From Home to Highway: Gender and the San Francisco Freeway Revolts

Summer 2016

Justin Germain : History

Mentor: David Henkin

As San Francisco transformed into a hub of social activism in the post-World War II era, the longest protest against freeway construction of the 1960’s exposed deep social tensions between the local government and its citizenry. While men notoriously controlled City Hall and local industry, housewives  launched housing associations and sparked popular sentiment to fight freeway construction. My research asks how women’s involvement in the 1951-1966 Freeway Revolts reflected or altered gender roles in urban San Francisco neighborhoods. How, and for what reasons, did women become involved in the Freeway Revolts? What impact did women have on the burgeoning neighborhood activism movement? I will use newspapers, government documents, and interviews to analyze the impact of women’s freeway activism upon gender roles and neighborhood advocacy. By examining social movements in a non-homogenous lens, this research has contemporary relevance by providing a framework for local policymakers and activists to create more representative practices for urban communities. Many historians have perceived local activism in light of the period’s steadfast conformity to gender roles, however, my research contests this understanding by illuminating how women crafted a modern, public identity by protecting their communities.  

Over my years at Cal, my academic interest in social movements has grown immensely. Getting the opportunity to dive deeper into this material in a real-world environment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a perfect capstone to my undergraduate experience. Thanks to SURF and the Leadership Foundation, I have the ability to discover more about what made the Bay Area what it is today and use that knowledge to try and create a better future for all.