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FROM FRONT PORCH TO BACK SEAT Courtship in Twentieth Century America by Beth Bailey (Johns Hopkins: $10.95)

September 17, 1989|CHARLES SOLOMON

Drawing on such unconventional sources as popular advice columns, school newspapers and advertising, Beth Bailey has compiled a fascinating study of American mores between 1920 and 1960. During these decades, the shift to a mobil, urban, industrialized society, combined with the Depression and World War II to effect profound changes in attitudes toward dating, sex and marriage in the United States.

During the '30s, "date-and-rate" was the accepted pattern. Young people were encouraged to have as many dates as possible, and the girl or boy with the most partners was considered the most successful and desirable. The search for security in the post-war world reversed this model: Going steady became the rule, and the person with the fewest partners won. An intriguing book that reveals just how much the feminist and sexual revolutions have accomplished--and how much of the struggle for equality has yet to be won.

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