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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

Behind the White Picket Fence: American Suburbs in the 1950s

Evening Program

Tuesday, January 26, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0075


  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
  • If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.


The 1950s are often remembered in an idyllic and nostalgic way, and it’s easy to understand why some long for that era. After all, the country was globally respected, the economy boomed, and an abundance of well-paid jobs grew the middle-class. Life was safe and pleasant in the brand-new suburbs that seemed to sprout from farmlands overnight. Suburban living meant backyard barbeques, pool parties, white picket fences, and an American-built car in the driveway. It was the perfect picture of the American dream.

By the end of the decade, about 15 percent of the population, or 20 million people, had moved from cities to suburban homes, marking one of the largest migrations in American history. But in addition to being advertised as welcoming, friendly, and safe, the 1950s suburban neighborhood also embodied the reality of racial division in postwar America. As a matter of policy, African Americans were largely barred from purchasing such suburban homes.

Allen Pietrobon, an assistant professor of global affairs at Trinity Washington University and an award-winning historian, explores how and why the unique form of suburban living first arose in America, the legacies of the suburbs, and how they shaped our  politics, culture, race relations, and gender dynamics. He also examines  what we can learn about our nostalgia for the 1950s and how that era continues to impact American culture and politics today.


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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.