The push for justice and social equality is as old as the United States, but it gained urgency in the years after World War II. The 1950s and 1960s saw a flowering of activist groups organized around ethnic identity, gender, sexuality, and causes like environmentalism. Writers played a valuable role in all of these movements through speeches, articles, and books.
In some cases, a particular work articulated the fundamental issues underlying a cause, heightening awareness and sparking the increased participation that ultimately led to legal action. Classic catalysts include Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), which galvanized the environmental movement, and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), which strengthened the women’s movement.