LUCILLE BALL, THE 1950'S
AND THE CULT OF DOMESTICITY

I. OVERVIEW:

We teach Advanced Placement U.S. History in the Oakland Unified School District. During the 2004-2005 school year we met six times to design a lesson that used biography to deepen student understanding of U.S. history. The lesson focused on the historiographical question of how women were portrayed in the 1950s media and whether this portrayal reinforced or challenged the “cult of domesticity.” To focus on this issue we used episodes of I Love Lucy as primary source evidence, along with samples from the mass media, to help students explore the question, “Was Lucille Ball a protofeminist or did she reinforce the cult of domesticity?” To assess their knowledge and understanding students were asked to write, using primary source evidence, a paper in response to this question.

Elizabeth Haugen, a teacher at Oakland Technical High School, demonstrated the lesson, which we all observed. The other group members piloted the lesson, assigned essays, and evaluated the student writing.