First to appear of a projected ten volumes in The Young Oxford History of Women in the United States, covering ""the public and private lives of...women over the past four centuries."" May, University of Minnesota professor and specialist in women's issues, traces women's status from the Depression, when many women began to share wage-earning responsibilities, through their success in tradition-shattering jobs during WW II and into the postwar reaction, when one-income families were idealized as the reward of hard-earned peace and prosperity. Contrasting women's and men's roles, May deals with education, employment, sexuality, child-rearing, domesticity, and political action as they evolved in these critical years, laying firm ground for the more turbulent changes of the 60's. Backing generalizations with ample statistics and telling incidents, she's especially careful to differentiate between white middle class and minority experiences -- for example, African-Americans were more likely to complete college: in an era when white women believed that earning an ""M.R.S."" was the path to security and fulfillment, blacks saw education as a way out of poverty. The author concludes with individuals and groups who went ""Against the Grain"" in the 40's and 50's -- black civil rights activists, Women Strike for Peace members who successfully confronted the House Un-American Activities Committee, giants like Eleanor Roosevelt and Rachel Carson. Lively, fascinating, lucid, accessible, balanced -- a fine resource that belongs in every library. B&w photos; chronology; lengthy bibliography; index.