How to be a perfect ’50s housewife: In the kitchen

The perfect 50s housewife in the kitchen

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Whether you preferred the term “housewife” or “homemaker,” if you were a married woman in the 1950s, it was a job without parallel. (Well, to be fair, it was the only job around for the majority of ladies.)

Take a trip down memory lane with this lighthearted look back at how advertisers portrayed the sunny days of yesteryear, when a woman’s home was her castle — and her kitchen was the heart of that home.

As a ’50s housewife, the kitchen was the center of your life

As a '50s housewife, the kitchen was the center of your life

As a '50s housewife, the kitchen was the center of your life

In reality, it probably more often looked like this

Busy family with kids in the kitchen - 1950

So you always needed to make enough to feed a small army

A full oven equaled a happy family. 

Always make enough to feed a small army

Happy '50s housewife cooking in the kitchen

The ’50s housewife keeps the family guessing

While you prepare that feast, don’t let your pesky kids and husband get in the way. Put ’em outside — and yes, even your backyard is only 6 feet deep, and yes, even if it’s raining. They won’t melt!

And you will get the peace you need to make dinner for everyone while you ensure that you don’t have a single hair out of place.

A full oven in the housewife's kitchen in 1959

Tour the ultimate mid-century modern house: The Scholz Mark 58 Home of the Year

That’s a kitchen of a different color

This Dorothy clicked her heels three times, and ended up alone in a kitchen she called “a nightmare,” simply because the bright blue cabinetry made her skin look sallow and was most unbecoming.

Geneva Modern Kitchens in blue from 1958

The ’50s housewife has her golden hour

Loretta here doesn’t just dress for dinner — she gets fancy and matchy-matchy just to make dinner! Tonight’s menu: Boiled cabbage and pumpkin pie.

The happy 50s housewife with her pink oven in 1958

Make your own all-you-can eat buffet

Below might be a typical weeknight dinner: Rotisserie-cooked ham, mashed potatoes, asparagus, a nifty frankfurter casserole, salad, fruit and an angel food cake. (There’s also a pot of Bearnaise sauce simmering on the stove.) Important note: Never forget to wear an apron. And pearls.

Make your own all-you-can eat buffet

Again: An apron and pearls make the outfit perfect.

Woman with pearls in a pink dress - 50s housewife

“Thank you, darling”

For the ’50s housewife/chef, your cooking was often so appreciated, you were given a golden crown — because you were just that wonderful.

In 1959 the fifties housewife got to wear a crown

Cleaning up is half the fun for the ’50s housewife

As if the food wasn’t impressive enough, well, the dishwasher was truly something worth sharing with guests. Especially when it was a fancy new top-loading dishwasher.

1951 kitchen home friends party - Top-loading dishwasher

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

Dishwasher developments

Just a few years later, the front-loading dishwasher would be the “in” thing, and Georgette here couldn’t wait to get her hands on it!

Showing company your new dishwasher

Seriously – automatic dishwashers were a big deal.

Some vintage Kitchen Aid appliances – under-counter dishwashers and stand mixers

Vintage Kitchen Aid dishwashers and mixers from 1956

Your husband even knew that a fancy counter-height dishwasher got you in the mood.

A fancy counter-height dishwasher

How to be a perfect '50s housewife: Love your refrigerator!

Fun with your kitchen: Shelf edging

Appliances aside, decorating your beloved lair with joyful little flourishes was one of the greatest joys of kitchen ownership.

1954 Royledge kitchen decor

Housewife decorating the kitchen

Housewife making shelving pretty!

Extra fun times for the ’50s housewife

When you were down, there was nothing quite so uplifting as reorganizing the whole room. Since it was your lair, you could even use the oven and the floor to store items. When you have everything positioned just so, relax with a nice crossword puzzle!

Longing for an uncluttered life? Doris Day tells you how to get organized! (1959)

Reorganize your kitchen

Not every ’50s housewife had a perfect kitchen

As hard as she’d tried to make everything in her home match, Esmerelda’s mother-in-law had given her a set of blue dishtowels, and positively insisted that she display them prominently over the sink.

LIFE Jun 6, 1955 American Standard kitchen

Nanette, one second before that pitcher of iced tea hit the floor

It turned out okay, though, because everyone raced to the kitchen and commented on how well her dress matched the flowers in the window and the notepad on the countertop.

Vintage yellow kitchen 1959

“Well, Betty – you would not believe…”

Every now and then, your adoration went so deep, you completely ignored what the kids were doing in lieu of describing your homemaking happiness to the person unfortunate enough to be on the other end of the telephone.

A mere four seconds later, Edith had to hang up, because little Susan screamed like a banshee when Junior whacked her on the head with a spoonful of frosting.

50s housewife talking on the kitchen phone

Real housewives: The next generation

And when things get really, really incredible? You will know it because your teen daughter comes home after school and cooks some bacon, takes off one of her penny loafers, and sits down on your pristine kitchen floor.

Then she gazes gratefully toward the heavens as she calls her dad to thank him for working that 9-to-5 job so she and you can have the kind of gift that keeps on giving: A fabulous fifties kitchen.

MORE: How to be a perfect fifties housewife: Laundry edition

The joy of kitchens

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Comments on this story

12 Responses

  1. You would be happy, smiling and showing off your kitchen too if you no longer had to wash dishes by hand and use other old fashioned appliances or kitchens.

    1. It is a figure of speech. :-) Matchy-Matchy – Wikipedia

      Matchy-Matchy is an adjective used to describe something or someone that is very or excessively color coordinated. It is a term that is commonly used in fashion blogs to describe an outfit that is too coordinated and consists of too many of the same types of colors, patterns, fabrics, accessories, etc.

  2. Don’t knock it. That was the good life. Now with equal pay a man cannot get a family wage so women must go out and work too and do all that we did back then. They tell us we have gained but we have lost so much. and the children go to day care or are home alone.I wish I could have those appliances especially the dish washer.

  3. Women do both a career and take care of the house? Oh no no no, this is the 21st century. Men have been expected to do their share of household chores for decades!

  4. I’m a retired nurse with disabled knees. I have finally decided I need a plan to be a good homemaker and support my husband who works incredibly hard. I’m loving it so far. Don’t worry, I don’t own a house dress or pearls! Ha, ha, ha

    1. What is this I just read?
      The fun of cleaning the kitchen, reorganizing the shelves and not sharing the chores? Well… I don’t know why this was recommended to me, but I ll keep studying Aeronautics in order to be an astronaut… Have fun u all! :)

  5. Ugghhh!
    I look like a crazy liberal( LOL) but I love reading about the 1950’s housewife….I wish I could have lived it.
    I have a career…. Boring!
    I want to be at home, baking, decorating, cleaning and reorganizing! 🤷🏻‍♀️

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