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The Brief American Pageant , Sixth Edition
David M. Kennedy, Stanford University
Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
Thomas A. Bailey
Mel Piehl, Valparaiso University
Primary Sources

Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source | Related Links

Father Knows Best

Instructors' Note
Students should have no problems dealing with television; in fact, they will probably overwhelm you with examples from various programs. The point is, however, to understand that television often portrayed interpretations of the family life had little basis in historical fact and that TV's depiction of family life has also changed over time. You may wish to discuss with students why, for example, the TV family of 1950s had no television in the living or family room. How do the Andersons compare with the chaotic household depicted in "Roseanne?" Depending on the students' ages, you might wish to have them imagine an evening in their own living room and have them compare their mental picture with that of the Father Knows Best's Anderson family. To broaden the discussion, you may wish to ask students to define "family values" and to explore the effect of this ideology on contemporary American culture.

Father Knows Best and similar programs televised from the mid-1950s through 1960s propagated ideas about family life and gender roles that were both illustrative of prevailing attitudes and at odds with families' experience during these years.

Questions to Consider
  1. What does the picture say about the structure (number of children, race, and so forth) of the twentieth-century family?

  2. Describe the Anderson's living or family room. What is missing from the room?

  3. The members of the Anderson family are engaged in a variety of activities in the picture. What do these activities suggest about the gender roles?

  4. What social class does the Anderson family occupy? What can you use as evidence for your position?

  5. Examine the placement of the subjects and their relationship to one another in the picture. What do their position and placement say about their importance and roles within the family?

  6. Using your own television viewing experience, how does this depiction of the American family at mid-century compare with that portrayed at the end of the century in such programs as "Roseanne," "Family Ties" or "The Bill Cosby Show?" What historical developments would account for these changes (or lack of them)?



Source: "Father Knows Best" (1954-1963) with Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Lauren Chapin, Culver Pictures, Inc.


Related Links

  • Nick at Nite
    The web site devoted to the cable channel that broadcasts a good many television series from the 60s, 70s, and early 80s.