My day as a 50s housewife
So. Much. Cleaning
While a woman of the 1950s may have dreamt of being a lawyer, doctor, or engineer, the closest she was getting was by marrying one.
The life of a 21st century woman is far different from how it was 60 or so years ago. For one, most women today have jobs, and being a career woman back then was often frowned upon, so becoming the ultimate housewife filled in as the highest calling.
The following quotes are taken from an actual high school Home Economics textbook, “ADVANCE: How to be a Good Wife”.
The goal of a housewife was, “to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can relax in body and spirit.” Most wives in the 1950’s had one job, to be the perfect homemaker, and they were able to focus all their energy on this. This included caring for your family, your home, and presenting yourself as picture-perfect while doing so. Oh, and did I mention you had to make this all seem effortless?
Being a housewife was the pinnacle of many women’s lives, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
I dreadfully woke up at 7am to my first task of making coffee since it would usually take 10 to 15 minutes to percolate (I didn’t actually use a percolator, but I figured it would be nice to pretend). While the coffee “percolated”, I prepared my brother’s breakfast and lunch because there were no government-sanctioned school breakfasts, and sometimes not even a hot lunch program. As far as I was concerned, the “look” was the only fun part about this little experiment, so I chose a 50s-esque dress from my mother’s closet, threw up my hair, and slipped into pair of heels.
After eating, I sent my brother to make his bed, brush his teeth, and get dressed for school with the clothing I laid out the night before. He wasn’t too keen on my demands, but I made sure he knew any resistance to getting these chores done in a timely manner would be met with a talking to from “father” later that day. He laughed and played along.
There were 15 minutes to spare and I had to get my brother to school. Back then, a car or second car was almost unheard of, and “father” most definitely took the car to work. This is where I had to bend the 1950s reality a bit since I was not about to walk my brother five miles to school, especially in this outfit.
Late morning/early afternoon
After returning from school I decided I deserved a small break and turned on my radio show, which would have been heavily slanted toward wives and mothers since career women were almost unheard of, but rather I turned on NPR for my sanity. I was living in the 50s, which meant no cell phone, computer or microwave. I mourned the loss of Snapchat until the monotonous and tiring work cleaning had to begin.
The entire routine took about three hours, which would have been beyond stressful had I was balancing a job or schoolwork as well. But thankfully, I had a washer and dryer because doing a whole load of laundry by hand would have shaken me up more than a scolding from my husband.
I made sure the bedrooms were pristine, which was by far the easiest part of the morning since it was already part of my family’s routine. So it was on to the bathrooms, kitchen, living room, laundry, and floors. Oh my.
I did all the scrubbing with non-commercial cleaning products such as baking soda, vinegar, and lemon. There were some branded cleaning products back then, but I figured I would stick to the basics and some elbow grease until I saw this fabulous commercial on the television and decided I just had to have it.
If I had been up-keeping this level of housework every day the chores may have not been as strenuous, but the silver lining was this only being a one-day gig. Tidying the living room involved dusting all furnishings and controlling the clutter. I ran a dust cloth over the tables since I knew my husband must, “feel he has reached a haven of rest and order when he arrives home.”
Voila, the routine was complete. As fluffy as 1950s advertisements made cleaning seem, there was nothing nice and easy about it. After all, it wasn’t Mr. Clean who cleaned the whole house, it was me.
For a housewife the remainder of the day included feeding the husband and children if they came home for lunch, visiting specialty shops such as the butcher and bakery, and other “pleasant” tasks such sewing or gardening. Oo! Maybe I could even bake a pie… But I wasn’t about to bake a pie.
On an average day of being a 20-year-old in 2016, I rarely woke up as early as 7am, so with all this extra time I decided to do some light reading. Had to make sure it was nothing too dense or academic, so I picked up a cookbook and when that got boring, which was shortly thereafter, I picked up a copy of House Beautiful, which wasn’t much better.
The clock couldn’t move any slower and I started craving my laptop. Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, anything with a URL. I was starting to go mad, and while I knew it wasn’t realistic of the time I went on a drive until it was time to pick up my brother. Let’s just pretend I was lending some sugar to Suzy down the road. Turning on the engine was as soothing as unlocking my iPhone.
My evening included laying out my brother’s clothes for the next day and cleaning up the kitchen one last time before dinner prep. I made sure I had planned ahead to ensure a delicious meal on time. “This is a way to let him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned with his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home, and having a good meal ready is part of the warm welcome that is needed.”
Being primp and proper was a huge part of the job, so I listened to the textbook and took, “fifteen minutes to rest so that you will be refreshed when he arrives. 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. Greet him with a smile.” Some of my do not’s included, “not greeting him with problems and complaints,” and “not complaining if he is late for dinner. Count this as a minor problem compared to what he might have gone through that day.”
Complaining is a big part of my job as a young adult, and avoiding this proved almost as difficult as not checking my phone every ten minutes. It is also important to note that while I had a dozen things to say, “the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.” This mimicked wearing a zipper over my mouth, and was just as painful too. But at least I made brownies for dessert!
After dinner I called it quits since spending the rest of my night tending to my family’s needs wasn’t fathomable after the useless day I had. I especially was not about to tuck my 14-year-old brother into bed. As I began to reminisce, I tallied all I had done and realized it would be easier to list what I had not done:
To say I had wasted my time would be unfair since my mother praised me for finally cleaning up around the house, but for a 21st century woman like myself, I would much rather slave away at a job than in the kitchen for a living. That, and I have far too many opinions to keep my mouth shut.
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