1. Culture

Description of the culture of origin; the heritage; its influence

While Stephanie Kwolek’s main body of work took place between 1960 and 1980, her most famous work originated in the 1960s. The culture of 1960s America was wild:  the election and assassination of John F. Kennedy, as well as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Elvis Presley ruled the airwaves while the price of milk spike by over 50% from 1960 to 1969. Color TVs radically changed not just the movie-going experience but the entertainment industry at large for American families; by 1970, almost 95% of American homes possessed at least one television. The United States was deep in the “space race” against the USSR, which culminated in 1969 with Apollo 11’s landing on the moon. Silent Spring was published in 1962 and was, arguably, the first intellectual and scientific (if not moral) push for environmental impact awareness in the United States. Almost 50% of the American population was under-18-year-olds; a young, affluent generation that resulted in college attendance rates doubling from 1940 to 1960. (PBS, 2005)(Walsh, 2010)

As a female chemist in the 1960s, Kwolek could look forward to a heavily biased court system and the potential for unequal pay for equal work. In fact, women in the 1960s weren’t allowed to have a credit card in their own name or serve on a jury (because we weren’t really citizens, I guess?). The birth control pill was out of the question (because women weren’t smart or self-aware enough to determine what they wanted for themselves, obviously) and spousal rape was legal (legitimately had exemptions written into the law books to allow spouses to rape one another (Rothman, 2015)) (McLaughlin, 2014). However, more women than ever were entering the paid workforce which eventually lead to equal pay legislation (which included anti-discrimination clauses) being passed in 1963 (somewhat successful but it did not “level the playing field” as it was designed to). That move was a pretty important one, since women were making just 60% of what their male counterparts were making in the 60s. (Walsh, 2010)

Tools, devices, appliances, and machines in use by women in that culture and era

Electric stoves, ovens, blenders, refrigerators and mixers became necessities in any 60s kitchen. These appliances saved time, making life easier and more time-manageable for a household. (Samson, 2014) Typewriters, Xerox machines, keypads for telephones, and the rise of consumer air travel defined the 60s. (Buck, 2012) 1967 saw the first heart transplant and the creation of the first Texas Instruments hand-held calculator (priced at a whopping $2,500.00 at the time). (Walsh, 2010)