson, Marian; Thomas Saylor, Interviewer, Marian Maxson Oral History Interview, Richfield Oral History Project, Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2007.
  • icon: PhotoPhoto: Marian Maxson and children with neighborhood friends.