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03.06.11

Reliving History: 'Young Wives With Brains'

In a special report from March 1960, NEWSWEEK investigated the changing lives of educated women in America. In this weekly feature, we dig into the NEWSWEEK archives to see how times have changed—or in some cases, haven't.

It was the problem that had no name: the buried, unspoken, yet so utterly debilitating feeling facing American housewives in the 1950s and 1960s. Feminist icon Betty Friedan wouldn't coin the phrase for three more years, but in 1960, NEWSWEEK had its finger on the pulse. In this weekly magazine feature, "Reliving History," we dig into the NEWSWEEK archives to see how times have changed—or haven't.

Who could ask for anything more? In a special report from March, 1960, NEWSWEEK investigated the changing lives of educated women in America. Anticipating the social upheaval to come, the magazine wrote of the "young wife with a brain," who seemed to have it all but still "often complains that she is not completely happy." Why was she so dissatisfied? Science editor Edwin Diamond found a growing "disenchantment with what she has been brought up to expect"—the idea that this was no longer a man's world; that opportunities were limitless.

But when these modern young women settled down—with "her brains, her good looks, her car, her freedom"—she was suddenly bored senseless, stuck in the suburbs, struggling to balance family with work and personal time. As one woman, the wife of a Wall Street lawyer, described it at the time: “By the end of the day I feel like a pie—and there just aren’t enough slices to go around to everyone.”

Five decades later, as women have become the majority of the American workforce, we tracked down Diamond's interview subjects, only to learn that his own wife was one of them. Now 83, Adelina Diamond, a former journalist herself, was quoted by her late husband as a University of Chicago graduate who "summed up her experience tersely: 'I'm tired of talking to people 3-feet high all day,'" she told him.

Reached at her home in Chicago, we asked Diamond to reflect on work, education and motherhood.

On suburban housewivery. "Being a mother and a housewife was an enormously challenging job, but it could be quite lonesome. Sure, we ran big houses, big budgets, active lives, but it wasn't intellectually as challenging."

On staying home with her three children. "I must say that I can't remember anything nicer than picking up my children after their early nap, when they were sweet and cuddly. And I know many women who missed that."

On education. "After college, I applied to Columbia Law School, and was planning to go. But when I met with the dean and told him I wanted to work with affordable housing, he said, 'You don't need a law degree for that.' I think the feeling was, 'Why take up a man's spot?'"

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On the challenge of balancing work and family. "I think I might have been more satisfied had I gone to law school out of college, postponed marriage, waited a few years before settling down. In that sense, this generation of young women is lucky."

Jessica Bennett is a Newsweek senior writer covering society, youth culture and gender. Her special reports, multimedia packages and original web video have been honored by the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York and GLAAD, among other organizations. Follow her on Twitter.