Conserving the Country in Postwar America: Federal Conservation Policy from Eisenhower to Nixon
Kolar, Laura Richardson, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
This dissertation examines the significance and changing dimensions of federal conservation policy in America after World War II. It focuses on one component of federal conservation policy: how programs developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture between 1955 and 1972 advanced new dimensions of conservation ideology and contributed to shaping and implementing broader goals of political reform. In the 1950s and 60s, leaders adapted older conservation agendas to meet the needs of postwar America, in the process shaping the direction of the nation and the ideology of conservation policy. While federal conservation policy did not hold the central place in postwar administrations that it did during Theodore or Franklin Roosevelt's time, it was a dynamic and formative force that served as a key way for policymakers in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations to achieve reform agendas, fix multiple societal problems and to envision a better future.
The conservation policies implemented by the USDA from the mid 1950s through the early 1970s, which are the focus of this study, adapted many of the approaches of their predecessors. They also forged new policy directions: First, postwar programs focused on the multiple uses of private lands, such as farm recreation, for the first time; Second, they applied conservation practices to the challenges of urban America, seeking to shape urban-rural relationships in new ways; Third, they adopted tenets and sought to achieve goals usually attributed to environmentalism, including a desire for beauty, a high "quality of life" and harmony with the natural world.
The development of these new land uses operated within a set of cultural assumptions about the meaning and purpose of the farm and rural life at a time when more Americans than ever were migrating from farms to metropolitan areas. As a result, conservation policy in the postwar years was intimately interwoven with the evolution of modem rural development policy as it emerged in the late 1950s and 1960s, and with federal visions of what rural America should look like and the role its natural resources could play in a modem, urban nation.
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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.
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