Best of America

8 Rare, Candid Photos of Women in the 1950s

Eight never-published photos taken for Look magazine let you travel back in time while considering: Was life easier, harder, or the same for women in the 50s as compared to their modern sisters?

1951: Cheering from the sidelines

Douglas Jones/Look Magazine

The photographers of Look could never resist the chance to take a picture of a woman in a swimsuit—the one here was probably taking part in Miami's Orange Bowl parade, which was held from 1936-2001.

1951: Saying goodbye as their husbands left for war

The Forgotten Fifties/Look Magazine

Women did not serve in combat, but this soldier was on his way to fight in the Korean War, which lasted from mid-1950 through mid-1953.

1952: Even stars had to be good mothers, too

Charlotte Brooks/Look Magazine

This photo, taken a year after I Love Lucy aired (the series ended in the fall of 1957), shows the enormously successful TV star Lucille Ball in a more domestic setting. Avidly covered by magazines and newspapers, Ball appeared on the cover of TV Guide 45 times, more than any other celebrity.

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1953: Protecting their children

The Forgotten Fifties/Look Magazine

The year before this photo was taken, there was a polio epidemic in the United States with 58,000 cases identified in that year alone. In 1952 the polio vaccine was developed, and during its testing period until it was licensed in 1955, women waited on line for hours to try to get the trial vaccine for their kids (as seen here). The word miracle is overused, but this vaccine and a later oral vaccine were just that, virtually eliminating the disease. In 2012, there were only 223 polio cases in the entire world.

1953: Following the trends

Philip Harrington/Look Magazine

Dance crazes were especially popular during the 1950s and 60s, with names like The Twist and The Mashed Potato. One of the earlier fads was The Bunny Hop, a conga-line formation which originated among students at San Francisco's Balboa High School in 1952.

1954: Making do with what they had

The Forgotten Fifties/Look Magazine

Today, in Park Forest you can find an Aqua Center with a 367,000 gallon pool with four slides. But back then, hot home owners found relief on a much smaller scale.

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1954: Swimsuit competition

The Forgotten Fifties/Look Magazine

Although the modern bikini had been introduced eight years before this pic was taken at a beauty pageant in Park Forest, Illinois, it was still considered too racy for many American women. It took French bombshell Brigitte Bardot wearing a bikini in the 1957 movie And God Created Woman for the two-piece swimsuit to reach the mainstream. Many of the little girls are sporting outfits with modestly flouncy skirts.

1956: Political arm candy

John Vachon/Look

These Ike Girls first made an appearance in 1952 as part of "Draft Ike," the first successful grassroots effort in the 20th century to bring a private citizen, WWII hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to the White House. (The ones shown here were drumming up the vote for Ike's second term.) Today, these Ike umbrellas and garments are collectors' items, but you can find several girls' school sports teams with the name "Ike Girls."

The Forgotten Fifties

All of the images are from the nostalgic new Skira Rizzoli book The Forgotten Fifties: America's Decade from the Archives of Look Magazine. The Library of Congress owns the entire archives of Look, which was published from 1937-1971; at its peak it had a circulation of 7.75 million.

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