A little bit of history...

In the 1950s, suburban communities started booming. The first mass-produced suburb - Levittown, New York - was built in 1951. The houses made in these suburbs were built quickly and cheaply, so they were affordable. After the GI Bill was passed in 1944, many young couples across the country were able to buy a home. Mass production of these houses resulted in uniformity of the design and "homogenous" suburban neighborhoods. Additionally, the decade after World War II had ended included a "baby boom," where millions of Americans began having families. New forms of media - in particular, the television - promoted a consumer culture, which created pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" with material purchases of items such as cars and appliances. This new media also created a new suburban ideal with the television show Leave it to Beaver: the white, nuclear family with specific gender roles.

This kind of image was commonly found in magazines during the 1950s to show the ideal family of the time. With just looking at this image, what do you think life was meant to be like for the 1950s suburban woman with a husband and children? What kind of image was meant to be portrayed?

The Good Wife's Guide

Document A

This "Good Wife's Guide" is believed to have come from an issue of the magazine, Housekeeping Monthly in May 1955. It has also been said that this "Guide" is actually fake. There have been investigations arranged in order to find out the answer to this question, but nothing substantial has surfaced.

Source: http://j-walk.com/other/goodwife/index.htm

Document B

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (Modified)

"The problem . . . was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, . . . lay beside her husband at night--she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question--"Is this all?" . . .

"In the fifteen years after World War II, the mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished… core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife, kissing their husbands goodbye in front of the picture window, depositing their station-wagons full of children at school, and smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen floor. They baked their own bread, sewed their own and their children’s clothes, kept their new washing machines and dryers running all day… Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the unfeminine problems of the world outside the home; they wanted the men to make the major decisions…"

Source: Betty Friedan was one of the early leaders of the Women’s Rights movement that developed in the 1960s and 1970s. She published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. In the book, Friedan discusses how stifled and unsatisfied many suburban women were in the 1950s.

Document C

Historian Joanne Meyerowitz (Modified)

"The Woman's Home Companion (a popular women's magazine) conducted opinion polls in 1947 and 1949 in which readers named the women they most admired. In both years the top four women were [women involved in politics]. The postwar popular magazines were also postive about women's participation in politics. The Ladies' Home Journal had numerous articles that supported women as political and community leaders. One article in the Ladies' Home Journal from 1947 encouraged women to "Make politics your business. Voting, office holding, raising you voice for new and better laws are just as important to your home and your family as the evening meal or spring house cleaning." [This shows that women at the time believed that individual achievement and public service were at least as important as devotion to home and family]."

Source: Joanne Meyerowitz, "Beyond the Feminine Mystique: A Reassessment of Postwar Mass Culture, 1946-1958. "The Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 4 (Mar., 1993), pp. 1455-1482. Meyerowitz examined 489 articles in eight monthly magazines from the 1950s.

Document D

Historian Alice Kessler-Harris (Modified)

"At first glance, the 1950s was a decade of the family... But already that family was flashing the warning signals... Homes and cars, refrigerators and washing machines, telephones and multiple televisions require higher incomes... The two-income family emerged. In 1950, wives earned wages in only 21.6 percent of all families. By 1960, 30.5 percent of wives worked for wages. And that figure would continue to increase. Full- and part-time working wives contributed about 26 percent of the total family income."

Source: Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work, 2003, pp. 301-302.