Monday, February 16, 2009

16 January 1955 "Old Folks, Nursing Homes, Girdles, and Patterns"

February 16 - Nearly 100 die in a fire at a home for the elderly in Yokohama, Japan.

This was appropriate news, as I have been thinking on how we treat and care for our elderly lately, particularly as I have been to a nursing home a few times in the past month.

A 1952 nursing home fire in Hillsboro, Missouri had claimed the life of 20 nursing home residents, and the impact of two major nursing home fires in five years stimulated the Missouri legislature into action. They met the day after the Warrenton fire and immediately introduced a bill to require sprinkler systems in all nursing homes and other institutions in the state.

We were talking the other day, after having visited a nursing home on a few occasions, how odd it is the way we treat the two main aspects of life: Birth and Death. We stick women in hospitals as if they are suffering an illness to do probably the most natural thing. I know, obviously, it makes sense in case something arises. With our aged, we stick them in places very much like hospitals, treating age not with dignity and respect, but with the aniseptic gloves of hospital care. I am not sure when old age became less revered and more feared or tolerated. I do see that with the advances we are gaining in medicine here in 1955 that it is really beginning to be the first time ever that the population of aged or old people is occuring. We, then, our left with what to do with them.

Really, the nuclear family of mother father and children really begins now, in the 1950s. Prior to this it would have been normal to have extended members of the family, grandma, grandpa, old aunt ruth etc living with you. They provided child care and knowledge to youngsters. And they recieved companionship and a feeling of belonging. I am not really sure if it was just the boom in housing after the war which produced so many small houses. This allowed people to get 'out on their own' and not be dependent on their families. But, it is odd how that dependency went from our families to the state and other institutions like mortgages to banks and increased taxes. Maybe the increase of childbirth in the new small houses meant no room for grandma or grandpa or they didn't want to give up the old farm to live in a small suburban box, I don't know. We also have the role of wife and homemaker really being defined now, and the concept of it being shared with an aging parent or grandparent somehow did not fit into the scheme. Maybe it was a subconscious feeling of the old at this stage representing all that they were trying to forget after the war: "The Old Way". I honestly don't know, but you really begin to see the nursing home as hospital take shape now in the 1950s.

The care of the elderly is all tied up with Social Security in this country which began in the 1930's. There were countless changes to Social Security over the years. In 1950 domestic labor, household employees working at least two days a week for the same person were added to the list of those who were eligible and thus had to pay into Social Security. In 1955 an interesting thing happened. This list of those eligible, thus those who had to pay, was added self-employed farmers. They had not been required previously to do so before. This affected one group in particular: the Amish. I think this is a rather interesting story:

"The Amish were faced with a problem, as they thought they should obey the law and pay their taxes and get along with the government and outside world, they saw this tax as violating their religious beliefs and refused to pay. This brough on a clash between them and the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). There was a general outcry form the public regarding this. It culminated in 1961 an IRS agent toon an AMish man's horses after he had refused to pay the tax for some years.
The result of all of this lead to a 1965 waiver granted for self-emplyed persons belong to any religious sect that found the system contrary to their beliefs free to not pay, but interestingly enough by 1989 Kray Bill will make it only sepcific to the Amish as they didn't want any other group to get out of paying the tax.

I really think all of this ties into the concept of how we treat the elderly. I just think that taxes are good sometimes, but when we allow the government to become our nanny and we just throw money at it and wait for it to solve the problems, we often end up giving up more of our individual rights and freedoms. I think this leads to a loss of alot of what people like me are finding we long for, the 'old way of life', which is really just a time in which we respected old people, didn't revere youth, were couteous and kind and cared for our families. I don't want to sound preachy, but it seems that here in 1955 I keep seeing our trying to make a new world of happy family life and kindness to others after the hate and destruction of war, and yet we are really beginning the processes that ultimately sacriface what we care for and are working to preserve.
On a lighter note on this subject, our trip yesterday to the nursing home was at first sombre and meloncholy. One can only imagine the sadness in such places, if you have not been.

As we walked down the corridor, which had to be reached through a series of doors with codes you have to punch into little pads of numbers (not unlike a prison, perhaps) we were greeted with endless rooms with old people in various stages of neglect. Their aniseptic rooms and beds I am sure where germ free, but what a cold unfeeling place to exist. As we passed one door, a woman laid half-uncovered, straining to get out of her bed, her thin bare leg dangling sadly from the side. "Help me, Someone help me!" She cried out. I kid you not, that was her only plea. The few workers we saw in the hall ignored her and we too, looking in, realized what could we really do. We had to pass on. I felt so inhuman at that moment.

As our visit continued, once we were seated in a large aniseptic room rimmed with the aged and sad, we tried our best to lighten the mood. I tell you that a smile on a face in such a setting is like the explosion of your heart, it gives one the feeling of a thousand christmas mornings all in one. To see any happiness in that setting is such a contrast.

So, my hubby and my friend (Gussie though she was not Gussie at that moment) are sitting with me trying to make smiles in such a setting. We started singing old songs, which we have come to know so well in the past two months, and others would join in. So, in the midst of the sadness, laughter always seems to help. It is that moment of human foilble that makes us smile and forget ourselves. Here is what happened. Now, I was dressed rather smartly. I had on a fitted wool jacket over a vintage white thin sweater, neck scarf, matching tweed skirt. It was a straighter skirt, so I did not have on my usual crinolin. I was also wearing a new open bottom girdle I had just got and really like. It was a little shorter than usual. In my fevered preparations of the morning, I had forgot to put on my full slip. I am not sure how many of you have worn an open bottom girdle and stockings, but it is like wearing a tight little skirt under your clothes. As I was sitting my skirt, as it had no slip to protect it, had slid up under the bottom of my girdle. When I stood to use the restroom, I turned and walked a bit, feeling proud of my chic attire, when I realized the back of my skirt felt odd, a bit bucnhy. I turned, caught Gussie/friend's eye and quickly tugged at the back. I am certain I looked hilarious or comical. Gussie/Friend's eye twinkled and those around me smiled. After the first flush of embarrasment, I had to laugh. We all ended up laughing and discussing the foibles of girdles an such. It was such a human moment. In the midst of sadness and even our own feelings of immortality, which such a place certainly elicits, we laughed. It made us realize, we are all on this same ride together. Happy or sad, health or illness, sometimes all you can do is laugh. And laugh we did.

When I came home I crashed and my hubby put me to bed. He brought me tea and managed dinner for himself, as I couldn't think of eating.

I have found out, yesterday and today, how important a housewives role really is. I have been ill this past week, but had managed to really just feel run down but not actually get as sick as my hubby. That changed yesterday when I awoke feeling miserable, sore throat, hard to speak and exhausted. We had already made important family plans that really could not be broken (that involved the nursing home I mentioned earliers) so I had to get up and get ready.
At first I dreaded my girdle and stockings etc and wanted to just stay in my nightgown in bed. But, I do have to say after making myself get up as I knew it was important for me to go, I felt better. I think I paid for it later in the afternoon when we got home. But, I sat at my vanity, fastened my stockings, put on my face, adjusted my hat etc and by the end of it I felt good enough to go out into the world. I really felt for my pre 1950's self, where I would not have thought of myself but for the country and the men fighting over there. It is good to care and think of yourself, but sometimes you have to just pull yourself up, brush yourself off and get going.

So, today I awoke feeling equally as bad and began to get up, as I usually do, to prepare breakfast and get lunch together etc. This is when I would really enjoy Gussie being a full time live in person, but no such luck. As was probably the case with most 1955 housewives, I had to face it myself. My husband insisted I stay in bed, so I tried, but as I heard him getting ready and such, I just couldn't rest. I thought, really I need to go to work today. And that is the thing with being a housewife, you are always AT work. You live and dwell withing your work environment, so I got up, against my husbands protests, and made us bacon and eggs, packed his lunch and honestly the smell of the coffee helped to perk me up. Then he left for work.
Here I am now, alone. There is no one to bring hot tea and soup to the housewife. I could go to bed, but I have no Gussie to ring for, so I would sit there alone waiting for my tea and soup forever. Today is also wash day, and the hampers are full of clothes awaiting me. The kitchen is littered with my ill-attempts at breakfast. I am proud of myself, as I did not even think of using the microwave. I did notice that my husband was thoughtful enough to load up the 'new' dishwasher last night, but when I reached to get clean dishes for breakfast he had forgot to turn it on. Another moment where I realize how much I really do do to keep this house running throughout the day.
When I, the captain and crew of this ship, falls ill, the whole place goes to pot. Again, I have no one to turn to. I could, as would most likely normally do, just leave everything until I feel better, but honestly, my husband goes to work when he is ill unless he cannot stand. I can stand. This house is my work. It is my career. I don't feel like I can go on and on about how I am finding homemaking to be a career and then at the first sign of not feeling well, throw in the towel. I need to do as much as I can and I will feel better when I rest later, knowing the kitchen is clean the laundry is in progress and dinner is ready to pop in the oven. I owe it to myself, the house, my husband, and all the homemakers who have gone before me to buckle down and get to it. Get the job done!

As I have said before, it is funny how quickly routine becomes natural. Here it is not even two full months into this project, and I do feel like I really NEED to make sure dinner is planned, laundry is done, rooms are clean, beds made. I feel, probably more than I have before, that I have taken on this challenge and need to see it through. I am also scheduled to go to tea this afternoon with some friends who are leaving to return home to another state. I need to just focus on not letting others down and get through it. I have nothing on tomorrow, excpet ironing and basic cleaning, so I will rest up then.

On the subject of homemaking here are some great little tips from my latest homemakers manual. I think they are little gems:

For better flavor add a pinch of salt to coffee as it is being brewed.

Rinse a pan in cold water before scalding milke to prevent sticking.

A cake which sticks to the pan may be loosened by placing the tin over a bowl of boiling water (this works wonders, as I have tried it!)

If bacon moulds, sponge witha a clean cloth dipped in vinegar (this was probably a leftover from the meaner times of the war when everything had to be saved)

If lemons are put in the oven a few minutes before they are squeezed. more juice will be obtained from them.

After frosting cakes, dip a knife in hot water and smooth over the frosting to make it glossy (this also works nicely, as I have done this as well!)

Now, onto the sewing room:

I just recieved 6 yards of this wonderful vintage dress fabric. The scan does it little justice, as it is a lovely brownish gray, which is not showing up, but the little designs are threaded into is and raised. I want to make a full skirted dress with short sleeves to wear all seasons, as it would look pretty with a cardigan in cold weather, or good in summer with sandals.

I really needed some good serviceble skirt patterns. These are two 'new' patterns I just recieved. They are actual vintage patterns, so I will have to be careful measuring and making sure that I plot out my actual size compared to the size of clothes then. They are both from 58, so I know that's not quite right, but I can just make the skirts a little longer and they will be appropriate. I love the little kick pleat on the gray tweed skirt. And the Vogue skirt looks a dream to make, it looks rather simple, actully. I think using a quilted fabric edged in bias tape would really look nice with this pattern. What do you think?
Well, I need to get back to work. Laundry to do. I need to give myself time to set my hair and pick out my clothes for tea this afternoon. A housewifes day is a busy one.
Until tomorrow...


  1. Nursing homes - good topic! My grandad was in one for about a year before he passed away. The quality of care here in NZ definitely needs to be looked at. If I could've taken him home and looked after him myself I would've but he needed more than I could offer. And yes a housewives day is a busy one :-)

  2. I worked in a nursing home for several years and they can be quite a shock to visitors. Where I worked was an old style home with few single rooms, most people having to share their room with at least one other person, often four people shared a room. Relatives prefer homes with single rooms but one good part of the shared room is that there is almost always someone else around, some one else to think about, consider, even care about, be annoyed by and so on. It meant that there was more chance for human social contact not just being administered to by a nurse. Also people mostly ate in a dining room, there were several, those who could eat without help ate together and it was quite social. There were a lot of things wrong with that place but social and emotional needs were well catered for. Super duper modern nursing homes with each resident in their own room can be very isolating places through the long day.

    It is interesting that as families became "modern" and everyone could have their own home, own car, own house full of wonderful labour saving appliances, the nuclear family model became the norm and we have over the past fifty years become so insular and private from our neighbours and extended family. It could be seen as consumerisms greatest triumph that we have all been convinced that we must have our own version of everything.

    I agree totally that a housewife's job is essential to the smooth running home and makes life so much easier for everyone in the house. Someone has to be willing to take charge so that the good ship " happy home" doesn't just lurch from one emergency to the next.
    Love the skirt patterns. I am just about to start on a new skirt for my daughter and one for me.

  3. I started hating holidays after singing for a nursing home in high school over 20 years ago. We kid were the only visitors that lats morning on Thanksgiving and we were the thrill of the day.

    I had to take a break half way though reading this because of that memory and some recent goings on with my family (where I will be the only one to respond.)

    I hope you feel better soon. There have been some nasty things going around, and Spouse has been down with a bug as well. It's tough to be the care-giver and be ill, but maybe your hubby can make you a pot of tea and cover it with a nice cozy (cozies are the best invention!) to keep it awm for you throught the morning.

  4. I hope you get to feeling better quickly! I just started feeling more myself yesterday, and today was a major deep cleaning of the whole house in order to get things back to normal. I still got all the basics (meals, dishes, laundry) done while I was sick, but all the "unnecessary" stuff was left till now. I hope you're allowing yourself to just keep up with the necessary things for now. The vacuuming, dusting, tidying up, etc. can be done when you're feeling better.

    I would love to see photos of your new skirts when you are done with them.

    My Mom worked for elderly people when I was growing up, usually in their own homes, and it was always hard for me when we would go with her. It was always so sad to see them alone and have no help until someone showed up to help them; I hated it! They were usually so lonely and watched tv all day to help ease the loneliness. I know sometimes families have legitimate reasons that they can not provide the help that their parents/grandparents need, but my family has every intention of taking care of our parents ourselves as they get older, and if they do have to go to a nursing home, you can be sure that they will get visits from us every day.

    My sister's husband and his parents own a nursing home (which is wonderful, by the way), and it breaks their heart to see how many of their "patients" never have family or friends come to visit. They do every thing they can to provide things to keep them busy and happy, but there's nothing that can take the place of people coming to see you because they love you. My sister’s favorite story to relate was of a lady who was in their nursing home because her husband could not care for her, but he faithfully went there every day and would stay with her until he had to leave; he had such a deep love for her, and his faithfulness to her was so touching to everyone who worked and lived there.

  5. What lovely comments today, it is bittersweet sometimes at these homes, as you see the sadness and then are shot through your heart with the love of a simple smile from one of them. It is also a sad image, as we are all, if lucky enough to live long, have the potential to be there ourselves one day.

  6. Just found your blog after you commented on mine about theremins. I am utterly fascinated by your choice to live as a 1955's woman!
    I was born [in England] in 1955 - wartime rationing had only just finished here then [even tho the war had been ended for almost 10 years]
    I think 1955 USA life was a little more glamorous - but from earlier posts I have to say
    - you can still buy yeast vite pills and vicks inhaler sticks here [in fact I got a vicks stick only 3 weeks ago when I had a heavy cold - they work brilliantly and do not clog up your whole system with drugs, they just clear your stuffy nose]
    -as a Pastor's wife, I regularly visit the elderly in care homes. Most of the ones round us are immaculate, with caring staff, and if family live a long way away, staff do all they can to show love and affection to the residents. The hardest part is caring for those with dementia, who have ceased to be the lively friends they once were and retreat into a confused dark world of their own.
    -One of my heroines is the british cook, margeurite Patten - you should check her out. She has wonderful 1950s recipes in her 'post war kitchen' cookbook. The Great Favourite in the UK was "Coronation Chicken" invented in 1953 to celebrate the crowning of our queen, Elizabeth. Let me know if you would like some british recipes from 1955!!
    I told my husband about your blog - and he asked where you found a 1955 computer with internet access!!
    Have you read the Cherry Ames or Sue Barton nursing books- which were written&set in the 40s and 50s? My mother's friend in the States sent them over for me when I was a child - I adored them!!blessings - Angela

  7. I know, the computer is definitley cheating, but if I didn't use it, I'd never meet all the wonderful people I have so far! And I think my not sharing it with others would make it not seem as special for me. Though I do not drive a vintage car (though I am considering it believe me!)I do everything else pertinent to 1955 america. I am finding that in other countries at this time dishwashers, washing machines and maids were not as common. I suppose we really became the spoiled country we are today from the 1950s! I think the postwar prodcution of our factories just kicked into consumerism, and we had no bombed cities to rebuild (except, of course, Pearl Harbor which wasn't even the usa yet!)
    I would LOVE any recipes from 1955 or earlier from the uk. I have always love the uk and I first heard of Margeurite Patten when I saw the uk show 1940s house. Really that show and Manor House (which I think was called Edwardian Country House in your contry) and such historical reality shows really made me want to try this experiment. I would never want to have to live it out on tv, though, that is for certain. I think the world can do without seeing my in my curliers and scarf, dirty dungarees and rubber gloves with oven grease on my face!
    YOu can email me any recipes, and actually a few people have started writing to me snail mail. I cannot tell you what a thrill it is to get an actual letter in the mail from someone. I like that now I have to set aside time in the afternoon at my desk in my little study with a pot of tea and my correspondence. It is a lovely realaxing reflective time. It has been ages since I have written with a pen and I am using my grandfathers old fountain pen, so it is rather special.
    I will check out those books, were they fiction?
    Thanks for dropping by.

  8. Hi there,

    Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a nice comment. I absolutely love the 50's and I think I was supposed to be born during that time instead of the 60's LOL I am looking forward to reading more of your blog and I especially like recipes and household hints from the past--fun stuff!


  9. Thank you for writing on this subject. I am an avid reader, and am also doing a bit of 1950's living...remodeling a 1954 house and I was born that year as well. Your blog is "filling me in" on the year when I was one year old. Fun!

  10. Thought-provoking post. But we need to remember that elder care was not an issue in the first half of the 20th century because there were a lot fewer elders. Remember the age of mortality for a child born in the year 1900 was 47.5 years. Changes in nutrition, in occupational safety, in medical care (particularly vaccinations) have changed that number drastically.

    (stats from the CDC).

  11. Shay-I know as the 1950s on really saw the increase in medicine and advanced healthcare, although by the 1950s (as of 1900 on) medicine had improved enough as well as the standard of living so that it is the first decade when they are beginning to be faced with a large number of the elderly.
    I saw a statistic showing the first woman recieving her soc sec check. She had only paid in for about three months I believe and then lived to be 100 years old, so she made out rather well!

  12. Thanks for your comment on my blog. Yes Cherry Ames and Sue Barton were fictional nurses- I think the books were probably aimed at girls of 8-13 years, to encourage them to enter the nursing profession.

    I will send you some 1950s recipes sometime!

  13. Angela-thank you and looking forward to them. I have always loved England and am finding that outside the USA the 1950s were very different than what we had over here. More fodder for my study and future blogs! I got a wonderful letter from a Danish reader today (who by the way is having trouble leaving comments if anyone else is please email me and I can see if we can figure that out!)who told me of the conditions in her country in 1950s which did not even include washing machines! Talk about feeling guilty about a dishwasher, a fur coat, and a maid. I am sure many in this country as we began to really get spoiled must have felt for the rest of a war battered Europe. I wonder how they best dealt with it or responded to it? I need to find out!

  14. This is such a wonderful post. Thank you so much. I admire your courage.

  15. i'm wondering how hard it would be to rig up a typewriter that's actually a keyboard... they you would look more retro when typing your blogs

  16. It is funny you should say that weenie_elise, as my husband collects antique typewriters and he and his friend (my vintage friends fiance')both like technology but also old things and we have discussed making a computer set up that would be 'steam punk' which is the movement that has the antique sensibilites of the Victorian but the technology of today. I wanted him to do one that would be very mid-century. It just involves alot of wiring an such. I was going to start typing my blogs and scanning them to put up, but hubby said that would be bad for people looking up and referencing things on google and other search engines as my post would only show up as an image and it would not allow people to find me and info so it seems counter-intuitive. I am always trying to think of a way to use the computer but make it seem like I am cheating less, just not sure how!

  17. Do you know about the free downloadable 1950s dress pattern at the V&A website?

  18. That dress pattern is fabulous - thanks for the link!

  19. I know what you mean about the nursing homes. Such depressing places; not enough staff.

    My father's uncle lived with us until he died. Of course, he NEVER bathed (he was very fat and nobody could lift him in and out of the shower and my father I guess was too embarrassed, ate sauerkraut and port three times a day (really) and drank beer and ate all sorts of non-healthy things.

    I'm sure had he been in a nursing home, he would have been cleaner, thinner and healthier, but he was with us, his family, and was happy. He fulfilled the role of a grandfather in our home, and acted as a buffer between my father and grandmother, who didn't get along.

    These days, fewer wives are home to look after elderly people. Also, back in the day, people did not live as long to get as sick. Nowadays, you have a 90-year-old, whose "child" is 70!!! An old person trying to take care of an old person. Grandchildren have moved away, etc., as we are now a mobile society. Sad.

    Also, did you know that doctors can "remand" elderly folk to nursing homes if they determine that there is no person suitable to care for them at home? My mother-in-law was always afraid that my father-in-law would be taken away from her if she could not care for him (and he was very heavy) properly. Home health care came in, as all of us kids are either moved far away, or work all day or have very ill spouses. Modern life.

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