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



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.