I've a bit of an ongoing fascination at the moment with the role of women in the home over the last 100 or so years, and how that has changed over time. When my Godmother bought me a National Trust gift voucher as a birthday present it was a great opportunity to buy a couple of the books that they sell in their gift shops about exactly this kind of thing.
A 1950s Housewife: Marriage and Homemaking in the 1950s does exactly what the title suggests – tells of the role of a housewife in the 1950. This was a period in which the role of women was changing. Following the war years in which women had supported the UK workforce by taking on the various roles that were vacated when men went away to fight, the 1950s saw a return to their primary role in the home.
It was fascinating to read about what married life was like for women in the 50s and just how much prejudice there still was against them. Even those women who were in employment when they got married either ended up leaving their jobs when they tied the knot, or when they decided to start a family (often not long after). Employers didn't expect women to remain in their jobs so their progression was limited, especially if they were already married. For any women who didn't plan to marry of have children it was unlikely that they'd be able to have a career anyway – such were employer's expectations of women.
For many young married couples of the time, their first priority was getting their own home and having two of them in employment was a way of helping this happen. Until they had saved enough deposit many couples ended up having to stay with family or renting a room in a shared house. Acquiring everything they needed to set up home was also an important stage for them. It was impressive to see the lists that 1950s newly-weds had kept of all their wedding gifts and the purchases they made for their new home.
The only thing that disappointed me about this book was that there was no real mention of what life was like for these housewives once they had children. To me this seemed to be a massive oversight, but what I didn't realise at the time is that Sheila Hardy has actually written a second book covering this exact topic – A 1950s Mother: Bringing Up Baby in the 1950s. I really want to understand what day to day life was like for mothers in this decade and how they spent their time balancing childcare with keeping house. I'll definitely be adding it to my wish list for when I'm out of my self-imposed new book ban!