Though the mechitzah question has essentially been settled within Orthodox Judaism for decades, the debate was alive and well during the middle portion of the 20th century. In many communities across the country, people fought long, hard battles (in the courtroom and beyond) to remove the mechitzah from the synagogue, while others tried with equal vigor to keep the separation in place. This portion of American Jewish history has resulted in at least one book (The Sanctity of the Synagogue), and, unsurprisingly, other literary discussion.
In the second issue of Tradition, R. Norman Lamm tackled the subject, and a comment of his bears repeating. One aspect of the substantial rhetoric in favor of fixed pews was less a rational argument than a slogan: “the family that prays together.” In addition to noting that fostering family togetherness — while important — cannot be foisted entirely upon the synagogue, R. Lamm also notes:
If it were true that “families that pray together stay together,” and that, conversely, families that pray in a shul with a mechitzah do not stay together, th’en one would expect the Orthodox Jewish home to be the most broken home in all of society, for Orthodox Jews have maintained separate pews throughout history. And yet it is precisely in Orthodox Jewish society that the home is the most stable, most firm, most secure.