Friends of the Oviatt Library hosted an insightful presentation at California State University, Northridge on April 17 at the Orange Grove Bistro.
Cristina Rice, the senior librarian with the Los Angeles Public Library, led all those in attendance through a well-informed slideshow presentation titled, “Defining Their Identity: The Changing Roles of Women in the Post-War Era.”
In the years following World War II the images depicted in mainstream media of suburban women generally produced a stereotype of the happy homemaker. Rice instead, dispelled those generalizations and uncovered the changing roles of women through the lens of the library’s Valley Times image archive.
The San Fernando Valley embodied the post-war suburban growth that had spread throughout the country. Valley Times newspaper was there to capture the evolution of the Valley’s exceptional women and their various roles.
Rice took over the photo collection in 2009 and was able to turn her attention to the Valley Times’ community-driven images. By digitizing the images, she was able to fill a huge gap in the online collection focusing on post-War suburban growth.
According to former Valley Times photographer, George Birch, they were the first staff photographers to switch to 35mm film, which resulted in the high quality of the photo spreads. Within the spread, unexpected dominant themes of diverse roles of women were found.
While archiving the collection, Rice expected to find many of the photos focusing on homemakers, women’s clubs and beauty queens. While those images were indeed present, photographs of women assuming various professional roles were also uncovered. Women as architects, engineers, rocket scientists, heart surgeons, pharmacists and reporters were hidden treasures that paid tribute to women who contributed to their communities, but may have since been forgotten.
Among the images were 1965s Valley College spring prom queens and the Van Nuys Woman’s Club, which was founded in 1912. Also included were 1956s Throttle Queens. The Throttle Queens participated in a competition at San Fernando’s drag strip, against male drivers. Getting their car to reach 97 miles per hour, they took first place in their division.