How to be a perfect ’50s housewife: Cleaning your home

The perfect 50s housewife Cleaning your home

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The trademark of every perfect ’50s housewife? She cleans the house while wearing heels.

1956 Vacuuming in high heels


Likewise, Velma here wouldn’t be caught dead vacuuming with slippers on or — heavens to Betsy — bare feet. Heels it is!

Nov 12, 1956 vacuum home


Lucy steps things up a notch — literally — by wearing yellow pumps with three-inch heels.Perfect housewife with a Hoover Constellation vacuum - 1956

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A helpful husband

“I’ll hold the cigarette for you so you don’t have to stop washing the dishes,” said Gerald.

1956 - Have a cigarette while you wash the dishes


“To mother… with love” – For real?

This little poem reads as follows: “Whether you live in a big, big house / Or a house that’s very small / As long as mother’s in the house / Size doesn’t matter at all! / She’s the one person in all the world / Whose place can’t be filled by another. / For no one loves you or understands / In quite the way as mother.”

Do you know what mother doesn’t understand? Why you can’t skip the poem and just help do the dishes for once. Look at this mama watching forlornly from the hallway, carrying a dinner plate and a dishcloth.

So sure, she has a poem — but what she’d really like is a night off, and maybe a glass of something the kids aren’t allowed to drink.

Oct 12, 1953 Family housewife home cleaning

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Double-duty convenience

It’s a little sad when the best thing about Gloria’s day is that she can hide the toilet brush in the back of the hamper.

1952 housewife cleaning bathroom


Duz does soft suds

Thinking about Georgina washing towels a couple hundred times in that tiny countertop washing machine makes us appreciate modern laundry devices a lot more.

1952 How to be a perfect 50s housewife Cleaning your home


Sunlight makes everything bright!

1954-housewife-sunlight


Regina repurposes

“We just need to paint over Junior’s science project posterboard from last year, and we’ll be able to use it for little Petunia’s vacuum cleaner comparison project for school.”

1954 - Fifties housewife cleaning the wall


Bettina re-makes the bed so Alfred will never know she took a 4-hour nap.

There may or may not have been some “health tonic” involved.

1955 - Housewife making the bed


Marlene suddenly realizes she’s the only one doing the dishes.

1955 Putting away dishes - Happy housewife

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Touch no dirt! Breathe no dirt! See no dirt!

50s housewife - Touch - breathe - see no dirt


Midge has found the safe, easy way to clean sinks fast

Vintage housewife - Bon Ami cleaning the kitchen sink


Lucinda loves her new kitchen gadget

However, she hasn’t yet learned that you shouldn’t put bones down the garbage disposal.

1950s housewife happily washing the dishes

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Hurry up, Mother!

If only Elmer had learned to iron his own pants, he wouldn’t have been so late for the hop.

Housekeeping - Wife ironing in 1952


Hang the housework!

Dusting was no match for Mary’s coffee… or, to be more specific, Mary’s Irish coffee.

Housewife cleaning the home in 1951


Lady loves laundry

Her favorite chore? “Washing clothes. I like plenty of soft soap and hot water when I do it. I like to wash dishes too, but I don’t like to dust.” – A real quote from Mrs. C. A. Smith, housewife, published in the Argus Leader newspaper (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) June 18, 1954

Housewife loving her laundry

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How many things are wrong in this picture? 

Clearly, Kay has never used an iron before.

Happy 50s housewife with an iron outside


How do YOU clean stubborn spots off floors?

Well, probably not by combining four chemical cleaners and making a toxic gas.

1955 SOS housewife cleaning


The kid can wait. Mama Eloise has windowsills to polish!

Oct 12, 1953 Housewife cleaning home


The housewife’s eternal question: “How the heck did that end up there?!”

1950s woman with canopy bed - Cleaning housewife


The best part of Ginger’s week is when she gets to replace the toilet paper.

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1956 - Changing the toilet paper roll


She can see clearly now

Veronica decides that she’ll just leave that spider right where it is.

1957 - Woman cleaning window with Bon ami


Fore!

For months, Edward had been wondering why he could never find any of his golf balls — and, in an unrelated thought, was slightly curious as to why the vacuum cleaner rattled so much.

1958 Grape Nuts - housewife


Elspeth has a cunning plan

“Just ignore the noise in the background, Ann. I’m keeping the vacuum on because if the kids hear me on the phone, they’ll want me to feed them again.”

1959 - Housewife taking a break from cleaning for a phone call


Well-dressed housewife Irma seriously needs to clean that carpet more often

Apr 7, 1958 Vacuum home housewife


Helga lied to Santa.

She wasn’t going to love it. In fact, the very idea of getting a vacuum instead of a salon-style hairdryer just about broke Helga’s little heart.

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Dec 10, 1956 Christmas vacuum


Seeking perfection?

You can’t tell from the picture, but these ladies have been vacuuming the same spots for over an hour.

1950s housewife - cleaning and vacuuming


The Octo-Uum™ didn’t stay on the market long, but boy, was it effective!

You just needed to have 7 ghost women help you vacuum.

May 18, 1953 Cleaning housewife

 


Betty, Bitsy and Betsy love scrubbing those pots & pans until they shine

Making your pots & pans shine like the top of the Chrysler Building will always be the best part of the whole day.

Fifties housewife - cleaning pans

housewife


Vacuum meets jetpack in 1955

“This handy, handsome little Hoover digs out dirt wherever it’s hiding — from the back of the kitchen cupboard to the glove compartment of your car. It weighs only four pounds …and you don’t carry it, you wear it. Strap slips over your shoulders. Leaves both hands free. Quickest, easiest way in the world to clean up, pick up, brush up.

“Hoover’s famous Veriflex hose snaps on front, never kinks. Long, light wand lets you reach up high, down low. way back. And there are extra attachments for all cleaning jobs. See your Hoover dealer soon.”

Hoover Pixie vacuum - housewife cleaning from 1955



It doesn’t work like that…

This lady is crazy happy to have a dish soap that somehow doesn’t require you to wash dishes. The neighbors coming over for dinner tomorrow night will be in for a surprise! (PS: Her eyes!)

How to be a perfect ’50s housewife Cleaning your home 1951


You go, girls!

It’s kind of an unusual kitchen layout, but we like the 6-woman cleaning team approach.

 

How to be a perfect 50s housewife Cleaning your home


Nice little trick there

With her own pin money, Babette hires a maid to come every Monday. Then when Wilbur walks in the door that evening, she pretends to be “finishing up” the cleaning.

How to be a perfect 50s housewife Cleaning your sink


Here’s the jingle the new guy at the advertising agency came up with on the spot.

She wears the cleanest clothes in town / So does her daughter Susan

So clean, so bright, you guessed it right / Of course it’s Tide she’s usin’!

Jun 11, 1951 Housewife cleaning with Tide detergent home


Once-a-month dishwashing

This — THIS — is what happens when Mabel puts off doing the dishes for a month. Meanwhile, Victor and the tykes relax in the backyard.

Lux kitchen detergent dishes - Housewife cleaning 1950s

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Clarissa just got married

She’s still learning which end of the broom to use on the floor.

May 18, 1953 Broom housewife cleaning


It may not be the ideal job for everyone…

Woman daydreaming about an office job instead of being a housewife - 1959

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For you, the lady of the house! (1956)

From the Cincinnati Enquirer (September 3, 1956)

HOME LABOR. In the working world, it’s the housewife who holds down the most important job. In no other is a woman called upon to perform more duties, make more decisions and give more guidance — all vital!

Remember it, lady-of-the-house, when faced with those chores that tire and bore you. If you just think how your efforts bring health, growth, comfort and contentment to those you love, tasks will seem far less tedious.

Remember, too, that your labors receive the highest of achievement awards — your family’s devotion.

It's the housewife who holds down the most important job - Cincinnatii Enquirer (September 3, 1956)


All in a day’s work

“Cleaning house is my favorite chore, because it always looks so nice when I get through.” – A real quote from Mrs. James Merrill, housewife, published in the Argus Leader newspaper (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) June 18, 1954

Mar 9, 1959 Bedroom home carpet

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Comments on this story

7 Responses

  1. Such assumptions about the unhappiness of these women. Women use to take pride in this work, as they still should. Some may have felt oppressed but as a whole women (men and children alike) were comfortable and satisfied and happy with their lives in this traditional family structure.

  2. Just hilarious. LOVE the art and LOVE the clothes then. Couldn’t stop laughing. Yes, heels when you vacuum. I’m a graphic designer and admire the artists who created these (now)insane ads. Thanks for the funny blurbs and for having this site.

    1. These ads are indeed works of art… and as a former “Mad Man,” I can tell you that the choice of clothes for the women was careful and deliberate. The ads are telling the consumer “Our product will make your life so much easier that you can do your housework in your finest outfits and still look amazing!” Even though I grew up in the ’70s, I can say that my mom and my friends’ moms weren’t exactly wearing their “Sunday best” around the house…

  3. I visit this site not only because it has so much from my own earlier life, but because I can get a glimpse of the world my parents and grandparents grew up in. However, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t want to read anything you have written because your attitude is almost always a snide, oh-so-superior-to-those-misled-backwards-people mocking of them.
    I AM old enough to know, to remember, that most of them took pride in their work, whether inside or outside the home, whether as a housewife, a laborer, a clerk, or an executive. They knew that, whatever they were doing, it was worth doing well. It wasn’t necessarily any more drudgery for a wife to maintain the things her husband had earned the wages to buy than it was for him to earn them in the first place. TOGETHER they chose, built, and kept up the different parts of their life.
    Now, I see a hyper-competitive, graceless, ill-mannered, vulgar and ugly world full of more hypocrisies and double standards than ever, and it correlates too strongly to be a coincidence with the percentage of the population that grew up in daycare. If you understood how much you have lost, how much you persist in destroying, you’d know you have nothing worth being snarky about.

    1. Thank you for posting, Jash. I appreciate your perspective! I also think you were wonderfully fortunate to have had such experiences in your lifetime — and I know you’re not alone.

      At the same time, I know for a fact — from personal conversations with several people born in the first half of the 20th century — that such an experience was not universal. (Also, in so many situations I know of, the choices were *not* made together, but was more of a “This is how we’re doing it, and that’s final.”)

      There was an enormous amount of pressure on men, women, and children to conform to numerous standards… much of which was built completely upon multiple double standards.

      No era, generation, decade or person is perfect. Case in point: Why is it okay for you to call people today ill-mannered, vulgar and ugly — such a blanket descriptor for literally billions of people — while it’s offensive that I “mock” some previous generations?

      In truth, this article and others like it is intended as tongue-in-cheek humor. (One exception I can think of is the article we have on slavery, which was a violent and tragic thing.) But I cannot think of anywhere I said anything as vehement as suggesting people way back when were typically ill-mannered, vulgar and ugly. I don’t think that’s the case, even if I feel they had a lot of learning to do.

      I greatly admire so many of the people who lived through the sixties, fifties and earlier. But in many cases, it’s not because of those cultural norms that they became the people they are today — but despite it.

      There is no one right answer. A price is always paid for learning and experience, but from that, we grow and understand more.

      I’m grateful for your views, and while we may disagree, I hope you can at least think of some of the articles here not as mockery, but as generally lighthearted reflections. Snarky? A little. But I think it’s okay to look back at who we were as a society, and see how things have changed for better *and* for worse, and find some delight in the way things were, are, and one day will be.

  4. Of course no period is perfect, and I never claimed it was. It has gotten really, really old to see every time that someone mentions that some period in the recent past had good points, younger people pile in with a chorus of how it wasn’t perfect. It’s like a trained reflex, and you’re missing the point by having your minds closed already. You pick the cases you know of that don’t fit the general good points, and then act as though that proves that everything now is better than then. It’s not logical and it’s not correct.

    Why can I make judgments about the world now versus the world then, but call you out? Because I’ve lived in both. I’m not on the outside looking in, I’m making the judgments based on personal experience. I would be equally wrong and rude to mock the people of the 1920s. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know about the dozens and hundreds of different threads in that society, who was working toward what, or how hard. I can only read and try to empathize with the different problems and difficulties, but I can’t _know_ how it felt, know what the obstacles and limitations were, know what strengths and supports they had, know how they experienced their world. I grew up in a different world with a different set of received knowledge. I’m intelligent enough not to make the mistake of believing that a library or an internet, no matter how many pictures and videos and recordings it has, is a substitute for being alive at a particular time.

    That’s where you’re out of line, claiming you’re only using tongue-in-cheek “humor”. You’re not part of the group you’re making fun of. It’s just as tasteless as going to a foreign country and sniffing at their odd ways. I don’t know when you were born, but I’ve seen articles about periods back before WWI where you take the same derisive tone. It’s expected behavior from 12-year-olds and immature teenagers, but it’s not commensurate with the visual and content quality of this website. Eye-rolling at the very people who are a large part of your readers is neither professional nor good business.

    You say these are lighthearted reflections, but I don’t recall seeing more than a couple of the tritest expressions of praise or positive recognition. It’s not balanced, and that’s why I called it snarky. I was being gentle. It actually sometimes comes off as smug and know-it-all. Of course it’s fine to look back and to notice the changes. But you are not writing about all of the changes in a measured way, or evaluating the present, and I don’t believe that’s what this website claims to be about. You are

    You are also confusing noticing changes with understanding enough to make sweeping judgments. Why not try simple, honest, interested description?

    I could write pages and pages, _with_ supporting statistics and evidence, about how the world now is smaller-minded, uglier, ruder, more violent, etc., but that information is readily available to anyone with curiosity and an open mind. What I and so many other people roughly my age are trying to communicate is, quit assuming that so much now is so much better. We’re not being nasty old fogies, grouchy curmudgeons, and wet blankets. We, the ones who lived in different times, are telling you that the finger-pointing at the past, just like the finger-pointing at everyone who disagrees with you, is costing you. We’re telling you that the world you are being told you live in, isn’t an accurate reflection of the present or the past. There may not be one right answer, but there are plenty that are simply wrong. If you want to progress, question your assumptions.

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