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TwentyFour
01-02-2007, 09:18 PM
What exactly was expected of women and girls in the 1950's and 60's. I know they say read the "Feminst Mystique" but I want to know first hand what it was like before the book came out and women noticed changes. What did they feel? Where can I find this information?

I watched "Mona Lisa Smile" and found some hints of what the college women experienced, but where do you find information on how the younger teens and the older adults (not in college) experienced?

Little Red Barn
01-02-2007, 09:23 PM
Do you know people that have grown up in this era? Seems the best research would be first hand knowledge and interviews. Good Luck

TwentyFour
01-02-2007, 09:27 PM
Not too many, most I know grew up in the sixties. That's why I was hoping to ask here...hopefully some who grew up then will see this thread.

Oh, and yes I will read what you give me. I only said I wouldn't read the Fem. Mys. because it is after the time period I want. I will read essays or papers you point me to.

historian
01-03-2007, 02:33 AM
When my daughter was finishing High School in rural Canada in the late 60s she was bound to go to University but all the older people (relatives and neighbors) thought she should be gettting a job to help support the family. Although I couldn't help financially she did it, even to a Master's degree in education and retired at 50.

Funny thing is no one was prouder of her than the people who thought she was doing the wrong thing. Human nature, it's wonderful.

historian

Sandi LeFaucheur
01-03-2007, 02:57 AM
Here's an idea: get some old magazines. You can pick them up on ebay very cheaply. (sometimes the postage is awful, unless you can get several mags from one seller) Not only the articles but the advertisements will give you clues.

Sandi LeFaucheur
01-03-2007, 03:38 AM
Here's another suggestion: Are there any local organizations for retired people? Or possibly a seniors' residence? Someone who's 80, born in 1926, would have been 40 in 1966 (blimey, aren't I good at arithmetic). They would certainly be able to tell you about women's roles. And I bet you they'd be delighted to talk to you.

Marlys
01-03-2007, 04:12 AM
I only said I wouldn't read the Fem. Mys. because it is after the time period I want.
The Feminine Mystique came out in 1963, so speaks directly to the experience of women in the '50s and early '60s--whoever suggested you read it gave great advice.

The old magazines idea is also excellent, but you don't have to buy them. See what your local libraries have or can get on microfilm first. Also look for books published in the '50s/'60s--for instance, there are tons of advice books for teens (dating, etiquette, grooming, even teen cookbooks would give you clues on how they socialized because there's usually a party chapter) which might be helpful.

You could also get several of the popular movies and some fiction from the era, and analyze how women are portrayed. But I agree that there's nothing like asking people who were there.

Good luck with it!

TwentyFour
01-03-2007, 04:31 AM
Trouble with the Fem. Mystique is that it is upper and middle class women...my characters are in a poor region. I read it long ago, I may have to do so again.

Thanks everyone.

electric.avenue
01-03-2007, 04:36 AM
From talking to older women, who grew up in the UK, probably born mid-1920's they told me:

women always wore skirts

you never had a baby without being married, (obviously some did, and this meant social exclusion).

upon marriage, or first pregnancy, the woman was expected to give up work permanently.

Women were not expected to be too highly educated, although some managed this - I have a 90 year old relative who has a university degree, but this is very unusual for that age group.

Women commonly spoke about fashion, cooking and children, rather than world affairs, politics, or technical matters. Many women believed themselves that they would not be able to understand certain things.

certain behaviour was not considered acceptable for women, such as telling jokes, talking loudly, or drinking pints of beer, (halves of beer were ok). Going into a pub alone was considered unacceptable.

I have noticed that a lot of senior women seem to assume that it is impossible for a woman to do anything vaguely technical, such as use tools, put up shelves, etc. A lot of older men tend to assume this too. Also, older men tend to think that women cannot drive very well.

it was highly unusual for a woman to buy a house for herself, and probably hardly ever happened. Women did not expect to have a home of their own until they married. In fact, in the past, in the UK, women were not even allowed bank loans, or house loans.

Talking to older women in Sweden, where I used to work, I found attitudes of older women less conservative.

In Japan, (I used to live there), a lot of women still have these attitudes!

TwentyFour
01-03-2007, 05:49 AM
WOW...thanks electric.avenue!

Sandi LeFaucheur
01-03-2007, 05:54 AM
Do a google on "women 1950s". Here's just one web site:

http://honors.umd.edu/HONR269J/projects/hchunt/main.htm

Sassenach
01-03-2007, 06:52 AM
Feminine Mystique came out in the early 60's.

I'm almost 55, so I was a child in the 50s and in middle/high school in the 60s. Things have changed a great deal since I was a kid.

PM me if you'd like to discuss.

Tish Davidson
01-03-2007, 11:33 AM
Get the book Pink Think by Lynn Peril. It is mainly about feminine roles from the 1940's to the 1970s and quotes a lot of home ec text books, pamplets about "becoming a woman" put out by various product manufacturers (sanitary napkins to cake mixes), and advice columnists from those times. I found it both very funny and tragic. It will give you a great idea of the mid-set of the times. One quote as an example: Women aren't unpopular because they are brainy. They are brainy because they are unpopular (and thus have nothing better to do than study). EEK!

pdr
01-03-2007, 03:00 PM
The basic thing was that girls and women were severely restricted. Women didn't...
They didn't go out without a corset and stockings, gloves and a hat.
They didn't smoke or drink in public.
They didn't have a choice of careers.
They didn't live successful single lives, even if they seemed to they were called spinsters and pitied.
Women didn't live without a man, they couldn't. Marriage, children, and home must be their focus.
Women who were different from the restrictive norm could expect the worst criticism to come from other women. And it would be cruel. 'They were selfish to live their own lives and not have children. That was so wrong and unwomanly.'

For girls life was always being passive. Knowing that brothers had the expensive education and got to do the exciting active things because they must have a job and support a family. Girls had to be clean and tidy and learn to be pretty and attractive to get a husband. Learning to knit and sew and create household linens and quilts for their future home was something which occupied their spare time.

It was very important to be a 'nice' girl. And nice girls didn't want lots of education or foreign travel. Their role was to learn to be attractive and useful to the man they must marry.

Of course nice girls didn't have sex before marriage or get raped so if they did they weren't nice and it was their fault.

Very restrictive!

aruna
01-03-2007, 03:54 PM
I was born in 1951 and I can confirm what the other said, though for me it was a bit different as my mother broke all the rules herself and was considered one of the most progressive women in the country (Guyana) So I was allowed to do boy stuff and my education was the most important thing for her, Also, she was one of the first women in our country to get divorced - because as a married woman she wasn't allowed to work - and raise a child a a single parent. Also, she took on her maiden name and called herself Miss xxx after divorce, which was highly scandalous as it seemed as if her child was illegitiamte! I know I HATED having a mother who didn;t have the same name as i did, and who was a miss. I felt like a freak.
But I know I ofund other girls weird with al the talk about make up and fashion, whihc I couldn't realte to at all. I donlt know if that's because of my upbringing with a mother who didn't care for these things, or if it was my genes... on the other hand, a felt like a freak for that very reason, because I just wasn't like the other girls, whose whole lfe seemed to revolve around making their bodies attractive to men.
It wasn't easy for me, because an the other hand I was VERY reomantic and really wanted to fall in love and find a partner, but I just felt I wasn't the kind of girl boys liked or wanted. So I lacked a lot of confidence, even though I was at the same time extremely independent. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, and yet it's true.

TwentyFour
01-03-2007, 06:45 PM
These are all great things, I will look for Pink Think! Thanks.

Gary
01-03-2007, 07:45 PM
I grew up in the 40's and 50's, so I can recall a lot of what it was like, though I can't speak for what women thought.

It was considered normal for women to be homemakers and men to earn the family income. It wasn't some devious plan to oppress women, it was simply the culture.

When I went to high school, Home-economics was an important class that almost all girls took and shop was a class for the boys. One year, several of us were talking and we decided to ask the teachers if the boys and girls could swap classes for one semester. It worked out great, so maybe we gave birth to the "revolution".

As someone else mentioned, women nearly always dressed in skirts or dresses when they went out. At home it depended on what they were doing. My mother always wore a dress at home, but my aunts worked in the fields and wore slacks. Girls and young women often wore slacks and jeans in school, but a date required a dress, except to things like ball games, or in very cold weather.

My mother never worked outside the home, except for the local government. She was the township clerk for many years and always worked on the election boards. It gave her a little extra money to buy gifts, or spend on herself.

Most women did not smoke, even though most men did. They sought to keep a squeeky clean reputation. I don't think I ever heard my female cousins, a date or a female friend say a curse word. They would jump all over guys who cursed in front of them, and most of us would never think of doing so.

As far as I know, there were ony 3 girls in my high school class of 42 that had sex before they graduated. One got pregnant, one had a boyfriend that couldn't keep his mouth shut, and one didn't care about her reputation, which was pretty bad. There were no birth control pills and girls were terrified of getting pregnant. Condoms were not for sale to minors where I lived.

If you have any specific questions, perhaps I can try to answer them.

BARBAREM
01-05-2007, 01:37 PM
Trouble with the Fem. Mystique is that it is upper and middle class women...my characters are in a poor region. I read it long ago, I may have to do so again.

Thanks everyone.

Most feminist literature was by and for the middle class. During the 50s and 60s (and decades earlier) women worked outside the home to provide food. People like my first mother in law and a childhood neighbour who had three part time jobs as well as helping us literally worked from morning till night and all their 'off-duty' work was a contribution to the household - sewing, knitting, repairing etc. A society that was still medieval in many ways in that the contributions of all members of the family were essential. Give your characters guts and humour, compassion and private tears and they will win and so will you. Good Luck.

Evaine
01-06-2007, 05:37 PM
My gran (born 1903) worked from the age of 11, in a cotton mill (she was supposed to be 14 - every time they asked for her birth certificate she moved to another mill). She worked right the way through to retirement age (1963), doing a huge variety of jobs including spot welding in a factory. I remember going to see her and her workmates there when I was very tiny.
At the same time, she brought up a child as a war widow. My gran never possessed a pair of trousers of any sort, and never went out without a coat and hat.

My mum left school at the age of 16 in 1955, and always expected to work, but she also expected to stop work when she got married. My gran's friends criticised her for allowing mum to stay in school to do her exams when she could have left at the age of 15 and started work straight away.
I have a photo of her in a bikini, but she never wore trousers back then, and jeans and Tshirts were unheard of. I think I was the first person in the family to wear jeans, in 1973.

MicheleIvyDavis
01-07-2007, 12:10 AM
It was considered normal for women to be homemakers and men to earn the family income. It wasn't some devious plan to oppress women, it was simply the culture.

I grew up in the 50's and 60's, and this is a very good insight from Gary. It was just the way things were -- not something sinister on the part of men. After WWII, most people just wanted to get back to normal life and that meant the husbands worked and the women were homemakers or worked only at certain jobs.

The job section of the newspaper was divided into jobs for men and jobs for women, and it was not acceptable for women to apply for a job listed under "Men." The jobs for women were mainly as secretaries, nurses, clerks and teachers. I remember being shocked the first time I saw a woman driving a school bus! But to be fair, early buses, like early cars, didn't have power steering and power brakes, so the operator needed a lot of strength to drive them.

Home Ec. was important, and we were taught that we should clean up the kids and ourselves before our husbands came home from work, always look nice, and maintain a calm home environment. We were taught to sew and cook.

I wold imagine a rural woman -- depending on where she lived -- would spend her time canning vegetables from her garden and making jam from fruit from her trees, as well as maintaining a clean house, hanging laundry on the line (very few dryers and no disposable diapers!!!), and cooking (no microwaves so it took a lo-o-o-ong time!).

We wore dresses, even to school and even in freezing weather. I remember waiting for the school bus and squatting down so my coat covered my legs to keep them warm.

We also dressed up to go out, to go to the grocery, or to go shopping "downtown." We NEVER wore shorts or slacks expect in our own house or yard, or when camping (of course a rural woman might have worn slacks, but not necessarily. I guess it depended on what she was doing.)

I think the attitude of most women, which is what you wanted to know about, was -- for the most part -- one of acceptance and pride, and since their husbands (in general) valued their contribution to the family, they felt like they were doing something important. Of course there are always exceptions to everything, so this can't be thought of as a blanket statement for everyone.

However, there were also frustrations. My mother (who was born in 1921) was still angry during her adult life that her brothers and her father got to read the Sunday paper and the comics as soon as they finished breakfast, while she had to clear the table, do the dishes and other chores before she was allow to read. She also wanted to go to college, but they didn't have the money. If they had, her brothers would have gone -- not her.

So it's a mixed bag. And I guess a lot depends on how much money you had and the attitudes of the people around you.

Let me know if you have any questions. Good luck with your story!

electric.avenue
01-07-2007, 03:40 AM
Oh, and another thing mentioned - women tended to totter about in high heels all the time. Comfortable shoes were not acceptable for women.

A lot of women of that era, who happened to become pregnant out of so-called wedlock were forced to give up their babies for adoption.

Some say it was just culture, not oppression - but culture and ideas about the way things are have to come from somewhere.

Somebody mentioned that women had to do chores while men were free to read - that sounds rather like oppression in the commonly meant sense of the word!

If it was just culture, then why did it change?

I am a woman, and I would not want to have grown up in those days. Also, a lot of senior women express relief that things have changed, and that things are not so oppressive for young women of today.

pdr
01-08-2007, 03:49 PM
because of the WW11.
Women knew they could do anything a man had done, because they did during the war. They worked in engineering and ran farms, businesses, the whole country! After the war women were then forbidden to do these things and told to get back in the kitchen. But for many it was too narrow a horizon and they wanted more.

The pressure from the returning soldiers wanting jobs and a happy home like they'd grown up in did severely restrict women and there was bound to be an explosion.

aruna
01-08-2007, 04:39 PM
Oh, and another thing mentioned - women tended to totter about in high heels all the time. C.

Seems to ne they still do this!
I never got that high heel thing. can't stand em.

Of course, a lot of the change also has to do with labour-saving devices. Things like washing machines.

johnnysannie
01-08-2007, 04:55 PM
I'm a baby boomer with a mother, aunts, and grandmothers who all were alive during these years. It's easy to speak in generalities about that time period but all women were not the same.

Both of my grandmothers were working women long before it was common. My paternal grandmother was a telephone operator (a job mainly filled by women) since before 1920; later after the change to dial phones came in, she went to work in a commercial laundry. My other grandmother, although raised in a very wealthy family, went to work as a young widow to support her family. She worked in a department store and then in a company that made men's hats.

Women did wear primarily dresses; I wore nothing but dresses and skirts to school in elementary school myself. And while many things have changed, some areas are not so different. For instance, I still cook real meals - and it takes longer than the microwave

Life was not quite the sugar coated fantasy portrayed on shows like "Leave It to Beaver" but I'm sure that others here with protest my opinion. We're all welcome to our own and I'm not seeking any arguments but the reality that I remember, that I was raised on differed from the common tone here on some points.

Tish Davidson
01-09-2007, 03:48 AM
Life was not quite the sugar coated fantasy portrayed on shows like "Leave It to Beaver" but I'm sure that others here with protest my opinion. We're all welcome to our own and I'm not seeking any arguments but the reality that I remember, that I was raised on differed from the common tone here on some points.

A lot of things just weren't talked about - domestic violence and child abuse were pretty much considered family matters wth people looking the other way. Sexually transmitted diseases and sex, reproduction, and body functions in general were not talked about. Even cancer was considered something that should not be discussed, often even within the family.

Tallymark
01-09-2007, 06:29 AM
A lot of things just weren't talked about - domestic violence and child abuse were pretty much considered family matters wth people looking the other way.

This is true. In fact, my dad was a cop, and when he started out forty years ago, at the time the law was that you could only arrest someone for domestic violence if you yourself witnessed the violent act. It didn't matter if when you knocked on the door the wife was black-eyed and bruised, if the cop didn't see the man hit her, they couldn't do anything--and needless to say, the abuser would always stop before he answered the door. (though sometimes a good-natured cop, when they saw the bad shape of the woman, would lie and say that he saw it.). Of course, the law may have only been that way in Massachusetts, but generally we've always been rather strict here compared to other states.

It is true that it was the culture of the time, and that the average man wasn't trying to be a domineering male overlord. I will say though that the media, laws, and faux science were pretty much geared towards 'keeping women in their place'. Especially the faux science, which was more about finding evidence to support what they already believed than anything like real science. It became a vicious cycle--science 'proved' that women were no good at math, because they tested poorly compared to men; but the women hadn't been educated in math as much as the men, so of course they did badly. But, since it was now a 'fact' that women were bad at math, there was no point in trying to educate them in it.

Sophie
01-12-2007, 05:59 AM
Here's a tidbit. I must have been around 20 and working as a bookkeeping assistant. I wanted to buy an expensive "dress" coat.(Our wardrobes consisted of "everyday" wear and "dress" wear.) At any rate, anyone in the family who set out to make an expensive purchase of whatever had to be accompanied by my father. He supposedly was more worldly and understood pricing, quality, and the business of buying something expensive better than the rest of us. That certainly included my mother, my sister, and me. It even included my two brothers!! So, I remember taking the subway with my father down to a shop in lower Manhattan which my father selected because of his earlier experience with them. I probably made my own selection, but my father had to approve it regarding, as I said, the price, quality, and whether it was properly priced. I don't remember anything else, so my father must have concluded the purchase with the salesman (not saleswoman). And I still have that coat decades later. It is beautiful, in perfect condition because it wasn't worn very often, and although I haven't worn it in decades as well, I can't bear to part with it because it cost so much money and is so beautiful!

TwentyFour
01-12-2007, 09:21 AM
My father still believes that Sophie.

VeggieChick
01-13-2007, 12:53 AM
I find it fascinating that all the things here mentioned are normal in Russia today. I'm here working as an English teacher and sometimes I'm horrorized at the attitude of women in this country. They are expected to get married and stop working, they are expected to always look like dolls for their men, they accept the idea that men are providers and women do not make good business owners, etc. I've wondered if this is a result of having lived in communism for so long, but in any case, it sounds like the country it's stuck in the 50s. It's creepy reading about it here and finding so many things in common.

K1P1
01-13-2007, 01:22 AM
One point to note is that many people felt that if a woman was working in "man's" job, she was preventing a man from working. Right after WWII when returning military were making the transition back to civilian life and needed jobs, this was a highly charged issue.

Even by the time I graduated from high school in 1973, boys didn't take home ec and and girls didn't take shop.

I was born in 1955 in the southern US, and I never wore pants to school or to church until the mid to late '60s. When hippies came in, jeans came in and appropriate dress changed completely. On the other hand, my family took me camping from the time I was born, and my mother was always a tomboy, so we always wore men's/boy's pants, t-shirts and flannel shirts around the house and camping. Of course, we had no money to speak of, so I was wearing my older brothers' hand-me-downs.

Tish Davidson
01-13-2007, 02:39 AM
Here's a tidbit. I must have been around 20 and working as a bookkeeping assistant. I wanted to buy an expensive "dress" coat.(Our wardrobes consisted of "everyday" wear and "dress" wear.) At any rate, anyone in the family who set out to make an expensive purchase of whatever had to be accompanied by my father. He supposedly was more worldly and understood pricing, quality, and the business of buying something expensive better than the rest of us. That certainly included my mother, my sister, and me. It even included my two brothers!! So, I remember taking the subway with my father down to a shop in lower Manhattan which my father selected because of his earlier experience with them. I probably made my own selection, but my father had to approve it regarding, as I said, the price, quality, and whether it was properly priced. I don't remember anything else, so my father must have concluded the purchase with the salesman (not saleswoman). And I still have that coat decades later. It is beautiful, in perfect condition because it wasn't worn very often, and although I haven't worn it in decades as well, I can't bear to part with it because it cost so much money and is so beautiful!


Old ideas die very, very slowly. In 1978 a major chain supermarket in Lafayette, Louisiana required that I get my husband's permission (his signature on a form) to be allowed to use personal checks from our joint account to pay for groceries, despite the fact that I had a full time job and he was a student. Ugh! (This, for all you young'uns was in the era before grocery stores routinely took credit cards and before debit cards existed. The choices back then were cash or personal check.)

waylander
01-13-2007, 02:48 AM
In a different world (Ireland of the 1970s) a trainee nurse had to quit training if she fell pregnant.

ideagirl
01-14-2007, 12:53 AM
What exactly was expected of women and girls in the 1950's and 60's. I know they say read the "Feminst Mystique" but I want to know first hand what it was like before the book came out and women noticed changes. What did they feel? Where can I find this information?

I agree that you should look for people to interview. But failing that, or in addition to that, GET SOME WOMEN'S MAGAZINES from back then. Go on eBay and search for women's magazines from the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. Cosmopolitan existed then; and Redbook; do a google search, or go to your local library to get help. (The library may also have magazines on microfiche so you don't have to buy them--but these old magazines are generally not too expensive unless they have famous people on the covers or famous writers published in them. I mean people who are still famous, e.g. Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway etc.)

Elektra
01-14-2007, 06:59 AM
Did you ever read Stepford Wives? Even though it was written after this time, the women of Stepford were designed to hail back to the "good old days" of the fifties, and act like the perfect woman of that decade.

pdr
01-20-2007, 05:17 AM
if I asked Jen, our Historical fiction mod, to copy this trhead to the Genre/Historical section? There is so much good stuff here for historical writers.

aruna
01-20-2007, 10:14 AM
In a different world (Ireland of the 1970s) a trainee nurse had to quit training if she fell pregnant.

That reminds me of my Aunt Elizabeth. She was one of the very few English women I knew in Guyana as a child. She was white and had a mixed race child, John, about my age (I was born 1951). I never thought about them much, but when I was adult my mother told me that Aunt Elizabeth had been a teacher in England when she got pregnant from my uncle - my mother's brother - who was happily married. Aunt Elizabeth lost her job as a teacher because of that (Not only not married, but a "darkie" child!). My mother helped her to settle in Guyana and get a job there.