Saturday, March 14, 2009

How to be a Good Wife

An excerpt from a 1950's High School Home Economics textbook:

Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal--on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.

Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so that you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair, and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day might need a lift too.

Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and face. If they are small, comb their hair, and if necessary change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, dishwasher, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him, greet him with a mile and be glad to see him.

Some don'ts. Don't greet him with problems or complaints. Don't complain if he's late for dinner. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day. Make him comfortable. Have him sit back in a comfortable chair or suggest he like down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

Listen to him. You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead try to understand his world of strain and pressures, his need to be home and relax.

THE GOAL: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.
I was a senior in high school in 1951. I may have read the above text. If I had I would have thought it was very good. As I read it now, I don't know whether to laugh or to cry! It seems incredible that we believed such drivel. And allowed it to be taught in our schools. Now, almost 60 years later, I cannot imagine that I could ever be so naive!

I was married in 1954, dropping out of my senior year in college because my husband was a lieutenant in the Army and was moving to Ft. Lewis, Washington. I was in my senior year at Oklahoma University and I wanted to be with him. It seemed reasonable and even my parents, who very much wanted their only child to have an education, agreed. We went to Ft. Lewis and I tried to be a good wife--a good Army wife.

I tried. I really tried. I tried to meet all the unreasonable expectations. But, after four children, the vacuum cleaner seemed to be left in the middle of the dining room or wherever I was interrupted. The washer, dryer, and dishwasher (when we could afford to buy them) seemed to run at all times. I don't think I ever suggested that he lie down or arranged his pillow or offered to take his shoes off. I was usually somewhat frazzled by the time he arrived. I was not good at some things but very good at others. I was a very good cook and a very gracious hostess and, I hope, a good Mother. I just never seemed to conquer the clutter!

I could write a treatise in response to this textbook but not on this blog! Suffice it to say that Betty Friedan's book "The Feminine Mystique" was published and slowly things began to change. I became a feminist and went back to school, earning my degree and a Master's degree twenty years later. I marched in the demonstration in Washington, D.C. for passage of the Equal Right's Amendment.

I have come a long way. A very long way. I am amazed at how much has changed. The many opportunities that women have today.

"The battle for women's rights has been largely won." Margaret Thatcher


  1. Hi Sarah,

    As a 40 year old woman, to read that stuff from the '50s is frightening! 'Take off his shoes', 'Let him talk first'!! - incredible to think women were being told to live that way. How times have changed and thank goodness they have!
    As a stay at home mom, I feel somewhat 'old fashioned' to not be a working mother. But I look forward to when I have completed my psychology degree and can contribute to the wider world again.

  2. Sarah,
    I'm glad you are back. I do believe in home as a haven and safe place. However, it's important to read the 50s stuff to remember what the women's movement was about. Younger women can hardly believe that we were fed this glory-in-your-subjugation stuff.
    We can be proud of the part we played in changing it. And my husband was one of the few men who would actually have a meal ready for me and could not wait to hear all about my day.