Lori Rogers-Stokes, PhD

“Suspense” and Sexism in Popular Radio Dramas After WWII

Suspense was one of the longest-running radio shows in American history. It began its weekly programs on June 17, 1942 and ended on September 30, 1962, delivering 909 episodes of radio mystery and drama.

As it progressed into the early post-war years, “Suspense” underwent a radical change in tone and content, shifting to male-centered episodes with lopsidedly throwaway or abrasive female characters, a definition of love that was explicitly connected to hate, and a focus on men murdering women—usually their wives.

By July 1948, a new sponsor introduced a definitive male-only culture to a show that had previously been surprisingly egalitarian. In its small way, Suspense is a window into the campaign to drive women back to purely domestic roles after the war, and the relatively undisguised hostility that accompanied that campaign. You’ll listen to sound clips from the show “before” and “after” this switch.

Lori Rogers-Stokes, PhD, (lori.stokes@comcast.net) is an independent scholar studying puritan New England with a focus on women’s roles and its place in the development of American democracy.

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