Archetypal Vintage Housewife?

I was reading an article in The Telegraph online archive from May, today called “Oh to be a 1930’s Housewife” by Ceri Radford in which she is more than miffed about a chart unearthed by American Psychologists that originated from 1939 and is a score sheet of merits and demerits to rate the standard of “The Wife”. How cheerful! Here is a picture of the chart concerned and what an eye opener it is for those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in a much enlightened western culture.

Of course I never claimed to be June Cleaver and apparently I fail dismally at wifeliness for the 1930’s too. I am not surprized of course. I was a bloody useless wife in the 1990s too. I really didn’t hit my stride until 1999 when I married J. I personally think I’m doing an awesome job of being a wife in the new Millenium and thankfully it seems that J thinks so too. I wonder what questions we would put on a chart to measure us in today’s standards — Do we agree with the author of this article that the questions would be the same for Wife and Husband? Or do we really still harbour certain gender expectations? Hmm…I’m not really sure on that one yet. It requires more thought and more study, but I think I do have to agree with Miss Radford when she says “modern marriage may be messy, but a partnership of equals is so much more appealing than a spreadsheet of gender-based clichés”.


As a 1930s wife, I am

Take the test!

I think that it is fascinating how far we have come and how many women suffered to ensure freedoms we enjoy and take for granted today. I was looking at The Victoria and Albert Museum site today in a student and teacher section about the role and status of women from 1900-1939. The imagery available to view is fantastic. There are many images that show that women are already breaking out of old sterotypes and stepping outside expectations into a traditionally male environment. I’m sure that men found some of the the advertisements very whimsical but this century had already seen a turnaround for women with the suffragette movement fighting for the the enfranchisement of women in the western world! In February 1918 women over the age of 30 received the right to vote in Britain and on Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment granted the ballot to American women. This image below was produced the same year that suffrage rights for men and women were equalized in Britain in 1928.

Click on this image from the V&A by Henry Haley (Head and Shoulders of Woman Driving Car, about 1928) to visit the collection.

This illustration by Ettore Tito entitled ‘Aide toi. Le ciel t’aidera’ (‘Heaven helps those who help themselves’), from about 1925-30, is anopther one from the V&A collection I mentioned and “shows a modern emancipated girl of the period: she wears short skirts, drives her own open-topped car, and is even capable of fixing it herself when it breaks down. She is presented as independent and rather ‘racy’; the image is clearly meant to be amusing but also suggestive”.

Also while I was browsing for images of this mythically fabulous creature the 1930’s housewife I came across many images that did not quite fit the archetypal vintage housewife. Is there a chance that the 1939 chart was produced because women were making so many advances to emancipation that the pressure was felt in society among the men, the husband’s attempt at re-establishing or at least reaffirming dominance?

As an aside –during my search for images I came across these posters for a movie called “The Women” (1939). A comedy directed by George Cukor, with an all-female cast starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russel, and although it has been criticized for a semi-regressive theme it has been praised for strong performances, and portrayal of complex relationships. It is surely worthy of note that no men appear in the movie! This must have felt like an advancement to the actresses themselves do you think? In a male dominated environment a movie consiting entirely of female performers was backed and it was a success. I’ve ordered it from Netflix to see for myself.

One thought on “Archetypal Vintage Housewife?

  1. Anonymous

    This reminded me of a piece by Ken Tynan (late writer and critic) Nothing to do with my marriage of course! “story of unhappy married couple,who achieve togetherness in the evening of their lives by discovering they both have gonorrhoea” Your first reaction maybe laughter but when you go on to consider your own far from perfect marriage,held together (it may be ) by loveless habit or finacial necessity or fear of social disapproval,all of which are motives less concrete and intimate than veneral disease, your laughter may cool of into a puzzled frown of self scrutiny. Bit high brow I know, but the comment “fear of social disapproval” is hardly common in todays society. Interesting feature Angie.Dad


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