A Woman’s Place in the 50’s

This Good Wife’s Guide was printed anonymously in a women’s magazine in 1955…

…”Have a delicious meal ready when your husband come home from work and greet him with a warm smile. This will let him know you have been thinking about him and are dedicated to his needs.

…Take fifteen minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair.

…Try to be interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and it is your duty to provide it.

…The house should be immaculate. Clear away schoolbooks, toys and run a dust cloth over the furniture.

…In winter, prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.

…Prepare the children by washing their little faces, combing their hair, and dressing them properly. Minimize all noise. Teach the children to be silent.

…Listen to him. Let him talk first. Remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.

…Don’t complain if he comes home late or stays out all night. He is the master of the house and you have no right to question him.

…Have a drink waiting for him, no matter what time he arrives home. Seat him in a comfortable chair and take off his shoes. Always speak in a low, soothing voice. Never tell him your problems.

…A GOOD WIFE ALWAYS KNOWS HER PLACE.”

I wouldn’t call my mother an obedient woman in the 50’s but she knew what she had to do to keep her family fed and clothed and she did it without complaining. Her life was organized and her days full.

Every Monday, no matter what the temperature, she washed clothes in a wringer washer, filling it with water she had drawn from the well and heated on the coal-burning stove. She carried the clothes basket up crude, rocky steps dug into the steep hill, and hung the shirts, dresses, pants and underwear on the clothesline. Every two weeks, there would be an extra load of sheets and pillow cases. In winter, the clothes froze solid – sleeves, legs in strange poses, like headless creatures, hanging on the clothes line. She lugged them back down the hill, stiff as boards, dampened them with warm water and put them back in the basket to be ironed on Tuesday, always Tuesday. She even ironed the sheets and towels. I remember how red and chapped her hands would get. At night, I would watch her coating them with Vaseline.

Wednesday and Thursday were cleaning days. She polished the furniture, mopped the linoleum, did mending and sewing. Friday was baking day. Every day, when my Dad came home from working in the coal mines, she heated water for his bath and moved the round aluminum tub into the kitchen by the warm cooking stove.

My mother’s life in the 50’s was very different from the simplistic one described in the Good Wife’s Guide. But there was one commonality – man was the master of the house and women were there to serve, my mother included.

 

You can read more of Sharon’s stories about growing up as a coal miner’s daughter in Appalachia in her memoir, Daughter of the Mountains and a book of poetry, Tapestry.

SHARON CANFIELD DORSEY is an award-winning poet and author of two children’s books, Herman, the Hermit Crab and the Mystery of the Big, Black, Shiny Thing and Revolt of the Teacups. Her poems are also included in an anthology, Captured Moments. WATCH FOR A NEW CHILDREN’S BOOK IN THE FALL OF 2018.

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