Vintage Housewife – keeping the household happy

Advice for women in the 1930s: ‘Nothing destroys the happiness of married life more than the lazy, slovenly wife’

It must have been a grim for wives at the turn of the 20th century, judging by advice given to them on how to keep their men.

One article, in the Isle of Man Times in 1895 sums up the plight of the lowly Victorian wife.

“Don’t argue with your husband; do whatever he tells you and obey all his orders,” it advises.

“Don’t worry him for money and don’t expect a new dress oftener than he offers to buy you one.

“Don’t sit up till he comes home from the club; better be in bed and pretend to be asleep.

“If you must be awake, seem to be glad he came home early. He’ll probably think you an idiot; but that’s inevitable anyway.”

Another article suggests that women should never complain.

“Don’t mope and cry because you are ill – women should never be ill,” it said.

Other pearls of wisdom included a direction from a vicar, given during a Mothering Sunday sermon as reported in the Derby Daily Telegraph.

Dr. W M Irwin, the vicar of Duffield, Derbyshire, said: “Long faces and nagging did not get you your husband, and long faces and nagging will not keep them.”

Mrs Dobbin Crawford, a Liverpool surgeon, 1930, said in the Bath Chronicle in 1930, never “criticise your husband even to your mother.

“Nothing destroys the happiness of married life more than the lazy, slovenly wife,” she adds.

In the Sunderland Echo in 1893, an expert advises that a wife could have the looks of “Helen of Troy and the intellect of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom” but without “tact” it means nothing.

“It is a woman who possesses more tact than love who retains the devotion of a man,” it adds.

Veronica Roasio, also reported in the Bath Chronicle, said that women should remember “he earns a living and “so shields you from the world”.

“Do keep abreast of the days news, new books and new ideas so that you can hold your husband’s intellectual attention,” she adds.

Good Housekeeping Magazine – October 1965 issue,

 

  1. It will delight your husband to see you take a creative interest in gardening, flower arranging, painting, whatever. Don’t be too concerned about results — the fun is in the doing.
  2. A too-finicky housekeeper is as annoying as a sloppy one. Be fair to yourself — don’t set impossible goals. And give the family a hand and a voice in projects and problems, without being patronizing — that’s no way to encourage their efforts.
  3. Brush away a busy day with a pressed-powder blusher. One new compact has a light shade for highlighting, a deep rose color for toning down facial features.
  4. It’s easy to stay slim when there’s a reason — he likes you that way. Control figure faults with daily exercise and correct posture; watch calories.
  5. Plan some evenings out — just you two. These needn’t be budget-breakers. Take advantage of community events — a local band concert, a bowling banquet.
  6. When your feet hurt, your expression and disposition show it. Pamper feet by kneading them with cream, exe

 

  1. We never met a man who didn’t like to sample a new dish at least occasionally. Arouse his curiosity.rcising them in the tub, wearing a toe pad for a few days.

 

Over the past 60 years, the relationship dynamic between men and women has changed drastically.

And while many are still fighting for equality, a look back at what married life was like in the 1950s shows just how far we have come.

An extract from a 1950s Home Economics Book recently took the Internet by storm, with thousands unsure whether to be shocked or amused by the cringeworthy marriage advice offered to women at the time.

Cringe: An extract from a 1950s Home Economics Book recently took the Internet by storm, with thousands unsure whether to be shocked or amused by the cringeworthy marriage advice

‘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,’ the extract reads.

 

The first? Have dinner ready.

‘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,’ the extract reads.

‘Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.’

Preparing themselves was also a must, with women advised to take 15 minutes to rest so they would be ‘refreshed’ when their husbands arrived home.

 

Be ready: ‘Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed,’ it read

‘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. His boring day may need a lift,’ another piece of advice read.

 Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax – unwind.

Keeping the house clean was also a non-negotiable, with ladies urged to make one last trip through the main part of the house shortly before their husbands arrived home – just in case there was a rogue school book or toy in the hall.

‘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,’ the advice reads.

Other advice included ‘preparing the children’ to ‘play the part of little treasures’ by washing their faces and combing their hair and ‘minimising all the noise’ – including the vacuum, dishwasher and washer.

 

‘Touch up your make up’: Preparing themselves was also a must, with women advised to take 15 minutes to rest so they would be ‘refreshed’ when their husband arrived home

Women were also encouraged to make their husbands comfortable by having them ‘lean back in a comfortable chair’ and preparing a ‘cool or warm drink ready for him.’

‘Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax – unwind,’ the advice reads.

Absolute don’ts included greeting men with ‘problems or complaints’ – especially if they are late for dinner.

‘Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day,’ the book reads.

 

‘Let him talk first’: Women were also encouraged to make their husbands comfortable by having them ‘lean back in a comfortable chair’ and preparing a ‘cool or warm drink ready for him’

The wives were also told to ‘let him talk first’ regardless of whether they had things to say and to ‘make the evening his’ and ‘try to understand his need to come home and relax.’

The reactions to the extract have been mixed.

‘I’m trying to figure out who this is more patronising towards; women for being expected to do all this on top of their extensive list of things to do, or men for needing to receive this treatment following the average day at work,’ one man wrote.

‘I remember my mum doing all these things growing up. And dad treated her like a queen also. The respect for each other was enormous. Best marriage I have ever seen,’ a woman added.

Unlike today’s state-of-the-art compact buggies, prams of yesteryear were decidedly chunky. I decide to try out the Balmoral – a stunning vintage coach-style pram, manufactured in the UK by Silver Cross since 1877.

It’s still a bestseller, ­despite a price tag of £1,450. Celeb mum Lily ­Cooper has one for her daughters Ethel, 19 months, and Marnie, who is five months.

I feel ultra glam, proudly wheeling the classy Balmoral up the street while Marianne ­bounces around, testing out the sought-after pram’s handcrafted suspension.

There’s plenty of room for her to stretch out – ideal in the 1950s when parents were urged to give their offspring daily doses of fresh air.

Busy mums often left their babies outside in their prams, while they got on with housework indoors – something that’s ­unthinkable now.

There’s no doubt the Balmoral is ­gorgeous and a pleasure to steer once I’ve got the hang of it. But at 37kg, it weighs 28kg more than my compact, modern pushchair. I couldn’t manoeuvre myself on to the number 68 bus with this.

If I was a 50s mum, I wouldn’t have got much help pushing it around either because, as Sheila explains: “Many new fathers were reluctant to be seen ­pushing a pram.”

Although I probably wouldn’t be too keen on sharing it anyway as this pram is so beautiful…

REUSABLE NAPPIES

Nappies: Fifties mums spent all day washing (Image: Ross Parry Agency)

Disposable nappies were yet to be invented in the 1950s.

Parents relied on terry ­towelling nappies, which needed thorough washing between uses. ­Considering ­Marianne goes through around six nappies a day, that’s a lot of washing.

“The new mother did the housework, home-cooked all meals and did the laundry as well as washing all of those nappies,” says Sheila.

Thankfully, reusable nappies have moved on.

They’re now made from soft cloth and the ones I try, by Baba+Boo, have colourful prints and poppers – not safety pins.

But the concept is the same. Once soiled, they must be washed and dried between wears.

Eek. I ­already struggle with our ­mountains of washing as it is!

Marianne seems comfy enough in the cloth nappies but they’re bulkier than disposables and hardly fit ­under her ­21st-century ­leggings. No wonder 50s tots wore bloomers.

Disposable nappies are easy – pop them in a nappy sack and chuck them in the bin.

But, with ­reusable ones you have to wipe the mess into the toilet before storing the nappy in a sealed bin, then washing them in bulk.

Nappy wash day, which is twice a week, is a messy, smelly business. Now I understand why 50s mums were encouraged to potty-train at a ridiculously early age – some tried when their babies were a few days old!

As I load the soiled nappies into the washing machine, my kitchen pongs like the toilets at Glastonbury. Hanging 20-odd clean nappies out to dry is a pain, too. There’s none of this faff with Pampers.

There’s no denying the benefits. They’re kinder on the environment, as they don’t end up in landfill.

The soft cloth is great for Marianne’s skin – no chance of nappy rash with these.

Although each nappy costs £9.25, they can be used repeatedly, so they’re cheaper in the long run.

Despite the smelly drawbacks, I’ll carry on using them ­alongside disposables.

TRAINING A BABY

Stressed out: Louise finds the parenting tiring but rewarding

Like most inquisitive toddlers, Marianne loves grabbing things off bookshelves and breaking into the kitchen cupboards.

We’ve thoroughly babyproofed our home. But 50s experts urged parents to forget all that and train their babies instead.

“It was emphasised from the moment of birth that you had a potential monster who would rule you unless you they were trained,” explains Sheila.

The theory is simple – rather than ­shrieking, “Put that DOWN,” when Marianne lunges for the nearest breakable, I should calmly tell her not to touch it until she learns the correct way to behave.

Of course, there’s no way I’d put her in any danger. But I try out the method by leaving some ornaments on a low table. When she makes a beeline for them, I calmly say, “Those are Mother’s things.”

Of course, she ignores me and the ­ornaments are soon scattered across the table. But I keep at it and, after a few days, she seems to be responding to my calm instructions.

On day five, I catch her ­chewing her new shoes. Rather than ­grabbing them off her, I smile and say, “Take those out of your mouth, please.”

As if by magic, she puts them down. Perhaps the 50s approach does work after all.

But I don’t think I’ll chuck out the stair gates just yet.

BABY FOOD

Experts currently recommend babies are exclusively milk-fed for the first six months before being gradually introduced to solid foods.

In the 50s, parents were advised to wean their offspring at four months – on grim-sounding bone broth. It’s a far cry from today’s organic vegetable purees.

Tripe was also popular back then as it was high in iron and wasn’t rationed.

But times have changed and there’s no way I’m feeding cow’s stomach lining to my little one.

So I opt to make another 50s delicacy fish pudding, which is actually more of a fish crumble with a breadcrumb topping and creamy sauce.

Although Marianne has a healthy diet, with lots of fresh fruit and ­vegetables, I confess I’m a klutz who could probably burn a sandwich.

So I sometimes use pre-prepared baby meals.

I don’t have high hopes for fish ­pudding, which I found in a ­cookbook, but it’s easy to prepare and, amazingly, comes out of the oven looking ­mouthwatering. I can’t help feeling ever-so slightly proud of myself.

Marianne’s little eyes light up as I place some on her highchair tray. She polishes off a huge portion, followed by some good old 50s-style rice pudding.

Success.

MAKING TOYS

Knitting: Mums made their own toys for their children (Image: Ross Parry Agency)

Forget Toys R Us and the Disney Store. In the 50s, toy factories were yet to return to pre-war ­production levels.

So parents would get out their ­knitting needles and make toys instead. Knitting a teddy sounds like a sweet idea.

The only problem? I’ve ­never knitted in my life.

Thankfully, my mum Jane is an expert knitter and tries to teach me.

We decide to knit a pink, stripy cat. I’ll be honest – my mum does the lion’s share but she lets me stuff it and sew the pieces together…

It’s love at first sight when we give Marianne her toy and she toddles around with Stripey clutched to her chest.

You simply don’t get this sort of ­satisfaction from plastic supermarket-bought toys.