Something of a Minor Classic on Housewifery of Old

A 1950s Housewife: Marriage and Homemaking in the 1950s

By Sheila Hardy

More than just a peek at the life of a mid-20th century housewife’s life, this book provides plenty of insight into life in general throughout the 1950s. Though it focuses on life in England after WWII and through to the 60s, much of what Sheila Hardy reveals was true of life in the U.S.A. The difference comes in the period immediately following the end of the war, when the British faced rebuilding parts of their cities and their industries.

You’ll find a nearly complete social history here: dating, marriage, setting up a household, the daily routine of life, how a housewife spent her day, how she existed without conveniences we take for granted today, shopping and style, leisure activities, health and beauty, the status of women, and more.

Hardy writes with humor, mimicking, in many cases, the astonishment 50s women might display at certain aspects of 21st century life. Take hosiery, for example: “The idea that one day she would be pulling on an all-in-one nylon garment that resembled a pair of elongated, shapeless bags grafted on to a larger one that came up to her waist would have been quite incomprehensible as well as seen as totally unhygienic.”

In many cases, much of what women had to put up with no longer exists. Among these trials are the chimney sweep. In England, people burned coal in fireplaces before the general adoption of central electric heating. At the end of winter, the housewife would prepare for the annual call of the sweep. “To start with the sweep always announced he would arrive early so arrangements had to be made to get breakfast over and done with before he came. Then furniture had to be covered in dust sheets, and the curtains taken down ready to be washed along with anything else in the room, such as the glass light shade that might pick up a coating of soot. If it was a fine day the hearthrug would be taken outside to hang on the washing line, ready to be given a good beating before going back to its place, and old sheets were put down to cover the carpet or linoleum entirely. If all this seems excessive, one has to bear in mind that the sweep himself wore clothes that were covered with soot and that once the sweeping operation began there was no knowing what might happen.” That last sounds ominous, indeed.

All in all, an informative, often delightful rendering of life in an era often glamorized but perhaps not quite as glamorous as we’d like to believe. Includes lists of popular movies, plays, books, music, and the like in the back, illustrating the reach and influence of American culture. w/c

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