Creating the American Teenager: Experts, Authority, and Youth in the Cold War

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Margaret S. Thompson


Childhood, Education Reform, Home Economics, Life Adjustment Education, Social Sciences

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This dissertation examines the way life adjustment education shaped the experiences of reformers, teachers, and students in the public school system during the 1940s and 1950s. Intended by educational theorists to reform curriculum and teach practical life skills in the classroom, this program reflected the socio-cultural tensions in the United States following World War II and exemplifies the way public institutions worked to develop an image of the ideal American teenager: civic-minded, psychologically healthy, and adjusted to society.

Adjustment education advocates' emphasis on young people as the key to creating a stable society made youth the central figures of mid-century America. The reformers' actions spoke to their belief in the importance of mental health, a concern which should not be dismissed lightly. Their belief in expert intervention into personal development also suggests a new function for schools, one that intervened in personal life, blending public and private issues. Despite how later educators and scholars dismissed the ideas behind adjustment education, life adjustment advocates concern with mental health indicated an early interest in an education system that might benefit all students. Life adjustment educators wanted to use psychology to improve American life; however, in the end it was not enough to solve the divisions of race, gender, and class that existed in society.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.

This document is currently not available here.