At Home on the Road: Women’s Community Organizations and the Regulation of Traffic Safety in the 1950s

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 11:40 AM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Renee Blackburn, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Post-World War II American traffic safety infrastructure developed from the networks between industry representatives and government officials. Developing a program to create safer roads and automobiles, design safety policies, and ultimately teach drivers and pedestrians how to interact within this new world of increased automobility, Presidential Commissions worked with community organizations to maintain the safety infrastructure, relying heavily on women’s community organizations to take traffic safety as a serious concern.

In More Work for Mother, Ruth Schwartz Cowan places the automobile into the home world of women, where it becomes the place of work where they can most likely be found – taking children to various activities and purchasing goods for the home. However, women’s home world extended beyond the confines of the automobile and into the abstract world of traffic safety policy. Women’s community organizations tasked themselves with the care of the community, akin to a mother’s care of her home and family. Articles in popular publications, for example, even expounded on the role of the home in traffic safety, stating that domestic harmony contributed to safe driving.

By exploring the traffic safety work of women’s organizations, we can begin to take apart traffic safety policy infrastructure and examine the institutions and organizations that develop, disseminate, and regulate traffic safety policy. Women’s community organizations were key players in maintaining the social infrastructures of traffic safety. These organizations were often the local face of federal policy. They interpreted and disseminated traffic safety information and remained dedicated to keeping their communities safe. This work was essential to creating widespread public support and compliance with traffic safety laws. Through analysis of the relationships between traffic safety policymakers and community organizations, we can see the ways in which community organizations contributed to official traffic safety policy at local, state, and federal government levels.