The TV mothers of the 1950s and 1960s always seemed so relaxed and content — Donna Reed and June Cleaver vacuumed in heels and wore pearls while rotating the roast, after all. But in real life, most American women were far too busy for perfection.
Housekeeping was physically demanding work and managing the family budget was often a challenge (heck, it still is!). Food prices had skyrocketed and households spent 30 percent of their budget on food. The price of butter, for example, had doubled
For many women, working outside the home was a necessity and about 30% of women in the '50s and '60s did so. While "hacks" may seem like an invention of the Pinterest era, mid-century women had their own life hacks to save money and time. Magazines and books supplied them with ideas on how they could make life a little bit easier, with so much on their plates. Of course, many of these hacks are no longer advisable (particularly a suggestion to block a fireplace with a piece of
1. Phone Hack
In the 1950s, only 60 percent of U.S. households had a telephone. For the households that did have an extension, the expense of a phone meant there was usually only one line in the house. In 1953, Dorsey Connor recommended a phone hack in her book, Gadgets Galore, for women who only had one phone line and no time to wait for a call. When a woman moved around the house, such as to the basement to do laundry, Connor recommended putting the phone on the ground in a dishpan. When the phone rang, the dishpan would amplify the sound and the ringing could be heard from the basement.
2. Rainy Day Hack
In the 1950s, a woman who "kept house" for a living spent an average of 42 hours a week on household cleaning,
3. Cleaning Hack
In the 1950s and 1960s, author Peg Bracken found success with her practical advice and honesty about loathing housework. Bracken's 1962 The I Hate to Housekeep Book began by advising readers to toss covers of any kind. A rug in the kitchen, she reasoned, was just another item to clean: "The reason you picked linoleum or vinyl instead of wall-to-wall carpeting was so you could wipe it up, remember?" Bracken urged readers to not use toaster covers, shelf liners, throw rugs or any other layer that would double the cleaning effort, either.
4. Hosting Hack
Bracken joked in her 1962 book about the old tale of a husband announcing at the last minute that he was bringing his boss home to dinner. She called it "a myth." Most men, she reasoned, knew their wives couldn't realistically deliver dinner at an exact time. They were going to have dinner ready when they had it ready. To bring home the boss risked having him sitting behind an empty plate for an unknown amount of time.
Times have changed of course (and few spouses would spring an unexpected dinner guest on their partner) but modern party hosts regularly have to deal with the unexpected guest who didn't RSVP. When food needs to be stretched to feed more people, Bracken recommended serving "things under things." Strategically placing meat on top of potatoes or vegetables gives the appearance that the plate is full. A baguette, for example, could be placed underneath a roast to catch the drippings and then be sliced and served under the meat.
5. Shopping Hack
In the 1950s, many Americans referred to grocery shopping as "marketing." Author Marguerite Dodd found it "needlessly consumed" a "great chunk of time." Dodd argued that running out to a store to buy a few items was an interruption to a woman's day and was best to be avoided. She recommended limiting shopping to once a week to pick up dairy, fruit, and fresh vegetables. The rest of the weekly items needed to come from a well-cultivated stash.
Meat, Dodd advised, was to be bought on a monthly basis and stored in the freezer along with select frozen vegetables. Non-perishables such as canned goods, pasta, and rice were to be bought regardless of pantry space.
Dodd wrote that the trick to having a deep selection of non-perishables was to think outside the pantry shelves. There was no rule that canned beans could only be stored in the kitchen. An empty shelf in a coat or linen closet would suffice, as would a garage shelf during mild weather. Given that the average shopper now spends 43 minutes in a grocery store, shoving nonperishables into a linen closet might indeed save someone a "great chunk of time."
6. Upcycling Hack
Americans long reused and recycled before curbside pickup took off in the 1990s. Thrift was the incentive to reuse goods, and the cash from bottle-return deposits or scrap metal sales motivated recycling. But after WWII, the concept of reuse became associated with poverty. Americans donated unwanted goods to charity, but they didn't keep them for themselves. The DIY movement is now associating reuse with skill.
Connor's 1953 book had several skillful ideas on how to reuse everyday items. Old garden hoses, for example, could be cut up and slid around bucket handles to make hauling soapy water more comfortable. Old hoses could also be used as a DIY irrigation system after holes were drilled through the top. Indoors, the hose could be used to create a bumper around the edges of a vacuum cleaner to protect furniture from bumps.
Connor also had advice for used panty hose. The feet, she recommended, could be cut off and pulled over shoes to protect during travels. Similarly, nice gloves or other finery could be stored in nylons to avoid dust from settling on top.