"Shelter Morality": Life Magazine - "The Drive for Mass Shelters, January 12, 1962

Life Magazine - "The Drive for Mass Shelters", January 12, 1962

Life Magazine Cover for January 1962, Art by Ken Riley showing a cross-section of a proposed urban mass shelter design under a bridge.

Life Magazine "The Drive for Mass Shelters" Image #2

Ken Riley's illustration to accompany the article proposes a plan for "some protection above ground,"showing how an office building far away enough from a blast could double as a shelter.

Life Magazine "The Drive for Mass Shelters" Image #3

In the feature "A Few Build, Others Brood," a variety of every-day Americans were interviewed about their own stance towards fallout shelters. A construction worker advocates for "federal or state programs" to build mass shelters, a housewife expresses her disgust with the concept of leaving one's neighbors to fend for themselves, and a butcher boasts that America should become so strong that "no one would dare attack us."

   In late 1961, Kennedy partnered with Life Magazine to campaign for the cause of the family shelter and emphasize the threat of nuclear fallout, complete with “a letter to you from President Kennedy” stating that “every family shelter will contribute to the nation’s deterrent.” (Rose 81). However, the private fallout shelter manifested itself in the public imagination as a force that would divide friends and family, and only four months after the initial report Life Magazine published the cover story “The Drive for Mass Shelters," which favored community shelters rather than family shelters. The article gave voice to the average American, interviewing citizens ranging from barbers to cab drivers to rabbis on their attitude towards mass shelters. In the article, housewife Mrs. Florence Ergang proclaims: "I am dismayed at shelter morality. It is natural to protect one's family, but my ethics dictate that my neighbors be protected too." Suburbia had been envisioned as a space of fellowship and community, but nuclear anxieties threatened to break these bonds.  Illustrations by Ken Riley present a utopian vision of dystopia, envisioning fantastical mass shelters that could keep entire neighborhoods safe. While the plans were not entirely realistic- the article itself proclaimed a "need for more research"- these images assuaged Americans that their communities would not be torn apart by nuclear war.