The 17 rules a ‘housewife’ lived by in the ’60s

Oct 04, 2019
1950s housewife in a checkered dress and apron cooking dinner at the kitchen. EPS8, no transparencies.

My mother stood up at my wedding in the year 2000 with a huge grin on her face to make a speech about becoming a ‘good wife’ today, relating it to becoming a good housewife in the 60s. She rolled out an old list from a home-economics textbook she studied from in her youth, also published by Housekeeping Monthly in 1955, trying desperately to keep a straight face as she mocked me, her eldest daughter on the role that lay ahead in marriage.

It was a terrific way to entertain the family and friends as mother-of-the-bride, and the reality was that many of the older women in the room were nodding and grinning as they contemplated how much the world has changed.

This list lives on though, and is terrific to bring out for a smile and a giggle, while reflecting upon how this type of expectation affected your life, and how y0u were taught to or taught not to be a “good housewife”.

The Good Housewife rules laid out in Housekeeping Monthly 1955 were: 

A photo of the Housekeeping Monthly edition in which the Good Housewife’s guide appeared. Supplied. 

1.) Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs.

2.) Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favorite (sic) dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

3.) Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

4.) Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.

5.) Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper, etc. and then run a dust cloth over the tables.

6.) Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.

7.) Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and, if necessary, change their clothes.

8.) Children are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimize (sic) all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.

9.) Be happy to see him. Free him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him. Listen to him.

10.) You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first — remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.

A woman in an apron doing household chores in the kitchen, USA, circa 1960. (Photo by George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

11.) Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.

12.) Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility where you husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

13.) Don’t greet him with complaints and problems.

14.) Don’t complain if he’s late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.

15.) Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.

16.) Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.

17.) Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment of integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

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