Housewife of the 1940s

Another post from my previous blog. . . .one day, I’ll get back to posting original content. 

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of research on what it would have been like to live as a home maker in past decades, and I thought I’d share what I’ve found.

The 1940s is a fascinating time period to me.  My parents were born then, the second world war came to the US and the depression was ending.  People were starting to enjoy life again and get behind their country.  Women were very present as homemakers, but moving into industry to fill jobs that men had left behind to go overseas.  Technology was advancing what could be done in a day’s time for a “typical” home maker, like automatic washers.  This was the time when women no longer had to scrub each piece by hand and boil the garments, but they could use a wringer and an agitator all in one.

If you have the time to watch this video on 1940 in America, it is quite “educational”.  The focus of the video is really how much effort or energy a woman uses each day to do normal tasks, like cleaning, preparing a meal or sewing.  There have been many inventions along the way to cope with the difficulties, like the automatic washer and sewing machines.  The real heart of the film, however, gets down to how difficult it is to shift gears in the car, and so women need hydraulic pressure to help cope, which all comes in the end of the film.  It is really the early parts that I wanted to share. . . what the home looks like and what the lady of the house does all day.

This was filmed before the war broke out, so American life was a bit different after 1941.  Also at this point, it is hard to say how this family was doing coming out of the Great Depression and whether or not these would have been traditional “work around the house” clothes.  Regardless, the glimpse at life is intriguing, considering this was a current film at the time.

Easy Does It 1940


Gender Roles in Chores

My Dresser

There are very few things that Bill (my husband) won’t do around the house and in turn that I won’t do around the house.  We have fallen in many ways into the typical gender roles of housework.  I do most of the laundry and interior cleaning, while he takes out the trash, mows the lawn and hangs all light fixtures.  This suits us well, as we both enjoy doing those things (seriously).  We’ve taken a lot of pride in our home and love working on it.

However, there are a few things that Bill won’t do, some because he doesn’t think of them. . . like dusting.  But others, he just won’t do, like clipping nails.  This may sound like an odd home chore, but we now have two dependents that need nail clipping — a dog and a child.  Bill will have nothing to do with nail clipping, it is solely on my shoulders.  For legal reasons, I won’t reveal why he refuses to do nails, but you can try asking him personally.  The dog needs her nails done weekly, as she was bred a digger and doesn’t get out much to wear them down in this weather.  The baby needs his nails done about every 3 days, and I have no idea why they grow so fast.  But, in both cases, I’m dealing with a squirmer who doesn’t like the process.  I’m getting it down to a science, though.  With Heidi, it is all about the treat at the end, which is a soley “nail-clipping” treat.  For the baby, it is about doing it while he is nursing and less likely to pull away.

What chores won’t I do?  Well, I suppose I won’t do the plastering or lawn mowing, mainly because I am mediocre at both of those.  Last year when I tried to mow, the lawn had little weed patches here and there that showed between the “rows” I mowed.  And plastering?  Well, just not my strong suit — the plaster is heavy and nothing like painting.    I also don’t do any plumbing or electrical work in this house, mainly because I don’t want to screw those up, and Bill is way better at most of that stuff anyway.  I have, for the record, replaced light fixtures and whole toilets on my own.  But like I said, Bill is waaay better at those than I.

There is no gender bias in the kitchen, though.  We both cook and clean up equally, though I do most of the baking.  It is truly our pleasure and we love to cook together and host dinners or brunches together.  If you feel like a visit to central New York, come by the Berthel B&B.

Salary of a Housewife

This post received more views than any other post I’ve written, from my previous blog and this one. . . so I thought I should repost here for your viewing.

[As a relatively new unemployed woman, I’ve been taking a very close look at my contribution to the home and husband as of late.  I’ve been out of work now for seven months, which has effected our finances (and my pride).  Years ago, it was common if not expected that a woman would leave the workforce upon marriage.  In fact, I believe there were state laws or company laws around that concept, though I’ll need to research to make sure.  . . . Note:  I wrote this early last year, before Will was born and before steady freelance work began.]

I was one of these women, up until last May.  So, it has been a challenging time learning how my home contributions are equal to bringing home the bacon– in a financial sense.  I have found some statistics to back up my thoughts and interest.

Even though these are in English pounds, I believe the equivalent would be a touch more with the current monetary exchange.  These findings from 2008 suggest that a housewife would bring in £36,000 a year, due to cooking, cleaning, laundry, tidying, childcare, taxi-ing, and maintaining family finances.  (I’d have to add in catering, gardening, sewing, and decorating, considering that all of these are also done by the homemaker and could be professionally hired out positions.)  You can look up the full article on the Free Library to see the break down of earnings.

According to a US Bureau of Labor statistics Employment and Earnings report (from wayback in 1995), the findings that have been compiled are quite a bit larger, so you can make your own assessment as to where you would fall in the income bracket.

This report suggests that a US housewife would be making over $120,000 a year for all her labor, which would include childcare worker, cook, driver, accountant, tutor, recreational planner, etc.  It says that professional cooks make an average of $238 a week, and professional drivers around $362 a week, with bookkeeping topping these stats at $389 a week (oh, and this is back in 1995).  You can see results from this report compiled here on the Smalley site.  Once again, I believe a few important career titles have been left out of the mix, so the salary would be boosted in my opinion.

It is an interesting thought that home making is belittled here and there in our culture when there is clearly both monetary value and personalization in taking care of the home.  I know a few wives going through the same “value” measuring place that I am, and I can say I’m standing behind my original post that being at home is an investment to our partners, the property and ourselves.  I’m still figuring it out myself, but I’m here for the long haul.

the Victorian Way

I’ve missed blogging about the house.  It makes sense that I haven’t written in a while due to the fact that we have slowed down production greatly in the past two months, but I still want to share our housey tidbits and journal everything we’ve come across as best I can.  So, I have decided to share more history about the house in some old posts that I wrote for my other blog (which I might be shutting down soon anyway).

It seems that our house has Victorian history as well as its own history about the family’s that lived here before us.  We know of several families due to the abstract that came with the house, and we’ve been told a few mighty fine stories along the way as well.  So, I’ll be adding those bits to the blog, too.  The photos might be lacking, however, but maybe I should dig around for some.  Wouldn’t it be cool to find photos of this house back in 1896, for instance? 

Anyway, I wrote about housekeeping in my previous blog ( and thought I’d repost here.

I have almost always enjoyed cleaning, or parts of cleaning, or at least the end result.  And now with a baby, I want my home cleaner than ever and it is harder to do.  I’ve heard, too, that it will stay hard, especially because I have a boy-child who will likely leave a room with muddy prints, pee stains or crumbs as soon as I de-clutter and cleanse.

A Victorian living room, circa 1890

Now that I’m so focused on cleaning, I’ve taken to a few very important tools that I cannot do without, and I’ve once again looked back in time to see how a true 1890s woman would dust her home.

She would have entered a room, covered all the upholstered furniture with cotton fabric and dusted with a large feather duster.  Then, the carpets would have been taken outside and hung to beat.  This imagery leaves me thinking that the house would have been filled with dusty air during a cleaning and likely long after instead of removing the dust entirely.  Although that might be appealing to some, to see the bits of dust flying around in a sunshine ray, I prefer to remove the dust entirely. . . . forever.

So, I’ve clung to my can of Pledge and my Swiffer dusters.  Ahh, the satisfaction.  They really aren’t paying me to talk about their products, but I can’t say enough how happy I am to dust with these.  I’m addicted.  Really, I believe in taking care of the environment and not using harsh chemicals or throwing away a lot of stuff to our overflowing landfills.  But, sometimes, I make the exception, and this is it. . . Pledge and Swiffers.

Any cleaning tools you can’t live without?