Boomers’ Moms Weren’t June Cleaver, Then or Now

We boomers grew up watching sitcoms like Father Knows Best (1954-60), The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-66) and Leave It to Beaver (1957-63), where the mom character was the official domestic engineer and chief child-rearer. Evidently, a dress, pearls and heels was the required uniform, whether washing dishes, vacuuming or cooking. Only the addition of an apron helped to differentiate between the household tasks.

By contrast, the man of the house went to work and, it appears, according to boomer-era TV shows, his only job when he got home was to sit in a chair, relax, read the newspaper and, for most of them, smoke a pipe. Occasionally, he was forced to issue dad advice or verbal punishment for his children’s misbehavior, which was brought to his attention by his wife.

Animated female characters didn’t fare much better. By the 1960s, Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble, on The Flintstones (1960-66), were drawn to be virtually the same as Margaret Anderson, Harriet Nelson and June Cleaver. Wilma and Betty’s Stone Age dresses, complete with necklaces, brought 1950s sitcom fashion into the 1960s.

The Jetsons (1962-63) was the futuristic-family answer to The Flintstones. Although pictured in the future, where a “female” robot named Rosey had taken over most of the household chores from the mom character (complete with apron), Jane Jetson was still the homemaker and mother. Jane’s job was to make life as smooth and easy as possible for the family, which she did with the help of space-age inventions. On the other hand, George Jetson wasn’t the one pushing any of the household buttons, despite his grueling work schedule of one hour a day, two days a week. In fact, his encounters with technology often required asking for his wife’s help. His main household chore appeared to be walking the family dog, Astro.

Our TV mindset was so ensconced on the woman controlling all the housework that it became the visual joke on My Three Sons (1960-72). The series starts with the audience knowing that character Steven Douglas, father of three boys, is a widower. Does he immediately jump into the job of homemaker and enlist the help of his growing children to handle the household chores? No — instead, his deceased wife’s father, Bub, grandfather to the children, becomes the live-in housekeeper. The part was played by William Frawley. When he became too ill to continue in the series in 1965, his role was replaced by Uncle Charley (played by William Demarest), the great-uncle former merchant marine who tackles the household chores while wearing an apron (the 1950s signifier of the homemaker), but chomping a cigar lest his character seem too effeminate.

Boomers, however, despite this gender indoctrination, knew their mothers did not live the glamorous sitcom life of June Cleaver; but they were the homemaker and person in charge of the daily home schedules of the children. For Mister B, like many boomers, his mother quit working once the first child was born. She stayed home raising the children and doing the cooking and cleaning until Mister B and his siblings were in high school, when she found a job outside the home.

A prevailing thought, both at the time and even today, was that the Women’s Liberation Movement would change the dynamics of work within the home to a more equitable relationship. Fast forward fifty years and studies are showing that though men are doing more work in the home than ever before, in most relationships it is far from a 50-50 split that many people see as the ideal sharing of responsibility.

Our boomer history came into focus this week for Mister B when reports indicated that during our world-wide pandemic, women are being affected far more than men both in the workplace and on the homefront. Before COVID-19 hit the U.S. a year ago, women made up half the country’s workforce. Indications now are a good portion of unemployed women have left their jobs in order to care for children, who are now required to be home while schools remain closed. To make matters worse, studies show by far women remain the main housekeepers, handling cooking, cleaning, laundry and in many cases, their own work-at-home job situation, while troubleshooting home tech connections for their children and assisting teachers in attempting to reach their on-screen classes.

Even though today’s woman is in a far different situation than June Cleaver, we are witnessing that though many things have changed, much has not. Mister Boomer has no answers, advice or pithy inspirational messages to relay here. He merely tips his hat and humbly bows to mothers everywhere. Where would we be without them?

Has the pandemic brought into focus the dynamics of your own homelife or that of your children, boomers?

Boomers Had Their Sights Set on the Moon

It was February of 1967, and the Space Race was on in earnest. The Soviets had beat the U.S. in launching the first satellite into orbit (1947), the first man into space (1961), the first woman into space (1963), and the first to soft-land an unmanned craft on the moon that transmitted photos of the lunar surface back to Earth (1966). The U.S. had all their hopes to catch up in a hurry entwined with NASA’s manned mission to the moon. The decade was moving on, and the next steps by NASA were critical to fulfilling President John Kennedy’s 1961 challenge of sending men to the moon and back before the end of the decade.

NASA was in the middle of sending five planned missions to photograph the entirety of the moon’s surface. The goal of the first three, the first of which was launched in 1966, was to scout for safe landing sites for the upcoming Apollo missions. In February of 1967, Lunar Orbiter 3 was launched. The final two explored scientific observational objectives, and flew polar orbits.

Since photos taken by the spacecraft were to be analyzed for potential landing sites, cameras equipped with sufficient resolution needed to be installed. Another engineering hurdle to overcome was a method to compensate for the speed of the spacecraft while taking the photos. Lunar Orbiter 3 was equipped with a medium resolution lens (80mm) and a high-resolution lens (610mm).

From February 15 to February 23, photo data was acquired according to a programmed automatic sequence and imaged onto 70 mm film. There was no viable digital photography technology in 1967. As a result, the spacecraft was outfitted with automatic film development. The processed film was then optically scanned and transmitted back to Earth as a video signal. On Earth, the signal was captured and fed into what was termed ground reconstruction equipment (GRE), which reassembled the signal data onto 35mm film positive subframes. Each photo required 26 individual subframes to produce a complete photograph, and 86 subframes for higher resolution images. The combined subframes produced a 20 x 24 inch format, from which contact negatives were made.

The spacecraft’s primary mission was deemed successful, despite the film advance mechanism’s spotty performance throughout the duration. However, the process functioned well enough until March 4, when the film advance motor burned out. Approximately 25% of the captured data was left unprocessed. All in all, the mission produced 149 medium resolution images and 477 high resolution images. The excellent quality of the images allowed for resolution down to one meter, an amazing feat considering they were taken from orbit. Combined with the photos from the first two Orbiters, 99% of the moon’s surface had been photographed. NASA chose eight preliminary landing sites, including the Sea of Tranquility site where Apollo 11 would land in 1969.

Lunar Orbiter 3 was also collecting data on the lunar gravitational field, radiation intensity and micrometeoroid impacts. For this task, the craft was positioned in a near equatorial orbit. The photographic data was to confirm the previous search data for possible site landings by Lunar Orbiter 1 and 2. The additional data from Lunar Orbiter 3 was vital to the planning of the manned Apollo missions set to begin two years from that point.

It continued to gather lunar data orbiting the moon. In August of 1967, NASA ground control sent the spacecraft into a circular orbit to simulate the trajectory of an Apollo spacecraft. It crashed into the lunar surface, as planned, on October 9, 1967. Each of the orbiters were designed to crash into the lunar surface so future missions would not have navigational or communication hazards to manage on their approach to the surface.

Mister Boomer, like most boomers, watched every single manned mission launch with great interest. However, interim unmanned missions were not given the same TV and press fanfare. These particular missions, though crucial for future moon landings, went under the radar for Mister B, until he researched them now.

How about you, boomers? Did you follow the preparatory unmanned missions by NASA in the 1960s?