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How to Be a Good Housewife (According to an Actual 1950s Guide)

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Advice From a 1950s Guide for Housewives

I found an old book that my grandmother actually used in her 1950s housewife days. It is called Pictoral Medical Guide, and it was published in 1954 with writings by 42 contemporary specialists. It's quite interesting and sometimes funny to see the differences in the expectations of women of that time compared to now.

The following excerpts come from this book.

"Am I Marriageable?"

"The girl about to marry may well ponder the question, "Am I marriageable?" A description of the mature adult is worked out by Henry Bowman in a recent book and is most helpful in answering the question:

Touchstones of Mature Behavior

  1. A mature woman profits by her own experience and the experience of others.
  2. She integrates what she knows and lives by that integrated knowledge.
  3. She has some knowledge of social life, how it is organized, what the requirements are for living in a society.
  4. She makes concessions to others, but at the same time she does not become too dependent upon them.
  5. She has a reasonable respect for authority and tradition.
  6. A mature woman lives in a world of reality.
  7. She faces an unalterable situation in which she has a deep interest, with poise and a minimum of conflict.
  8. She depends upon adult accomplishments for prestige.
  9. She uses the present rather than the past as a point of departure.
  10. She accepts her chronological age for what it is.
  11. The mature woman is independent of her parents.
  12. A mature woman does not depend too much upon flattery, praise and compliments.
  13. She does not easily take offense at slights or what she interprets as slights.
  14. She accepts the responsibility for her own acts.
  15. A mature woman controls her behavior, acknowledging possible undesirable urges and appetites in herself, but controlling them.
  16. She will endure present discomfort and sacrifice for future gain.
  17. Her behavior is determined in part on the basis of principles rather than pleasure or pain.
  18. A mature woman has an attitude toward sex, love and marriage compatible with adulthood.
  19. She is heterosexual.
  20. She carries into marriage the desirable elements of courtship but not the elements of uncertainty.
  21. She is adequately prepared for marriage.

The Immature Woman

"Excesses are signs of immaturity—excess drinking, smoking, eating, fondness for clothes, gambling and quarreling. Other signs of immaturity are hysteria, temper tantrums, the desire to have too much attention, intolerance, and inconstancy. The hypochondriac woman always complaining of headaches, backaches, dizzy spells, choking sensations where there is no physical basis is an immature person. The foregoing immature reactions result in an unhappy marriage."

Preparation for Marriage

Homemaking Is a Fine Art

"The girl who knows how to feed her family and care for her home begins married life with many odds in her favor. Training in what sex may mean to marriage will also help her make a successful wife."

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Stretching Herself for the Wedding Night

"It is preferable for the girl to stretch herself rather than to have the doctor resort to cutting the hymen or stretching under anesthesia. The self-stretching process, although it takes a little longer, can be accomplished without pain or discomfort, and in the stretching the girl acquires a great deal of information about her pelvis which will be important later on in her married life."

The Way to a Man's Heart

"Recent polls have shown that men still consider skill in cooking and homemaking highly desirable in the women they marry." On polls in which men and women rated traits in a mate that they found most desirable, "men placed considerably more emphasis than women on: (1) good cook and housekeeper; (2) good looks; (3) desire for home life and children."

The housewife at work (I drew up this chart based on one found in the book)

The housewife at work (I drew up this chart based on one found in the book)

Homemaking as a Career

"If a wife can make a career of homemaking, content to double the value of her husband's income by her art and skill in buying, preparing and managing the raw materials that make her comfortable living, she need never feel that she is doing less than her share in the work of the world. The services she provides for her husband and their children are, even in money value, generally the equivalent of the dollars and cents brought in by the man. She can, if she will, take an intelligent interest in what is going on outside her home, both locally and in national and international affairs. She must, if she is to be no handicap to husband and children, accept some responsibilities for communitiy or other outside doings which interest her enough to prevent her becoming a drag on her children as they grow up, or on her husband as he develops, or on her own development as a mature person."


Advice From Housekeeping Monthly (1955)

  • Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have be thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.
  • Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll 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 for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
  • Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Run a dustcloth over the tables.
  • During the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
  • Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.
  • Be happy to see him.
  • Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
  • Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first - remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
  • Don't greet him with complaints and problems.
  • Don't complain if he's late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.
  • Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or lie him 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, soothing and pleasant voice.
  • Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
  • A good wife always knows her place.

How to Create the "Perfect" Family Dinner

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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