Exhibits Women’s History in the NAEB Collection
In the area of women’s history, the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) collection offers aural counterpoints to the popular culture of the late postwar period for critical study. At the same time that Leave It To Beaver (1957-1963), The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966), Father Knows Best (1954-1960), and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966) beamed images of happy housewives at home in pearls and heels to mass audiences, local, non-commercial radio, redistributed nationally through the NAEB, offered a distinctly different and more nuanced depiction of American womanhood.
Specifically, this digitization project offers scholars a complete set of the 1959 radio series American Woman In Faction and Fiction: From Colonial Times Until the Present Day. The series emerged from a collaboration between University of California – Berkeley faculty and the local radio station KPFA (94.1 FM). KPFA was the first listener-supported, non-commercial radio station in the country and the first local station to win a Peabody in 1957 for its community service. Founded on the principles of pacifism and the protection of civil liberties, KPFA was dedicated to the production of diverse, local public affairs, culture, and news programming that couldn’t be found in the mainstream media. An example of the distinct programming that could be found on local stations was this educational drama, commissioned by the Educational TV Radio Center (a precursor to National Educational Television (NET)). Over the course of thirteen half-hour episodes, American Woman In Fact and Fiction brought to life important moments in women’s history and dramatized the lives of women over the last two centuries as revealed in excerpts from American novels (although most were written by male authors). In addition, this collection offers two half-hour roundtables with various scholars from political science, anthropology, and psychology who debated the problems facing contemporary women. Written, directed, and co-produced by Dr. Virginia Maynard Levy (1911-2010), the drama and literature director of KPFA, this series is an important example of local, female-produced radio content, a rarity in mainstream media at the time. Maynard Levy received a citation for distinguished programming from the NAEB for her efforts.
The different perspective offered by American Woman In Fact and Fiction to those interested in women’s history or postwar media is revealed in Episode 11 of the series. Maynard tells radio listeners that her adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the “story of a woman who is revolting against the pattern of her life, a pattern which had barred woman for centuries from all forms of human endeavor, except those connected to home, household or husband” (:57-1:17). American Woman In Fact and Fiction, as a whole, seeks to elucidate these two themes - the obstacles that have hindered women’s progress and the strength of American women who challenged those barriers throughout history. Using the words of Puritan Anne Hutchinson, the abolitionist Lucretia Mott, the activist Sojourner Truth, or the suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the drama, Maynard argued that there a new American woman had been born who was independent, self-reliant, and spoke out publicly against injustice. Whether focused upon a feminist writer struggling in a transcendentalist colony in “A Nineteenth Century Minerva,” a farm woman suffering from domestic abuse in “A Question of Justice,” or a mother reasserting her domestic power in “The Revolt of Mother,” Maynard also offered local listeners accounts of a broad array of womenbattling the social, political, and sexual mores of their day. Combined with the digitized files of NAEB programming and pamphlets from KPFA, this series adds to the evidence of women’s attempts to redefine themselves and their capabilities in this period.
Overall, this series offers scholars an early example of postwar discussions about the role of women in American culture and the obstacles to her growth and development. American Woman In Fact and Fiction provides a compelling, alternative history of American women speaking out about inequality and speaking up for themselves. Listening to this radio series suggests that a robust discussion of the limitations on American women predated Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), oft cited as the intellectual touchstone for second-wave feminism. This collection also provides a useful addendum to Pacifica Radio Archives’ preservation project completed in 2016, “American Women Making History and Culture: 1963-1982.” Archivists curated over 2,000 reel-to-reel tapes and over 2,000 WAV files from Pacifica Network broadcasts with the explicit goal of documenting second-wave feminism as expressed in audio programs that either featured or were produced by women.
The digitization of these programs, among others, offers us content that would otherwise be largely invisible to radio historians sifting through pages of industrial trade presses like Broadcasting, Radio and Television Mirror, and Variety for information about the content of postwar media. Finally, this series provides compelling evidence of the variety and depth of postwar discussions of women’s issues for those who study the lives of postwar women and the twentieth-century women’s movement.
Jennifer Hyland Wang is a broadcast historian who adjuncts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she finished her Ph.D. Her dissertation, “Convenient Fictions: The Construction of the Daytime Radio Audience, 1927-1960,” traces the history of the construction of daytime programming on radio and television through a careful examination of the creation and circulation of the concept of a "daytime female audience" within the broadcast industry and American culture. Her current research largely focuses on the relationship between gender and broadcast media, specifically on radio, daytime programming, podcasting, and women's labor. Her published work can be found in the Radio Reader, the Cinema Journal, The Journal of e-Media Studies, Feminist Media Histories, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, and the Journal of Radio and Audio Media. Her work on radio and podcasting will be featured in the forthcoming edited collections, Saving New Sounds: Dispatches from the PodcastRE Project, The Routledge Companion to Radio Studies, and The Oxford Handbook of Radio Studies.