A social experiment in Greenbelt, Maryland: Class, gender, and public housing, 1935-1954
AuthorKerns, Jennifer K.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThrough the historical analysis of a public housing project built in Greenbelt, Maryland in 1937, this dissertation investigates how federal housing policies attempted to impose middle-class gender roles and relations on members of the working-class as a central means to alleviate class tensions heightened during the Great Depression. Informed by recent developments in Women's History and the Social History of Architecture, this project examines how attempts to rehabilitate working-class families and communities necessitated removing them from cities and imposing paradigmatic gender norms. A new form of housing and town-planning became a critical means to achieve these ends. This federal housing project in Greenbelt has long been celebrated as the first successful example of federal support for progressive urban planning. The planners of Greenbelt drew from existing progressive ideologies that understood decentralized communities, or suburbs, as the answer to the decay and squalor of urban centers. Viewing Greenbelt solely in terms of its progressive legacy is limiting, however, unless that legacy is investigated using class, race, and gender analysis. With the planning, design, and administration of the new community in Greenbelt, New Deal planners envisioned a new form of architecture, town-planning and administration that would provide a social and physical environment conducive to the formation of viable, stable, working-class families. These planners assumed that if working-class residents adopted the gender relations that were normative in the middle-class, long term problems of poverty and social disorder would disappear. The built environment of Greenbelt, contemporary photographs, and federal administrative records provide significant evidence to study the relationship between "class rehabilitation" and gender norms. This project offers a new approach to understanding the New Deal housing policies and the construction of a domestic ideal.
Degree ProgramGraduate College