Real Life in the 1950s

1950s woman

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Real life in the 1950s was nothing like the extract from the Home Economics Book. What planet was the editor of this book living on? A man’s home might be his castle but really!!!! Was the following written by a man?

Extract from 1950s Home Economics Book

Tips on how to look after your husband:

Have Dinner Ready

Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.

Prepare Yourself

Take five minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

Clear away the Clutter

Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up the schoolbooks, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

Prepare the Children

Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces, if they are small, comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

Minimize all Noise

At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, drier, dishwasher, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.

Some Don’ts

Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.

Make him Comfortable

Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low soft. Soothing and soothing voice. Allow him to relax, unwind.

Listen to Him

You may have had things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

Make the Evening His

Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to come home and relax.

The Goal

Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

Reality Check

Reading the above in 2023 is laughable, but was it laughable for the 1950s woman? It is no wonder these housewives were frequent users of anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants, such as Xanax or Prozac. The image of the perfect wife was widely accepted and impossible to live up to, though conformity was the order of the day.

Perhaps the ‘perfect housewife’ was a last-ditch battle to keep the woman home-bound? So, let’s take a more realistic look at the 1950s.

Baby Boomers

The era of the ‘baby boomers was 1946 to around 1964, when there was an unprecedented post-war spike in birth rates. World War II is still classed as the deadliest military conflict in history. An estimated 70-85 million people died, which was around 3% of the global population.

The 1950s saw the start of the nuclear family, mum, dad and two kids living in a three bedroom-house in the suburbs. No longer were the kids expected, or able to be the caregivers of elderly parents.

It was also the dawn of the Cold War and the civil rights movement in the United States. In June of 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. Was the world heading back into another World War?

Restrictions of Real Life in the 1950s

We talk about women being severely restricted in the late 1800s, early 1900s, yet the insidiousness of restricting women continued long after that.

In the restrictions of real life in the 1950s, women could not make contracts, or have a will. They could not buy or sell property and had little control of their earnings, if they had any. They were discouraged from acting politically, such as holding office, even though they did have the right to vote. No doubt they voted the way their husband instructed them. After all what did a woman know about politics?

A Reflection

Women were expected to be a reflection of their husbands, with their appearance linked to their husband’s success. She needed to be beautiful and very feminine. Women were props for men to showcase their abilities and status, with no place ‘centre stage’ for women.

Divorce was only granted if the petitioning party could prove a fault in the partner, namely adultery. Private detectives and lawyers scored big time in the 1950s, as it was the only way a woman could leave a marriage. Women’s rights were minimal, and an abusive husband was not on the agenda.

Working Women

Women were wives and mothers, yet the world was recovering from World War II, when women had been the major labour force. When it was expedient for the male population, women could be moved around like pawns in a game of chess.

When men went to war women took their place in the work force but were paid a lot less than a man doing the same job. When the surviving men returned home, women instantly became a ‘housewife’. Men became the sole provider and caregiver of the children. The ‘glass-ceiling’ for women was firmly back in place.

What women needed, or wanted was of little concern as magazines promoted the ‘correct role’ for women. In many ways males still dominate. In September 2022 it was reported that a male was now the editor-in-chief of Vogue.

1950s Clothing for Women

As for women wearing trousers in the 1950s, that was not widely accepted. This was the era of John Wayne and the rise of Marilyn Monroe, with softly curled hair, gorgeous lipstick, and rosy cheeks. All this above the lusciously curved, sexy body.

The 1950s was all about full skirts and tiny waists. Then there was the button-down shirtwaist dress, or sheath, favoured by Lucille Ball. Bustlines were accentuated and waistlines high. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that trousers worn in public was more widely acceptable for women, through actors such as Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn and Coco Chanel. High stiletto heels were considered elegant.

Education for Women

Giving girls a higher education was considered a total waste of time and money. They would grow up and get married and throw all that education away. In the United States it had become fashionable to get married right after high school or during college.

For others, between ending school and getting married, a girl could become a secretary, bank teller, clerical worker, salesclerk, housemaid, or teacher. All these positions were only a way to earn money for the bridal trousseau. Definitely not a career.

This didn’t change all that much for some time. Amazingly, in 2010, the top five jobs for women included being a secretary, cashier, elementary and middle school teacher, nurse, or nursing aide.

Teens Real Life in the 1950s

Teens got the better end of the stick, particularly towards the end of the 1950s. For them real life in the 1950s included drive-in movies, hoola hoops, soda shops and juke boxes. Elvis Presley was starting to be heard and the world was getting ready for the Beatles. Rock-n-roll and the twist were on the upswing.

Things were changing in more ways than one with the rise of a consumer culture through consumer targeting on the new wonder, television. Teenagers and women were becoming the largest segment of society as consumers.

The Fabulous 1950s

Some claim that real life in the 1950s was a Golden Age. If you measure it against the Great Depression of the 1930s, the World War of the 1940s, the unrest of the 1960s, and the economic struggle, cultural change and technological innovation of the 1970s, the 1950s probably did seem to be a Golden Age. At least for the male population it was ‘Happy Days’.

Aren’t you pleased to be a woman living in the 21st century? Let us value the freedoms we have today, for that freedom came with a great cost, and let our voices be heard for good.

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    Wendy is an Inspirational Freelance Writer specializing in offering encouragement to women in all walks of life.

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