Major Social Problems

Major Social Problems coverMajor social problems
Raab and Selznick

Submitter: Considering this book was published in 1959, it is not nearly as bad as it could be. The authors take a broad view of social problems, recognizing, for example, that “Negroes” are discriminated against in all aspects of society (socially, politically, economically, in law enforcement, etc.). For example, the book includes a page which has snippets of discriminatory texts from travel agencies and hotels—fascinating and damning stuff.

Where it goes seriously awry is in its “adaptations,” abridged adaptations from other publications. There are short introductory statements to these adaptations, but the authors of the textbook don’t criticize the excerpts, they simply present them as thought-provoking alternate viewpoints. One adaptation, “A southerner’s view of desegregation,” written by Thomas Waring and originally published in Harper’s magazine in January 1956, is particularly offensive, taking a white man’s burden view of desegregation efforts. Another, “Predicting parole success and failure,” adapted from the 1951 book of the same name by Lloyd E. Ohlin, doesn’t hesitate to use stereotypes to categorize people, such as “drunkard,” “sex deviant,” and… um… “’farmer’,” for some reason??

The weirdest section by far was an excerpt of an article published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in February 1956, “The battle for health… and dollars” by Marguerite Shepard. Shepard appears to be in the pocket of Big Polio, as she seems extremely put out by the amount of money those swindlers fighting polio have been raking in.

Oh, and the cover’s pretty awful, too. An overdue weed from our small liberal arts college library’s collection, though I admit I feel comforted by the fact that 237 other libraries hold this book for those who are interested in researching late 1950s attitudes to “major social problems.”

Holly: This belongs *somewhere,* but that isn’t a small liberal arts college. Amazing what you unearth when weeding hasn’t been done for a while.






  1. I think they used “farmer” in place of “dumb hick.” I guess it sounded more academic in their mind.

  2. The attitude about polio is so First World Problem (or, in this case, not-a-problem). The only “comfort” I find is relief that this was in an academic rather than a public library.

  3. “Farmer” surely means “cash crop farmer”—or not. Dumb Hick works, too (thanks egl). Hibiscus? Oleander? Holy Maggoly!

  4. Sadly, my Mom worked at a hotel in Bermuda for a time in the 1950s, and they would lie and say a confirmed reservation had been “lost” if the person had a Jewish surname or was perceived by their appearance to be Jewish (gasp!). My Mom told me this in general conversation when I was in my teens and I was stunned, and more so when she told me it was common practice, and the travel agencies were supposed to know these rules and not make reservations at this particular hotel for any Jewish clients.

    1. My mother worked for a dentist’s office and was told not to make appointments for “anyone who sounded negro.”

    2. My very first job out of college was at a mortgage company, where we would refinance mortgages. In going through the paperwork, we would sometimes come across old deeds from the 1930s or ’40s. These would often have stipulations barring the sale of the property to “Negroes,” Jews, or anyone non-Caucasian. Usually these clauses were crossed out, but not always.

  5. Nothing in the US has changed. Except people use worse words for minorities in everyday conversation than in this book. And maybe the polio thing. But if the anti-vaxxers have their way, that could also change. I think it’s disgusting and sad that people would rather let their kids get and possibly die of a preventable illness than have them turn out like me. 🙁

    1. Sadly, when I was a teenager there was an outbreak of polio at a private school run by the sort of folks who believe in prayer rather than medicine. My very first PCP was one of the doctors called in when the authorities figured out what was going on. This was in the 70s. So yeah, already has happened.

  6. Nevermind that Jonas Salk could have made a large amount of money from the polio vaccine, but he chose not to patent it because he knew that it was important to make it available to as many people as possible.

  7. The weird cover is striking me as even weirder than usual as I’ve just read something about how there used to be a Keeper of the Heads in 1600s England–you know, to maintain the crop of heads on pikes at the city gates. I imagine they looked rather miserable, like these heads.

  8. I’m wondering whether this was intended to be a book of discussion pieces for the university classroom — read the excerpt and be prepared to debate the viewpoint in class.

    I mean, if you’re trying to solve social problems, you can’t pretend everything is rosy. If you’re pushing for desegregation, for instance, you need to be aware of “the southern viewpoint” and even understand where the writer is coming from, if only to be able to counter the arguments.

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