16 May 2010

Welcome to the 50s Housewife Experiment

So, we’ve decided to do it.

For two weeks (May 17th through May 30th), I’ll be living the life of a 1950s housewife.

Why?

For fun. I think it’s easy to romanticize or demonize the era – so I’m going to attempt to “realitycize” it (well, as realistic as it can be, should you believe all the magazines and books from the time!). At the end of the two weeks my husband and I are going to see how happy / bitter we’re each feeling, if our weight changed, if our blood pressure changed, how much we spent vs. how much we normally spend, and if there are any lessons we can take from it all.

Why just two weeks? Why not a year? Or even a month?

Have you seen the crap people ate back then? Housewives were well intentioned, but we’ve learned a lot about nutrition since then. The 50s diet is fairly high is saturated fats, salt and sugar – plus it marked the dawn of the "miracle" of convenience foods (see: highly processed junk). I can only take so much. An additional reason is that I’ve managed to get a lot of client work done ahead of time, but there will be things that come up that I’ll need to get on. Going hardcore as a housewife for a long period of time would interrupt my ability to pay my mortgage, which I'm told is sort of important.

What will you do after the two weeks?

We’ll do our assessment (as mentioned above). It will hardly be scientific - after all, this is just a fluffy, fun-inspired attempt at living in this hyper-idealized manner.

What is the 50s Housewife Experiment?

For two weeks I'll attempt, in a highly superficial way, to live up to the ideals placed on housewives in the 1950s. I’ll be basing what a 1950s housewife may have strived toward on a few references:

  • My 1950s era household guides – The Searchlight Household Guide, my Bride’s Reference Book and a 1952 Canadian home economics textbook
  • Several cookbooks from the era
  • A few vintage magazines like Redbook, Household Magazine, Today's Woman Magazine and Ladies' Home Journal
  • Prelinger Archive films and commercials that were aimed at women at the time
From all above, I’ve picked up that the 1950s (childfree) housewife had five key goals. Put simply, I’ll aim to (Note: Click those links for the details!):
  1. Create a comfortable, clean and beautiful home
  2. Provide nutritious and tasty meals
  3. Handle the household income as economically as possible
  4. Show pride in being a Mrs. by putting a concerted effort into my appearance
  5. Make home life as relaxing and supportive as possible so that the breadwinner can succeed in providing for the family to the best of his abilities
Guess which one of these credos my husband likes best? Actually, all men seem to like that last one best. Whenever I've explained to guys what I'm about to do, it's like some big-chested, bendy woman just walked out of my mouth and started dancing for them. Their jaws drop open a little, their eyes get glazey and they ask me to repeat myself, like, a few times over, just to be sure they heard what they think they heard.

Anyway, during the two weeks, I will do these things as a 1950s housewife likely would have, using the technology and means that she had. This means that I will:
  • Create meals based on nutritional rules at the time, her recipes, her serving sizes, and the types of ingredients that were available to her. Please send prayers / fairy dust / The Secret vibes / The Force our way as the strength of our gag reflexes and arteries will be tested
  • Use the household instruments available to her. Sadly, I won’t presume we were wealthy, which means my microwave, dishwasher, blender and juicer are going to take a bit of a holiday
  • Care for the home based on her ideals and schedule while using the cleaning products and methods suggested where available
  • Take part in the beauty and exercise regiments she would have
Things I’ll be wavering on:
  • Work. I’ve handled a lot of my regular clients’ demands ahead of time. I still, however, expect to spend at least 2-3 hours a day managing / doing my freelance writing work. We’ll just pretend that time is spent volunteering at the Red Cross or Junior League, like a good 50s housewife apparently would
  • I’m not going to get rid of my stuff and trade it in for 50s era tools – so the phone isn’t rotary. The modern washing machine will still be used. The computer will serve as record player
  • The Internet exists … but! Internet time will be limited to work and blogging / blabbing of said blog. No goofing. If friends e-mail me, I’ll either call them, write them a letter (via snail mail) or be a brat and ignore them until the experiment is through
  • I’ll watch TV, but no more than someone would then – so, about two hours a day? Other leisure time will be spent reading or doing hobbies
  • The clothes won’t be retro – but close. Dresses and skirts will be largely in use, but I don’t plan to get costumey (only because I don't own much of that)
  • I’ll have a credit card and cell phone on me for emergencies but don’t plan to use either
  • I'll still be "me." I'm not going to walk around like someone who works at one of those historic forts and say things like "Golly, gee, mister, what's that strange book you're reading from? A laptop? What kind of devil machine is that?"
You can read up on the details of the 50s Housewife Experiment by clicking on the links within the post … and then just stay tuned as I update throughout the two weeks!:
Wish me luck. Wish me sanity. Wish me vodka.

And now - Part 2 (October 25 - 31) - a husband-centric version!


PLUS: A SPECIAL (see: petty, ridiculous) post in response to some random critiques from the Internet:
The 50s Housewife Gets Way More Sarcastic Than Usual

Part 3: The 50s Housewife Does Christmas (December 20 - 24):

Also: I post snippets of 50s Housewife stuff here and there, using the tag 50s housewife experiment. Click it to read more random finds, insights and general silliness from this era.

Please feel free to post your comments or send me a note to jenbutneverjenn (at) gmail (dot) com.

Image Source: Hamilton Beach advertisement, circa 1946.

53 comments:

Anonymous,  5:01 pm, May 17, 2010  

I've been thinking of doing an experiment like this myself for quite some time. I think that the hardest thing will be to give up the internet. However, I do have a rotary phone available to me. Hehe, I'm having trouble finding resources on-line to supplement what I have found on my own. Good luck!

Amanda,  7:20 am, May 18, 2010  

What a plan! Good luck!

Colleen 10:12 am, May 18, 2010  

You are so the better version of what I want to be! When your experiment is over, I have a full compliment of 1950s Weight Watcher's Recipe Cards. You might barf a little in your mouth when you read some of these recipes. I know I did!

Jen 3:29 pm, May 19, 2010  

It's actually pretty interesting to try to tackle - if anyone wants to follow along and do their own version, please do (and let me know!).

Colleen - those are the very best kind of vintage recipes. I will indeed demand to look at them!

Tiffany,  3:51 pm, May 30, 2010  

I have laughed to the point of tears reading your blog! It's hilarious, disturbing (helloooo lysol), and I am both looking forward to your next few posts while being sad at their hallmarking the end of your experiment.

Jen 3:03 pm, June 01, 2010  

Thanks, Tiffany! Glad you got a laugh out of it!

CD,  11:24 am, June 06, 2010  

I just finished reading the entire series (my entire morning basically!) and had to come back and say how much I enjoyed it. So funny and so detailed ..I'm inspired to tackle it myself (but maybe just for a few days with my spare vacation..).

I saw someone else tell you to turn it into a book. If you did, I'd buy it!! Thanks for the great read!

Shay Bocks 7:15 pm, June 27, 2010  

Thank you so much for sharing this! It is exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. I've been considering doing a 30 Days experiment (in celebration of the tv show), so after reading your blog, I knew exactly what to do. I'm starting tomorrow and I just posted an introduction to the experiment at my blog, Randomness by Shay.

Mia,  2:51 pm, August 12, 2010  

Can I tell you how much I love this!? Not just the experiment but the way your wrote about it! So fun!

Anonymous,  4:54 pm, September 19, 2010  

One thing that many people don't know or think about when it comes to fifties house wives is that they did as they were expected out both fear and respect for their husbands. It was not unusual for a man to backhand his wife if she was out of line. Many times this was probably the reason for the amount of makeup used. Also, this was private family business and never questioned. You mention how much more we know about nutrition, but we also know a lot more about physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, all popular in the fifties. Another thing is the expectations on children (I'm not sure if you have any). Anyway, this seems like a fun experiment but hardly realistic. What I've mentioned is only a small portion of the difficulties with such an experiment. Good luck!

Hallie,  1:29 pm, October 30, 2010  

I have absolutely fallen in love with your blog thanks to this experiment. Brilliant! (Although I think my husband is curious as to why I keep crying from laughter...)

Miss Ginny Tea 5:24 pm, November 08, 2010  

I just found this. It's awesome. I'm not a LOL kind of person, but I read the whole thing, and I LOL'd. ^_^

Tabetha 6:08 pm, November 11, 2010  

lol it sounds like a lofty goal - can't wait to hear how it goes!

Anonymous,  3:59 pm, November 22, 2010  

i cant find your husbands post

Vanessa,  9:00 pm, November 23, 2010  

Loooooooooooooved loved loved both experiments!!! I somewhat currently live as a modern version of the '50's housewife. My grandparents were my example of how a home and marriage should be and hence my current lifestyle. Add in the fact that I am also a mother. So, to find the similarities in your experiment to my actual life was hilarious. I choose to be submissive to my husband and to be the CEO of our home. But I also on occasion find and understand the absurdity of my choice in this day and age. I think what you have done is fun and a great way of walking in someone Else's shoes. Bravo!!!!!!

Anonymous,  12:38 pm, December 20, 2010  

Just stumbled into your page - I've been wanting to attempt this very type of experiment, and I'm also a writer. I'm really looking forward to reading through all of your posts!

50sgal 2:52 pm, December 21, 2010  

I am not sure how I missed this, except that I almost exclusively use my computer as a typewriter and research tool, very little 'fun times'. But, hope you enjoyed your experiment. I have to say coming to my second year of living in the 1950's has greatly changed my life. I can't imagine leaving, but am going to try to do more modern things mingled with my 50's life. Who knows what will happen.

Betsy (formerly Gingerella) 5:42 pm, January 07, 2011  

I just ran across your blog yesterday and proceeded to read through all of your 50's housewife experiments....and I think I cracked a rib from having to suppress my laughter at work! I love your wit and writing style. Consider me a new fan. :)

As for the negative nellies, they're just jealous that they weren't intelligent enough to "get it." Because one obviously bashes that which one does not understand, yes? I get pissed when people blindly assume all housewives of the era were oppressed, mindless, spineless creatures who drugged themselves into valium-induced oblivion to escape the drudgery. Idiots.

I assume by now you've been made aware of another blogger who did a 50's housewife experiment and has gleaned so much out of it that she's still going strong in the 50's two years later? She has found that lifestyle very fulfilling and has shared her thoughts, as well as her research, on dispelling the myths of the era. If you haven't yet, check Donna out at http://www.my50syear.blogspot.com/

Actually it was from a comment someone left on her blog that led me to yours (she left your link). :)

Her insights into where we're at in 2011 as a culture and how that all ties back to the successes....and failures....of the 50's are truly eye-opening.

Jen 9:28 pm, January 08, 2011  

Thanks for the comments, everyone! You're all too kind!

Betsy - thanks for the sweet comments and the link! I think Donna and I must have discovered each others' blogs around the same time! Hers is great!

Ali, LA, California,  7:06 pm, March 18, 2011  

A friend on Facebook sent me a link to your blog and this experiment today. I've spent the ENTIRE DAY reading it. Hopefully you see this comment, as I know it was a while since you wrote all this. Anyway, just wanted to say how much I love this and how much I love the way you write. I can totally relate and feel really inspired to take on some (but definitely not ALL!) of the things you talked about. I might even print out a couple of the posts as a reminder / guide. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you have another fan out there!

Domestic Spaz 3:18 pm, April 01, 2011  

"Whenever I've explained to a guy what I'm about to do, it's like some big-chested, bendy woman just walked out of my mouth and started dancing for them."

I literally laughed out loud when I read this. And it takes a lot to make me really laugh. Imagery win.

Mern 2:49 am, April 08, 2011  

Hi Jen, I never get chance to really just sit and read your Blog, well who is kidding who, I'm not much of a reader, but I do love reading your blog. You are one very entertaining lady, AND my Pat is lucky to have you...LOVE MERN

Dulantha 2:26 am, April 27, 2011  

The role of a housewife is an important thing in any society.

Actually hose wives are doing a better job at home rather than feminist women are trying to complicate the society.

Ali,  9:15 am, May 07, 2011  

I just learned of your site from STFU Parents and have been pouring over your posts. You really are a gifted story teller! I quite enjoy your sense of humor - you have a new fan in me!

Marlene Metzler,  1:29 am, July 16, 2011  

Hello Jen, so lately I have been obsessed with the 40's and 50's era when I stumbled onto your blog, I could not stop reading it, you see I was raised in Quebec but now live in Missouri, I'd have to say that I am strangely reliving my childhood through some of your posts from your experiment, my grandma making her aspic for New years dinner * shuders*, and believe it or not when we went to Quebec for Christmas in 2007 my dad had slinged out the silver tree with the light carousel from what I recall as a child the scariest place in our basement, my children were horrified to find out the christmas tree had somehow been violated by tin man or Buck Rogers, but I digress. I think it's neat you put a lot of effort into this blog, I found myself laughing out loud more than once, may I mention to my husband's dismay since it was 3:30 am and he was sleeping next to me...but anyhow, I will make it a habit to stop by and see what you are up to, congrats on purchasing a house, now to make it a home.... do I see another experiment in the making???
Sincerly,
Marlene Metzler

MommaBear 11:17 pm, July 28, 2011  

I have decided to do the same experiment and started doing google searches on "how to be a 1950's housewife"
I haven't read your blog yet as I wanted to write without bias.
I'm excited to read your blog, thanks for posting your experince and ideas!

Lauren @ Hobo Mama 9:43 pm, September 23, 2011  

Congratulations, you have made me waste a whole day of my life reading through your experiments and imagining eating all those revolting gelatin molds. On the plus side, I am glad my picky four-year-old is right on course to get his 1950s-recommended daily serving of potatoes. At least I'm doing something right.

Despite all the unquestionable hilarity of your posts, I also came away inspired. For instance, the idea of having a clean and peaceful home every day sounds dreamy. So maybe I need to get my housewife on.

I will be sharing your blog — thanks!

Q 4:26 pm, November 01, 2011  

I found this blog and your experiment a month or two ago, and I read all three versions within a few days! I love how you write -- so funny and creative. I'd like to follow your blog to get a regular dose of it and, of course, remain in the loop for future experiments. :)

lauren,  3:11 am, November 15, 2011  

I just learned about your 50s experiment from a forum I belong to and stayed up all evening reading through every post of it. You are such a wonderful writer and you tackle this challenge with such humor! I really felt I learned something too! Please do more experiments - or a book! Thanks. Will keep reading your blog.

Ryan, Corrie, Max, and Jack 10:48 pm, November 16, 2011  

I'm probably from the same forum as Lauren, LOL, and have spent all my free time for several days reading your 50's Experiments posts (original, husband obsessed, Christmas, a word to the naysayers, etc.).

Serious laugh out loud stuff. Although, and this might sound prideful- I actually do a lot of those things. With two kids. Like you mentioned a few days into the original experiment, it's easier to keep the house clean once you get into the habit and do some each day. Now, that's not to say my apartment is spotless- I have two kids and am expecting #3. However, I do a pretty darn good job over all. *pats self on back*

I need to start leaving more comments as I read... I devour, laugh, and move on. Not very helpful to you, the awesome writer, is it?? LOL

Jen 5:16 pm, November 22, 2011  

Just want to say thanks to the people who have just found this blog / experiment! Thanks for reading, sharing and commenting! I hope to do another "time capsule" experiment soon!

Katie 4:07 am, December 19, 2011  

I found your blog through a parenting forum and have read most of your 1950s posts, they're great! I have your "keeping of the house" list on my fridge and have been attempting it every day for the last week. I'm a stay at home mom and really needed a good routine, this is helping a lot! I didn't learn good housekeeping skills growing up but I'm definitely improving. I think I'll make my own list, toned down a little, but this has been a great starting point. I'm feeling a lot better when I get up early, exercise, get ready, eat breakfast with my husband, and keep the house clean (as opposed to sweats-all-day, house-is-a-mess type days that have been typical for me). Anyway, thanks for the experiment and the great, funny writing!

renanichole 12:17 am, January 04, 2012  

I read through your first experiment, and I enjoyed it! I try to celebrate some hidden domestic side of myself, to coax it out of it's little fox hole lol.

Vivianne 7:33 pm, January 26, 2012  

Fabulous experiments - they had me laughing out loud so often my two year old came to see what was the matter. I keep coming back to reread them.. Great way to procrastinate in the name of 'research'
I just started a blog in a similar vein, but based on literary examples (although I do have a growing collection of vintage magazines and cookbooks, also). I hope to find time to plan and execute an experiment along these same lines, but based on examples from novels. I just don't think I can part with my washing machine...
I linked to this post from one of my recent posts: http://littlepinkbookmarks.blogspot.com/2012/01/churn-on-thursday.html

Mary,  10:50 pm, February 26, 2012  

You are incredible.

I am an Undergraduate at the University of Michigan doing a research paper (albeit very rudimentary) about the evolution of the housewife between 1940 and 1960(70?). This topic is so interesting to me as it is one day my goal to be a 50's Housewife. Your experiment has proved to me that it may be a little more difficult than I expected, but I was nonetheless thrilled to read about it (for the past 2 hours...)

Your sources here have been very helpful already. Do you have any other helpful sources you could point me towards? Anything you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

alisha55555 11:16 am, April 02, 2012  

Hey, I would LOVE to get a look at your Brides Reference Guid! I have been searching for one from around the 50's for years. I have a large collection of Ladies Home Journals and Womens Companion's from the 50's. Maybe we could trade? Or perhaps we could both just scan in the whole thing and send each other the scans? Please let me know if you are interested.
Thanks,
Alisha

Brianna Gray 1:14 pm, August 08, 2012  

I love this and am thinking I might try it, though my husband is all too excited.... We shall see!

Robert Newman 1:16 am, October 08, 2012  

Jen I have have to say you are one amazing woman! I am starting my own trial at living in the 50's. I am using some information I learned from your blog as well as other literature I have read. I have period clothing that I am wearing as well. I have a cleaning schedule set in place. I am cutting down on my computer and television usage and starting to use vintage recipes. I already have the 50's home with 50's appliances! My boyfriend now fully understands that the kitchen is mine and he is to stay out. I love it. I do have to say though, I don't think I will be trying any jello-o molds other than for jell-0! Ha ha.

Sarah,  12:57 pm, October 25, 2012  

Jen, I've just discovered your lovely blog, and really enjoyed reading about your 50s housewife experiment!
It is really fascinating to read about daily lives in the past.
Although I work full-time, deep down I am a bit old fashioned in spirit. My husband and I always kiss when we say goodbye to each other in the morning and when we both get home at night...not to do so would be really sad! I'm afraid not all our meals are cooked from scratch, but we always sit at the table to eat together - we always have.
The cleaning routine was fascinating, if somewhat daunting...there's no way I'd time for all that, but I want to develop some daily routines for the hour between me getting home and hubby getting home.
Regarding the food, I can't help wondering if a lot of those weird and unappetising recipes were "aspirational" i.e. what you'd serve at a party to make yourself look sophisticated, not what you would eat every day. My mum grew up in the 50s and she said people mostly ate plain British food like bubble and squeak, shepherds pie, fishcakes, stew etc. Here in the UK we still had food rationing up to the mid-50s; foods like meat, dairy and sugar were in scarce supply, so people didn't eat many of them, even though they were desirable.
Anyway I'm really looking forwards to reading more of your amazing blog!

Ruth 5:41 pm, December 07, 2012  

Wow... I am impressed.

from retiredruth.wordpress.com

LovelyJules,  5:15 pm, February 06, 2013  

Err, so this is probably going to me sound like I need to be institutionalized, but I think I am a 1950s housewife. Who happens to be writing her doctorate thesis in physics. I plan out the weeks meals in advance, based on the grocer's sales, the weather, and nutrition. Then i get them delivered. I cook, clean, write letters to friends and family, primp and pretty-fy myself and do that whole 10 minutes of exercise every morning. Plus the yoga and running. How do I do all that? Well I don't sleep much and I drink a lot of wine. But our house is beautiful dammit.

Darn It Janet 7:33 am, April 01, 2013  

Just finished your entire slew of housewife posts... Your dry wit kept waking my husband up. "Huh? What's funny?"

Especially after reading your husband version, I am SO HAPPY I am not a 50s housewife. That said - ironically I found your blog by googling "Daily housekeeping schedule" out of frustration of having a messy house with no end in sight. These 50s ladies knew more than we gave them credit for.

ayumi 5:21 am, April 29, 2013  

wonderful work! the way you discuss the subject i'm very impressed. i'll bookmark this webpage and be back more often to see more updates from you.

ayumi
www.brfe.net

Pebbles 9:03 pm, May 17, 2013  

I’m impressed. Very informative and trustworthy blog does exactly what it sets out to do. I’ll bookmark your weblog for future use.

Pebbles
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Melissa Hume 6:54 am, June 10, 2013  

Hi, a friend of mine has sent me your link. I am also doing a 1950's housewife challenge. Mine goes for 1 year and started only 2 days ago. I am looking forward to reading you blog from start to finish and I am sure I will enjoy every minute. Thanks so much for going to the effort of documenting everything the way you have.
I would love for you to have a look at my blog
ladyofhuntingdon.blogspot.com

Mid Century Pink 1:45 pm, June 13, 2013  

L-O-V-E your blog!!!! I'm a new follower and loving every post! You have inspired me to do my own experiment. My blog writing won't be nearly as funny but I thought it would be interesting to try! I think I may be further away from being a 50s wife as you so at least I'll be entertaining myself and my spouse lol!!

nashib umer 7:50 am, June 20, 2013  

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Anonymous,  10:30 pm, July 06, 2013  

Hi Jen:

I stumbled accross this post (and your blog) today. I really enjoy reading your posts- very refreshing!

Tanya

expatted 5:52 pm, September 13, 2013  

Hi Jen - love your blog! I'm a Toronto girl living in Mexico City, and not only do your 'Tronno-isms make me smile, but I have really enjoyed reading about your housewife experiment. I am trying to make sense of my new life as a housewife (not legally allowed to work in Mexico - yet!), and stumbled across your blog in that context. Linked to you from my post today...hope that is ok! You can see it at expatted.wordpress.com.

Will definitely be back!
Expatted

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