Life advice housewives were given in the 1950s

There’s no way of escaping the fact that gender roles are very different today compared to the 1950s. Things were particularly difficult for women back then, as they were expected to fulfill the role of the perfect housewife. So, in order to live up to these impossible expectations, there was plenty of bizarre advice going around. Let’s take a look at some of the most extreme pearls of wisdom from the era.

Have dinner ready

One Home Economics book from the 1950s recommends that wives always have dinner prepared for their husbands. An extract advises, “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.”

Embrace exotic new foods (like pizza)

In order to keep mealtimes interesting, housewives of the 1950s were encouraged to experiment with new and exotic recipes. In 2018 a clip by the Homemakers Club of Vancouver resurfaced, showing Mrs. Brady – a housewife of the time – making an Italian dish known as pizza. Her recipe featured cheese and tomato sauce upon a “biscuit” base, without a hint of garlic in sight.

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Crying is good for your baby

Babies cry for all kinds of reasons and, sometimes, for no reason at all. Nowadays, moms may try to figure out what’s troubling their offspring. However, in the 1950s, mothers were told to leave wailing infants alone. An extract from an article published in Best Wishes magazine in 1959 reads, “Though he cries, don’t pick your baby up if he is well. A good lusty cry is an excellent exercise.”

Be sexy… But not too sexy

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A woman’s sexuality was quite the minefield in the 1950s. It seems that men of the day didn’t want a wife that was too prudish, but nor did they want their women being too lusty in the bedroom. So, in order to play it safe, it seems that ladies were expected to follow their husband’s lead.

Ensure you’re “refreshed” for your husband

While there was plenty of housework for women to be getting on with 60 years ago, it was recommended that housewives got 15 minutes of rest per day. The reason? So that they were “refreshed” for their husbands. The 1950s Home Economics book advised, “Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.”

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Be prepared to entertain your man

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As well as looking good for their husbands, 1950s housewives were also expected to cheer their men up, if so required. The Home Economics book told readers, “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 kitchen is your domain

Today, certain internet trolls still like to tell women to “get back in the kitchen.” Back in the 1950s, however, it was simply expected that housewives would take control of all her household’s culinary needs. With that in mind, lots of women would cook three times a day, which must have taken a huge chunk of their time.

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If your child is having problems, it’s all your fault

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The 1950s was a boom time for psychology, and the late Sigmund Freud’s ideas began to gain traction in America. One of his theories claimed that each mind is born blank, and a child’s personality is formed in the first five years of their life. Therefore, if a youngster turns bad, it’s because their parents failed to make them good.

The house must be spotless at all times

Keeping a clean house was a must for 1950s housewives. And the home should have been especially orderly when her husband returned from work. The Home Economics book recommended, “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.”

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Minimize all noise

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As well as ensuring the house was clean for their husbands, women were also expected to keep the place quiet. Wives were told to control their children and switch off noisy appliances like the washing machine and vacuum in anticipation of their husband’s arrival. That way he could enjoy his evening in peace and tranquility.

Don’t discipline your children

Alongside the rise of psychology, approaches to parenting began to change in the 1950s. Harsh discipline fell out of favor for fear it would cause emotional scars. As a result, prominent pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock advised, “Respect children because they’re human beings and they deserve respect, and they’ll grow up to be better people.”

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Homemaking is the most important job you’ll ever have

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Back in the 1950s being a housewife was the highest position that women were expected to aspire to. In fact, in 1955 marriage counselor Emily Hartshorne Mudd summed up the job description in Reader’s Digest. She said, “To be a successful wife is a career in itself, requiring among other things, the qualities of a diplomat, a businesswoman, a good cook, a trained nurse, a schoolteacher, a politician and a glamour girl.”

Greet him with a smile

Presumably, most housewives of the 1950s spent their days attending to all kinds of chores and tasks. However, they were expected to forget about their daily stresses as soon as their husbands walked through the door. As the Home Economics book told readers, “Be happy to see him… Greet him with a warm smile.”

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Your job is to please your husband

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It’s shocking today to think that women were expected to attend to their husbands’ every need just 60 years ago. However, 1950s housewives were supposed to serve the man in their life, and what’s more, they had to act like they enjoyed that role. The Home Economics book told ladies to “show sincerity in your desire to please him.”

Look good for your husband, not yourself

During the 1950s women were expected to pay a great deal of attention to their appearance. It was simply a fact of life that ladies should look presentable. However, the goal wasn’t to feel good about themselves, as the 1959 book The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife made clear. Putting it bluntly, an extract states, “Remember, it’s your husband for whom you’re dressing.”

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Don’t question your husband

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Back in the 1950s, men were considered to be the master gender. As such, women were actively discouraged from questioning their husbands’ integrity. His judgment reigned supreme and his actions were not up for debate. Consequently, wives were simply expected to know their place.

Dress with discipline

When it came to 1950s fashion, women were expected to show a lot of restraint. Anne Fogarty told ladies how to approach their style in her 1959 book How to Be a Well-Dressed Wife. In it she reveals that accessories should be kept to a minimum, perfume needed to be tasteful and caring for clothes was simply a must.

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Let your husband have the first word

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Getting back to the misguided advice of the Home Economics book, wives were told to “let [your husband] talk first.” According to the publication, it didn’t matter if she had lots to tell her husband, or if what she had to say was more important. It was her job to listen to stories about his day before sharing her news with him.

Get yourself ready before you reach for the coffee

For many of us, the day begins with a steaming cup of Joe. However, if we were housewives 60 years ago, we’d have been expected to look presentable before getting our caffeine fix. One advice column from the era states, “Learn how to get up gracefully in the morning… A light application of lipstick gives you confidence for grappling with [the] coffee pot and orange squeezer.”

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Don’t expect to be taken out

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After spending much of the day at home, wives of the 1950s could probably do with letting off some steam on an evening outing with their husbands from time to time. However, they shouldn’t expect regular date nights. With that in mind, the Home Economics book states, “Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or other [kinds] of entertainment.”

Speak differently

In order to create a calm, peaceful environment for their husbands, quiet was key. As such, housewives were even advised to consider how they communicated with their husbands. One incredible excerpt of the Home Economics book reads, “Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax [and] unwind.”

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Wash your hair once a week

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Today, people seem to wash their hair as often as they see fit. But one magazine article, titled “Beauty Schedule for Busy Young Wives,” from the 1950s appears to recommend that women wash their tresses just once a week, on Thursdays. Alternatively, “If it doesn’t need washing every week, give your scalp a thoroughly relaxing massage.”

Look pretty at all times, even in your sleep

As we’ve already covered, women were expected to look good in the 1950s. But, it seems that this was actually a 24-hour-a-day job. The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife reads, “Think pretty when making your nightwear selections, and please, no safety pins or missing buttons. Fastidiousness is essential when it comes to sleepwear.”

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Mix your man a drink

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It seems that being a housewife in the 1950s was a juggling act of all kinds of different roles. And believe it or not, that included bartender. In order to keep their husbands happy, the Home Economics book advised wives to have a “cool or warm drink ready” for their man as soon as they walked through the door.

Eat sensibly

With women spending almost all day at home, some were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to resist their food cravings. As a result, one advice column aimed at housewives stated, “She eats a sensible lunch. She knows that ice-box nibblings are bad for complexion, figure [and] morale.”

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Think seriously about your morning attire

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For women of the 1950s, simply rolling out of bed and pulling on whatever’s near was not an option. As The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife explained, “For morning you need a warm, tailored dressing gown, slim in cut and ankle-length. This length is best because short dressing gowns can expose the unattractive sight of a rumpled nightie or pajama bottoms – or bare white legs – protruding underneath.”

Cleaning takes hours

Some evidence suggests that the average housewife in the 1950s spent around three hours every day cleaning for their families. Chores included scrubbing the kitchen, bathroom and living room, sweeping up and doing the laundry. And it was up to the woman of house alone to get those things done.

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Make sure your husband is comfortable

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For a woman of the 1950s, their husband’s comfort was also seemingly their responsibility. Luckily, the Home Economics book included some handy pointers on how to help your man relax. This included having him “lean back in a comfortable chair,” arranging “his pillow,” or offering “to take off his shoes.”

Strictly no nagging

Men of the 1950s really didn’t want to be badgered by their wives, according to Mrs. Dale Carnegie. Back in the day, she wrote, “Nagging is a devastating emotional disease… If [your husband] should tell you that you are a nag, don’t react by violent denial – that only proves he is right.”

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Table manners are important

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Women were expected to know how to behave at all times. And this became even more important when it came to eating etiquette and table manners. A guide published in British magazine Woman’s Own in 1950 revealed, “It is bad manners to put your elbows on the table. It is also very bad manners to powder your nose or put on lipstick at the table, and unforgivable to comb your hair at the meal.”

Treat your husband like royalty

According to She-Manners: A Teen Girl’s Book of Etiquette, women could find their way to a man’s heart through pure flattery. Author Robert H. Loeb recommended, “Compliment him on his physical prowess, his mental acumen, his good looks, his virility… Let him think he’s king much of the time. He will love you for it, and, you know, it will make you feel extremely feminine.”

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Keep your complaints to yourself

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Playing the dutiful wife, it seems, also meant staying quiet. That 1950s Home Economics book told housewives not to greet their husbands with “problems or complaints if he’s late for dinner.” To add insult to injury, the advice piece continued, “Count this as minor compared to what he may have gone through that day.”

Pink panties

Apparently when it came to lingerie, pink was the preferred shade among men in the 1950s. Sexologist Dr. William Robinson wrote at the time, “Every woman should wear the best quality underwear that she can afford. The color should be preferably pink. And lace and ruffles, I am sorry to say, add to the attractiveness of underwear, and are liked by the average man.”

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Let your man order for you

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In a restaurant scenario, it was considered polite for wives to let their husbands speak for them. A 1950s article called “How to Behave in a Restaurant” helped women navigate this tricky social situation. It read, “The man always does the ordering, never ask the waiter yourself for anything.”

Ensure your husband is warm and cozy

God forbid that a man of the 1950s would feel cold in their own home. In order to prevent this from happening, one “Good Wife’s Guide” article advised women to “light a fire for him to unwind by.” As a result, the piece promised, “Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too.”

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The evening is his time

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After spending the day apart, you’d think that hardworking couples could easily find a way to unwind together. However, according to that 1950s Home Economics book, all good wives should do their best to “make the evening his.” Furthermore, it advises women to “try to understand his need to come home and relax.”

Be wary of fruity faux pas

Back in the 1950s, it seems that eating food wasn’t as straightforward as it appears to be today. The aforementioned “How to Behave in a Restaurant” article says that some munchables, including celery, can “quite correctly be eaten with the hands.” However, readers were advised to be wary of pears and apples, as “fruit causes some embarrassment.”

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Make your home a kind of sanctuary for your husband

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When it came to homemaking, that Home Economics book from the 1950s told women to “try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility.” And while this sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing to aspire to, it came with a catch. That’s because the guide added that the home should be a place “where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.” But carries no mention of the wife’s well-being.

Keep a mirror in the kitchen

As we’ve discovered, women were expected to look good at all times, even when attending to dinner. With that in mind, one advice column recommended hanging a mirror in the kitchen, so that a wife could powder her nose and reapply lipstick, even if no one else was home. As one guide points out, a “beauteous bride doesn’t go slack if she is in alone the house.”

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Do all this, but make sure it looks effortless

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Adhering to all these rules must have been exhausting for women of the 1950s. However, the final straw was that they were supposed to live up to these expectations looking as if it took no effort at all. For many wives, however, the burden was too heavy to carry. As a result, some even turned to medication, dubbed “mother’s little helper,” to help them get through the day.

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