What Life Magazine Taught Me About Life
August 15, 2023 | Source: Monroe Gallery of Photography
August 14, 2023
As a child, I saw the country in its photos, stories, and advertisements—and learned some hard truths about America.
By Drew Gilpin Faust
I grew up in the 1950s, on a farm in Virginia miles away from any town or neighbors. For most of my childhood we didn’t have a television, so my three brothers and I amused ourselves fighting pretend Civil War battles in the fields and woods around our house or vying over card and board games that we spread across the living-room floor.
But for me, the best entertainment was always reading. I read for pleasure, for company, and for escape from my contained Virginia world. I could explore other places and imagine myself into other lives—lives that went beyond the limited choices available to my mother and the women of her circle, who were all ruled by the era’s prescriptions of female domesticity. The written word introduced me to what girls could do: solve mysteries, like Nancy Drew; brave the Nazis, like Anne Frank; demand change, like the protagonist of Susan Anthony: Girl Who Dared. Reading could provide, to borrow Scout’s words in To Kill a Mockingbird, a way to escape “the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary closing in on me.” And words could carry me beyond the gentle slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains that rose behind our house. They offered a view of national and global affairs that caught me up in a sense of urgency. I was frightened by the fact that Sputnik had been launched and was passing by overhead every 96 minutes in its orbit of the Earth. I wondered how the Russians had beaten us into space. I was inspired by the courage of Hungarians fighting against communism. I was reassured by portraits of the confident prosperity of postwar America. Yet I felt growing doubt and unease as I read descriptions of the turbulence and conflict emerging to undermine it. (more - subscription required)