Everybody Else
Adoption and the Politics of Domestic Diversity in Postwar America

Sarah Potter

How the family became a key site of social inequality for the working class, African Americans, and those without children in 1950s America


“Broadly conceived, imaginatively researched, and eminently readable, Everybody Else provides a new narrative about ‘family values’ that highlights the aspirations of ordinary men and women, black and white, middle and working class, who found in children a motivating force for civic engagement, self-fulfillment, and racial justice. In providing a deep social history of the subjective embrace of children by couples without any or enough, Sarah Potter underscores how domesticity is never merely private but imbricated in larger social and cultural structures."
—Eileen Boris, coauthor of Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State

"Everybody Else is a valuable work for scholars of American post-war social history or of domesticity, race, and gender. Potter makes full use of her rich source material to provide a unique perspective on the everyday lives of white and African American married couples and families in mid-twentieth-century Chicago, illuminating striking differences between classes, races, and genders."
—Kim Park Nelson, Journal of American History


In the popular imagination, the twenty years after World War II are associated with simpler, happier, more family-focused living. We think of stereotypical baby boom families like the Cleavers—white, suburban, and well on their way to middle-class affluence. For these couples and their children, a happy, stable family life provided an antidote to the anxieties and uncertainties of the emerging nuclear age.

But not everyone looked or lived like the Cleavers. For those who could not have children, or have as many children as they wanted, the postwar baby boom proved a source of social stigma and personal pain. Further, in 1950 roughly one in three Americans made below middle-class incomes, and over fifteen million lived under Jim Crow segregation. For these individuals, home life was not an oasis but a challenge, intimately connected to the era’s many political and social upheavals.

Everybody Else provides a comparative analysis of diverse postwar families and examines the lives and case records of men and women who applied to adopt or provide pre-adoptive foster care in the 1940s and 1950s. It considers an array of individuals—both black and white, middle and working class—who found themselves on the margins of a social world that privileged family membership. These couples wanted adoptive and foster children in order to achieve a sense of personal mission and meaning, as well as a deeper feeling of belonging to their communities. But their quest for parenthood also highlighted the many inequities of that era. These individuals’ experiences seeking children reveal that the baby boom family was about much more than “togetherness” or a quiet house in the suburbs; it also shaped people’s ideas about the promises and perils of getting ahead in postwar America.

Page count: 264
11 tables, 3 maps
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $74.95

buy button
View Shopping Cart

List price: $29.95

buy button
View Shopping Cart

List price: $29.95
Check ebook availability

Sarah Potter is assistant professor of history at the University of Memphis.