More Than An Aesthetic: 5 Practical Lessons We Can Learn From The 1950s Housewife

Can the modern-day woman really learn anything about femininity, homemaking, and living a softer lifestyle from the 1950s housewife? Despite our inevitable differences, there are 5 practical lessons we should all learn from the greatest generation of women.

By Ashley Ward5 min read

If you search for the 1950s housewife on Instagram, you will see countless images of poodle skirts, red lipstick, vintage cars, and the ultimate #1950scleaningroutine. As fun as these images and videos may be to consume, none of these influencers scratch the surface of the true 1950s housewife and what made her the woman that we should all strive to emulate daily.

She was born out of the chaos and horror of the Second World War. She was the glue that held together families, factories, home fronts, communities, and nations. While wearing her victory red nail polish, she worked her fingers to the bone to assemble machines in factories and to scratch together meals on rations, all while providing normalcy for her children and dealing with the ever-present absence of the men in her life.

After the war, these women came back to their homes to help their families and men heal, all while helping to rebuild the economy of the nation. Now that they had survived the greatest catastrophe of their lives, these women wanted the constancy of the everyday with their family. This created the bygone era of womanhood that we so long for today. She defined herself, not by trends, aesthetics, or likes, but by her loyalty to her husband and children, her community involvement, and the management of her ultimate domain – her home.

In Good Times and in Bad

Many wartime couples married right before the husbands left for years on end. These women poured their heart and soul into letters to their sweethearts knowing that this was the only connection to each other they would have for who knew how long. They discussed their day-to-day life and hopes for a future together, even welcoming children with their husbands thousands of miles away. Marriage was seen as the ultimate commitment to each other, not taken lightly nor disrespected. 

In Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation, he says, “Those marriages, I believe, are more than a reflection of the expectations of society at the time the vows were exchanged. These relationships were forged when the world was a dangerous place and life was uncertain. Couples were forced to confront the profound emotions – and passions – that come with the reality of separation and the prospect of death. If their relationships could withstand the turmoil and strain of the war years, it should only get better than that.” 

This commitment to each other brought stronger marriages, stronger families, and a stronger nation into the 1950s. There was a belief in a future for their children that they were all working to create. Husbands and wives trusted each other to work together for the good of the family because they had trusted each other through such difficulties before. In the book War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation by Cindy Hval, many of the marriages lasted 50, 60, even 70 years. This generation took their marriage vows seriously and knew that only death could truly part them. 

Constancy to Family

“What concerns me most about the future is the breakdown of the family. We were willing to make sacrifices so that I could stay home with the children. Now, couples both work so they can be more affluent. We would rather delay gratification to ensure that our children had a nice home environment.” 

This quote from Scottie Lingelbach in The Greatest Generation sums up the values of this generation. The waiting that so many women endured during the Second World War allowed them to understand what they ultimately valued and what they did not. They had to make sacrifices that future generations could never dream of, which stayed with them for the rest of their lives. 

These sacrifices and this commitment brought an anchoring force to the family. Someone who was able to pick up the children from school when they were sick, someone who took them to doctor’s appointments, someone who cooked dinner, and someone who was waiting whenever her husband got home from work. She was the true heart and warmth of the home.

Supporting, Not Competing

The 1940s woman volunteered to be or do anything that would help with the war effort and bring home the men. They became pilots, nurses, factory workers, farmers, even baseball players. After the war was over, many of these women continued to work to help their husbands finish college (thanks to the GI Bill). Some women continued to work because the extra money was necessary for their household. Others went back into the home to continue their work there. All of these women, however, have one thing in common: They helped support their family but not at the expense of their family. 

Before the days of the boss babe and hustle culture, there was a balance that was more easily attained. Social media obviously didn’t exist to tell you what the Joneses were doing and how you needed to keep up with them. These families focused on small pleasures and what was the most valuable to them. There was a desire to support their husband’s career by managing the “home front” so they could spend time together as a family.

In the book The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel, “Betty proudly mowed her own lawn, and expertly fished out hard-to-reach leaves and floating dead bugs from her pool. She wanted Gus to have maximum relaxation time with her and the boys when he got home, to feel like the king of his castle.” (Gus and Betty Grissom were married from 1945 until his tragic death in 1967. She died in 2018, having never remarried.) This was the attitude of Betty Grissom and so many other 1950s wives like her. Her home, family, and husband were her priority, and her marriage benefited from that.  

Being Grounded in Your Community 

The 1950s housewife never knew the days of screen time, hashtags, Reddit boards, and mindless scrolling. What she did know was real connection, lifelong friendship, phone calls, visits, and community. These women had been through so many traumatic experiences together that they remained close through many of life’s ups and downs. These friendships and sisterhoods were forged during a time of rationing, worrying over husbands’ safety, stepping into employment outside the home for the first time, and raising children alone. This kind of connection cannot be pushed aside simply because of a superficial squabble. It isn’t based on a subreddit of people with similar experiences or keyboard warriors, but with other women all enduring the same thing. 

In the 1950s, these women continued to connect with others through their community involvement. Churches and civic organizations were not social events, but a place where women were able to help others and find solace as they had in times past. It gave them purpose outside their home that they could connect to, without such restrictions on their time as paid employment. They were able to use their gifts to help others in a meaningful way. 

One of the problems with hustle culture is that it eliminates the softness of daily life that was so present in this time period. Baking cookies for new neighbors, making a casserole when someone loses a family member, helping an aging church member get to the grocery store – these things are lost on so many today because they are so incredibly busy. The 1950s housewife took time to create not just a home, but a life that radiated warmth, and that warmth spread far beyond herself to connect with so many others on a deeper level.

Creating a Haven

The 1950s housewife is probably most known for her cleaning routines and her beautiful home and appearance. We look at these images and think how did she do it all? 

She did it by leaning into her role as a homemaker and home manager. She didn’t see being a homemaker as demeaning or temporary but as a lifelong career. So much of the 1940s was spent in chaos and disruption. Some women couldn’t even set up their homes because their husbands were away in the war and they had to live with family. Now, it was their turn! They utilized systems and routines that would make everything run more smoothly while still encompassing their own interests, hobbies, volunteer work, and family’s needs. 

Instead of seeing the drowning stay-at-home mom, we see a more well-rounded woman and homemaker whose time is not eaten away by TikTok videos, but used in a productive way. Their homes were run as efficiently as a business. This is what allowed them time to meal plan, do yard work, grocery shop, meet friends for coffee, sing in the church choir, pack school lunches, and get their hair done once a week. Again, this balanced lifestyle is so easily lost in the boss babe culture. Productivity has been held up to godlike status to the point that we are losing what makes us feminine and soft. The 1950s housewife knew that mowing the grass, getting her hair done, and dusting the baseboards should not be seen as a want to but as a have to in order for everything to run more efficiently, including herself.  

Closing Thoughts

When we see the beautiful images of the 1950s housewife in an apron cooking and cleaning, it’s easy to think this time period has been romanticized, but this was what loyalty and day-to-day life looked like to so many women because of the Second World War. These women wanted to carve out, with their husbands and families, a small piece of heaven because they had seen so much hell. They wanted their home to exude warmth and softness, so they worked to create that. So instead of looking to social media influencers and modern-day celebrities, let us try to emulate real examples of femininity. Let us learn from the greatest generation of women.

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