Occupation: Housewife
June 12, 2015 11:56 AM   Subscribe

"A bright and shining example of America's modern, young, middle-class housewife is Jane Amberg, 32, of Kankakee, Ill., married and the mother of three." Mrs. Amberg's daily round of work was detailed in photographs in the LIFE article "Occupation: Housewife." See also Mashable.

In 2006, her daughter Pamela wrote a letter to the New York Times, stating, "My mother was unhappy with the published article, because she was portrayed as a 'typical' American housewife who cared only for home and family. Not mentioned was the fact that, with no college degree, she was also a voracious reader and a committed liberal Democrat who cared deeply about national and international issues."
posted by Countess Elena (29 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
All work and no play, etc.
posted by harrietthespy at 12:06 PM on June 12, 2015


I'm pretty sure my IUD is giving off a radiant, self-satisfied glow inside my body right now.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


I have experienced the greatest joy in my life being a stay at home grandpa. I have a great admiration for stay at home moms.
posted by vozworth at 12:22 PM on June 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Wow, I really can't escape my hometown this week. See also: Skanky Me from Kankakee, the musical I attended Monday night.
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pamela looks so much like Wednesday Addams, right down to the tiny smirk.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2015


vozworth, my dad was a service man, obsessed with his career, and also a great achiever. His last job was a very high international position. But when he was pensioned, and everyone imagined he would pursue civilian posts at the level he had just left, he chose to be with his grandchildren. He wanted to experience all the stuff he had missed. And he did. Including the well-deserved love from those grandchildren, and the sweetness of giving them a space and a place where they could experience unconditional love and accept.
posted by mumimor at 12:33 PM on June 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


My mother was a housewife for years, and she was absolutely GREAT at it. I mean, like Steve Jobs-level housewifery. Only trouble is, no job security.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:40 PM on June 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


An interesting article, but it seems odd for Life. I mean, wasn't the vast majority of America living in homes like this at the time? This strikes me as an article about water for fish. I am not getting who the target audience is - convincing men that housewives have actually hard jobs?
posted by GuyZero at 12:48 PM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


September 22, 1941! In some ways, the very last months of The Thirties. There's a pop-history narrative that after World War II, women were bombarded with domesticity and homemaking as ideal images -- this article shows those messages were already prevalent in media before the war; it wasn't a postwar innovation.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:56 PM on June 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm endlessly curious about why, exactly, she would wash "one sheet, all pillowcases" each week. Is that all that fit in the washer and she just couldn't bring herself to do a second load? And what's with the daily cleaning of carpets? Seems like a very much more rigorous cleaning standard was applied here than to the sheets.

How weird that she did her marketing by phone to save gas and wear and tear on the car, but hubbie came home from work each day for lunch rather than bagging it.

And oddest of all: she chose not to buy new shoes for her children when they needed it this particular year because of tight finances, yet she and hubbie could afford to belong to a country club and go out to dinner/movies once a week.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 1:07 PM on June 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


To save wear on the sheets (and work before automatic washing machines), it was a common practice that the one that had been used as a top sheet, would in the second week be used as the bottom sheet. It was considered relatively clean (because gravity with dirt and sweat, I think). Sheets weren't fitted then.
posted by b33j at 1:20 PM on June 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Women came into the workforce large-scale during WW1. The men were off fighting. This is what led to the radical changes in clothes styles and women rights after the war. Women didn't want to be pushed back. But with the crisis from -29 on the pushback became ferocious, and after a very short break during WW2 it escalated from 1945 - 1968.

Working class women have always worked, and their children have lived with it as a given. The real challenge to patriarchy is middle-class educated women.

Look at the simple math of it. If the only people who can become doctors are men, the competition is limited to men, and since we need something like a doctor for every 1000 people, there is a job for all male doctors.

If women are admitted to study and work on the same level as men, suddenly the competition for doctors' jobs is doubled, and some of the men who formerly had job-security and not least: status, are now redundant. I'm not saying all women are smarter than men, just that the distribution of knowledge and skills across genders is equal, and thus the less skillful men are disadvantaged. For society this is a gain. With tougher competition among doctors, we can expect better doctors even in less desirable positions.

Even now, I see the anger among the formerly privileged men who now need to work for their wages every single day. In my field, women are still rare, so we are far behind the situation in medicine.

This article, and other articles and policies, are about branding housewifery as a profession similar to other middle-class career pursuits in order to get middle-class women to accept the role of house-managers. A job which has previously been delegated to working-class women at low wages.

Personally, I love cooking and keeping up a hospitable and elegant home, but I cannot for the life of me see how I could deal with being on the pay-roll of a husband with no control of his income. And I am certain that is why the ideal of the suburban housewife had such a short life - from ca. 1930 - 1968.
posted by mumimor at 1:32 PM on June 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


And I am certain that is why the ideal of the suburban housewife had such a short life - from ca. 1930 - 1968.

1968? THen I blame it on Erma Bombeck. Her first book was published in 1967.

I am only half joking when I say she convinced American women that being a housewife was probably going to stink.
posted by GuyZero at 1:39 PM on June 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


A job which has previously been delegated to working-class women at low wages.

In which case the "Negro maid, 35c an hour, comes to vaccuum and wash dishes" may take on another meaning entirely. I'm still not sure what to make of it.
posted by corb at 1:43 PM on June 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


like, is there some racebaiting going on or is this just how people talked in 1941?
posted by corb at 1:45 PM on June 12, 2015


I watch a lot of crime movies from this era so in every photo I imagine she's plotting how to murder the husband and run away with the sleazy but sexually magnetic traveling salesman
posted by The Whelk at 1:46 PM on June 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


The years "1930 - 1968" are key. The ideal of the housewife is much older than that, from the Victorian "angel in the house" all the way back to Proverbs 31:13-14, if you like. But the mid-20th century was the first time that the housewife was increasingly expected to do all that work without help, and smile as she did it.

Per an inflation calculator, the maid's rate was apparently equivalent to $5.55 an hour.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:49 PM on June 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


like, is there some racebaiting going on or is this just how people talked in 1941?

Pretty sure people said "negro" non-ironically and mostly-not-racist-ly in 1941. I mean, I don't know whether or not it was racebaiting, but that was how people talked.
posted by GuyZero at 2:00 PM on June 12, 2015


The pre-ww1 housewife didn't actually work in the house, unless she was working class or subsistence farmer. The Victorian angel managed the staff.
posted by mumimor at 2:10 PM on June 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Terry O'Reilly (who now does the Under the Influence podcast) had an earlier podcast about advertising, The Age of Persuasion, which included two episodes about "how Madison Avenue invented... the housewife. Over 100 years ago, the advertising industry realized they had thousands of household products to sell. All they needed was a customer. So they invented the Happy Homemaker, and for the next 25 years, encouraged women to be stay-at-home moms. That strategy created the biggest business in the world: Housekeeping." Part 1 - Part 2.
posted by bentley at 2:37 PM on June 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Whelk, my mum actually ran off with the sleazy but sexually magnetic traveling salesman, and because he was a loser who couldn't keep a job, she got a job and was highly succesful.
Unfortunately, everything in his and her background and education went against this outcome, so they couldn't deal with it at all. In my view, the good thing is that the three of us children grew up with the fact that an independent self-supporting woman is someone to admire and trust. The side-stories are for another thread.
posted by mumimor at 2:56 PM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I watch a lot of crime movies from this era so in every photo I imagine she's plotting how to murder the husband and run away with the sleazy but sexually magnetic traveling salesman

not exactly this, but you might be interested in the comic lady killer.
posted by nadawi at 4:04 PM on June 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


like, is there some racebaiting going on or is this just how people talked in 1941?

See page 21 of that very Life magazine for comments of the day on "the distinct odor of race-baiting", including ones like "If Anti-Semitism exists in America, the Jews have themselves to blame!"
posted by buzzv at 4:22 PM on June 12, 2015


In 1920 when I look up her husband Gilbert in the census, he is living in a home with his parents and siblings and 4 servants. Two "nurses", a cook and a servant.

In 1920 Jane is living with her divorced mom and siblings and a boarder they took in.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:11 PM on June 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wow. That's pretty much my idea of hell. Thanks second wave feminists & Betty Freidan. Sometimes work blows but anything is better than that.
posted by dame at 6:10 PM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


That letter to the editor is a thing of beauty. Gets the point across, brooks no compromise, and is elegantly civil throughout.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:54 PM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Further research shows that I was remiss in making this post without noting that, in the same issue, a pregnant dachshund is fitted with a roller skate so she can move around more easily.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:06 PM on June 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


you neglected to mention the HORSE WITH PANTS
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:08 PM on June 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


What do you want, horses running around naked? We're trying to have a civilization here!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:19 AM on June 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


« Older Time with class! Let's Count!   |   Let me tell you about my trouble with girls Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments