While we simmered through the last post regarding the Midcentury housewife, this month, we decided to discuss the housewife as an icon of distinction and eloquence through her pursuit of perfection. How does mother dear make the perfect gelatin casserole every time for her guests to enoy? How does she keep the pleats of her skirt so sharp? The truth is, a housewife of the middle of the 20th century had to juggle at least a dozen roles to keep her household a powerful, pristine representation of excellence. Most of these multiple roles are identical to those of today’s mothers, except that 70 years ago, many modern amenities like microwaves and dryers were only just becoming affordable commodities. Clothes lines, handmade dinners, and manually-steamed clothing were all the responsibility of the household matriarch.
When someone creates anything handmade, there is a strong sense of unmatched pride that comes with its production. So, in order to truly impress, the housewives took explicit care of their individual capital, making each napkin folded crisply and ensuring the stitches of their children’s dress clothes were tight and neat. If guests were to arrive, the children would be on their best behavior, the table would be set, and a formal homemade meal would be executed. Back in mid- 20th Century America, despite the somewhat rampant materialism associated with this mentality, the worth of a household was often assumed by the visual appearance and aesthetic of the family and their output. (At least, this was the perception of mainstream pop culture)
The housewife was responsible for creating this aesthetic for whatever guest or company the home may have hosted. For instance, if a husband invited his company’s executives to a dinner, it became the artistic expression of the wife to prepare a spotless home, culinary masterful meal in traditional fashion (appetizers, salads, formal entree, desserts, and cordials), and prepare the family to impress: all in anticipation of wooing over hubby’s employer. In taking into consideration that cleanliness, formality, and tastes in food are all subjective; the eloquence of the night was an illustration of the wife’s perception of perfection.
Perhaps it wasn’t limited to special occasions, but rather perfection was sought after whenever this iconic cohort of women wanted to feel as spectacular as they share. Perhaps it was an attempt for microcosmic, local collectivism- where the effort was to contribute to a greater America, one household at a time. Perhaps the desire to reach perfection was self-motivated. No matter what the desire, the goal of feeling accomplished was met and exceeded. This work ethic is timeless, brave, and its results overcome decades of submission. This is the first of many reasons that we have much to model after when it comes to the midcentury housewife.