While some folks today have a very cynical view of what being a housewife was like, many women of the era felt that their marriage was a partnership and most had at least some control of the finances. The old-fashioned way of doing things was that the husband would simply hand over his paycheck to his wife for her to manage as she saw fit. All this makes some of the advice in a recently-surfaced list of ways to be a “good housewife” all the more suspicious.
It’s no secret that things were quite a bit different for women in the 1950s and 1960s. Ladies often were expected to stay home, take care of the kids, make the house look nice, and generally do all the of the cooking and cleaning. But, this job was what many little girls dreamed of and they had been preparing for it their whole lives by helping in the kitchen and learning homemaking skills from Mom and in home economics classes.
Cookbooks and etiquette books were another source of information and had long been a staple of the American woman’s housekeeping. Each book usually gave advice on serving, manners, how to run a household, and other essential parts of the role of cook and housewife. However, this list of ways to be a good wife claims to be from a 1955 magazine called Housekeeping Monthly.
It’s labeled “The good wife’s guide” and the advice on the arrival of one’s husband home from a long day at work is as follows:
“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 been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite [sic] dish) 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.”
The advice continues with many more ways to make your husband happy:
“Over 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 for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
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. Minimise [sic] all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.”
It certainly is nice to be appreciated when you get home, but it seems like the advice was to pretend that no noise or chilliness could ever invade the family home. And, in my family home the man of the house was usually the one to start the fire when it was cold!
There’s lots more advice from this source about other ways to make the husband comfortable and to keep your complaints to yourself. The piece ends with these words: “A good wife always knows her place.”
But, there is a little truth in some of the advice bullet point. “Sexist” Singer sewing manual advice from 1949 also advises that to feel good one should put on a little makeup and pretty up for full self confidence. But, nowhere in that sewing manual does it say to refresh your makeup for your husband. The self confidence was so that your sewing projects would turn out well!
There was a very humorous print ad in 1944, when Swan soap was a sponsor for The Burns and Allen Show radio program, in which Gracie Allen gives advice on how to be a good wife. Her gems of wisdom included giving your husband privacy while he tends to the children and taking an interest in his work around the house (such as laundry). However, we doubt the modern (fictional) guide to being a good wife was based on this Swan soap ad!
Upon further inspection, incredulous researchers found that there was no magazine named Housekeeping Monthly either in the U.S. or the U.K. The list uses an image from a 1957 cover of the U.K. magazine John Bull and the list first made the rounds after a string of emails and was later posted online as fact.
The piece has been alternately attributed to the fictional sources of Housekeeping Monthly, some mysterious textbook, or the very real book called Fascinating Womanhood. The “good wife” list is from none of these sources and is probably of a completely modern concoction.
The advice may be fictional, but the ideas behind some of these “good wife” tips do seem somewhat appropriate for the era. What do you think about this advice on how to be a good housewife?