Wednesday, March 11, 2009

11 March 1955 "Penicillin, Painting, Workday Blahs, and Gardening for Victory"

11 March 1955- Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin, dies. Sir Alexander Fleming was a Scottish biologist and pharmacologist. Fleming's accidental discovery and isolation of penicillin in September 1928 marks the start of modern antibiotics.

I just like this painting by the Australian artist John Brack, and this piece is from 1955. Although it depicts a busy street in Melbourne, I feel it could be New York or Boston or any of the American cities in post war times. The march of corporate worker is beginning. It is interesting that we lead ourselves into a sort of mindless hive mentality in the work environment but in personal or community life, we became obsessed with the me. Which, I guess, really makes sense. Slowly becoming part of a corporate world where all things begin being watered down and there are Walmart Starbux etc and endless cold grey office buildins, you will want to retreat to just yourself in your free time. I hope a move towards smaller business and community really is on the rise, because with that I am certain we will see the Me generations change to the We generations. (I know this is a modern hope, but I almost wonder if we wouldn't all be better if the government did let all the large corporations and banks fail. Why should we save GM? Why not let them go and let our country rebuild based on small local productivity?)

Now, I know this is not specifically 1950s, but this robot made by an MIT student is based upon the movements of 2-D Disney Cartoons of the 1950s. I felt it was worth a look as it is another odd way in which the 1950s has touched the 'modern world'.

Although in 1955 I would not be considered a new nor a young homemaker, because I am only two and half months into this experiment, I do think I have some of that new homemaker emotion. At least I feel the excitement and rush of all that lay before me. I sometimes feel a bit like I get to play house on a large scale. So, with that, I believe I feel those "new homemaker" ups and downs. Sometimes I move about with the determination of a seasoned homemaking vet, lists checked off, Kirby attachements thrown over my back as I rush up and down the stairs, dust bunnies recoiling at the sight of me. Then there are those other days...

With any job, especially one started with such anticipation and hope, there has to be some slump. Yesterday I felt a sort of slump. It was not sadness nor disillusion, just that sort blah. I had that "Oh well, I guess I better get to work", sort of mentality. Those are the days when I know this IS a job. When the alarm rang at 7:00 I wanted to hit snooze, only my vintage electric alram clock (in lovely early american styling with light up dial!) has no snooze. I had that type of day I am sure many office people have when they are just going through the motions. I got my work done by the end of the day, but only just what needed to be done. Just...
The ironing got moved to today. The floors got a quick sweep, but the Kirby sat idle and waiting in the cleaning closet. Dinner was made, nice fried chicken and even home-made cut french fries and greenbeans. But, no new cake, as planned. Luckily a 1955 Homemaker always has a backup, so it was a repeat of the previous nights dessert, Brownies with coconut and icecream.
I even forget to run out and do some quick marketing, which left my poor hubby (and me!) without a fresh pot of coffee. We had to have tea. I am sure to any non-U.S. readers this would seem no problem, but you must understand the importance of the American and his morning pot of coffee. It is almost a patriotic duty to have that smell, the aroma and the thick black heavenly brew before you can start your day. I adore tea, don't get me wrong. It is, in fact, what I drink for the remainder of the day. I look forward to that pot and some cookies (biscuits) in the afternoon when I get a few moments to peruse my magazines and research materials, but in the morning, it has GOT to be coffee. And, today, it wasn't. Even my hubby's thermos contains tea today, again almost a sacriliedge to we americans. Maybe even more so for we Bostonians, as there was that incident in the past when we sort misplaced all those cartons of English Tea in Boston Harbor. Ooops!
Anyway, it was one of those days.

But, it was a sunny day. S,o I made my 'schedule' in my Homemakers Housekeeping journal for the coming spring for the gardens. However, after talking to a friend on the phone and hearing she had already put in her peas and lettuce I felt my balloon again deflate. "Behind, before I even started!" It really was one of those days.
So, I stood there: dunagarees, hubbys old plaid wool shirt tied jauntily at my waist, work gloves and wellies, and stared at my vegetable garden. I have two 8 x 8 raised beds for veg. They need to be turned over and some mulch added for the season. Around these are the weeds and things that didn't get taken care of last season (Remember, I wasn't a 1955 conscientious homemaker then! Just a lazy modern girl whose ideas of liberation somehow involved slovenly behavior, apparently). I began to think, "Here I am in 1955, am I going to get lazy?"

Then, it hit me. Yes ,today I am lazy in my attempts to keep going with what I want to do each day for this project as well as my life.

This lead me to ponder, did a 1955 woman my age wonder this as well? She would have lived through the war. I would have been old enough to have to play a big part on the homefront. Our Victory Garden, rather it was city or country, would have been important to us. There was no time for laziness or self-pity during the war. Yet, in my quiet easy suburban existence, would I have moments like this? Moments where I was tired and thought, 'Oh, well, I will just leave those clothes in the dryer and iron tomorrow" and then be struck by the memory of only 10 years earlier when I had no dryer and working a garden meant having extra food to aid the rations?

During the 1950's when we all wanted to 'get back to life', the victory garden certainly began to ebb. The cabbage patches where grandmother's roses once grew, could become roses once again. All the spare ground that had been given over to any kind of food production, slowly became lush green lawns and annual flower patches. Pansies and roses replaced peas and carrots. I am sure if there were a timelapse movie from the end of the war to the 21st century it would be interesting to see the slow decline in anything practical being grown to purely ornamental to acres of grass. It is a sad side affect that in the desire to forget about the war and to make a lovely little safe home, free from outside harm, gradually turned into another form of consumerism.

Even the farmers changed from small family farms to large production. The new era of big business and corporations has begun.

"In 1950 the farm population of 23 million stood at slightly more than 15 percent of the total population. Ten years later only 15.6 million farmers remained, constituting 8.7 percent of the total population. The American farmers of the 1950s did not necessarily resemble the gentleman farmers of Thomas Jefferson's day: they had become specialized and mechanized "agri-businessmen."

The need for large perfectly weed free green lawns gave us pessticides, more gas to run the mowing machines, more machines to cut the lawn, more things to buy to keep the lawn unnaturally green etc etc. It is really telling how every part of our modern day homefront has been permeated by the change in our socitey from an agricultural/urban socitey to a suburban/comsumerist society.

Now, I want pretty flowers and I also want to supply my table and larder as much as I can with my plot of land. I honestly feel, for my age in 1955, the war would be vivid enough in my brain to encourage me to keep "some of those cabbage amonst the roses", sort of speak.

In fact, the idea of Victory Gardens are having a come back in 2009. With the constant threat of global warming, concern about our carbon footprint, and the increasing costs down the road, many are looking at the big green lawn and invisioning some small crops there.

"Today our food travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to table. The process of planting, fertilizing, processing, packaging, and transporting our food uses a great deal of energy and contributes to the cause of global warming.
Planting a Victory Garden to fight global warming would reduce the amount of pollution your food contibutes to global warming. Instead of traveling many miles from farm to table, your food would travel from your own garden to your table.
Our current economic situation is other good reason to start a Victory Garden. Every time that food is shipped from the farm to the store and your table, gasoline is used. As gasoline prices rise, food costs rise. "

The site I found that information offers this advice:

I have no backyard, what can I do?
You can combine vegetable plants with flowers in your frontyard.
You can plant containers on your porch, patio, or balcony and can grow sprouts indoors.
Check to see if you have a community garden available.
Perhaps a neighbor or friend without time or ability would let you garden their yard, in exchange for some produce.
If these options are not available, you can also choose to purchase foods which are grown close to home by visiting your local farmer’s market or joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). If local foods are not available to you, choose foods which use fewer chemical pesticides - such as organics, are in season, or have minimal packaging.

What is nice about these examples is they definitely all have a very 'vintage feel'. The idea of community garden (I joined our local community garden last year, so I can buy what I cannot grow in my own yard there, support the community, meet my neighbors and support the reduction in the use of pesticides.) It might not be exactly purely 1955, but I really do belive people my age and older in 1955 would keep the memory of food shortage and the Victory Garden to heart.

This really does demonstrate a movement towards the past. It is another example of people looking towards a vintage lifestyle not only as a way to wear darling outfits, but as a way to get back the idea of family, community, AND the earth! It is these types of ideas and concepts that really encourage me to not only go ahead with my project but to really think that the vintage ideal can really be a life movement.

I want to take all the aspects we love of the 1950's, the way they wanted to make the world new and wonderful, but learn from all the mistakes we made from the 60's until now. Now, we have the benefit and knowledge of all that time before us. I say, leave the future to science and human rights, those both need to always advance, but culture in the home and community, maybe we really do need to take a step backwards so that our future will be something we can be proud of. And there is a certain amount of responsibility when you try to 'live up to' the past, when the future has an almost no accountabiltiy to it.

How much, I wonder, did war time memory provide the guilt and then the impetus to continue on with the 1950s homemaking lifestyle. Certainly, knowing what one had to go through to get to the 1950s and all the loss and strife that lead up to it, helped the homemaker to keep going. So, if we chose to make the world many of us long for with a sort of non-present nostalgia, we can use that same impetus. We can look back at the world wars and use them for our guide to betterment.
This also demonstrates how subsequent generations, without having to lose so much, did not appreciate what they have and are becoming almost like Rome at its decline. Bloated, lazy slovenly spoiled nations with no hardships.
Of course, I do not want a war or hardships per se (though we do have a war and our on the brink of a great financial woe) but let's face it, it is not 1940s. Yet, if we can feel a collective longing for a time in which most of us did not live, then certainly we can look back to their struggles, compare them to our day and think, "I had better get up off the sofa and get to work. Be thankful for that full pantry and make some wonderful meals and desserts. Be glad I can, for pleasure and to help the budget, go out and plant and harvest and do some canning and preserving or support my local farm for the same reason. Of course I can go buy anything I want at the store, but what if it were gone?"
Maybe with a mixture of the guilt of global warming and keeping the memories of the wars in our minds, we can move into a new world designed after the elements we find endearing in the old world. What do you think?

Now, needless to say, these thoughts did get me going for the rest of the day, but I had still lost a good portion of the morning to mopey tired bored 'day at work' syndrome. The good thing about this job, however, is I am allowed the time to contemplate my situation, evlauate it and move on. Today, after all, is another day and I am determined to get back to the routine, although I now have ironing to catch up on!
Happy Homemaking!


  1. 50's Gal,

    You certainly are an inspiration to all of us who read your blog daily. I'm sure that in the 1950's housewives had days just like you describe. I wonder whether they thought during the day - if I get this laundry ironed today and a few other chores done then I can reward myself by taking some time to sit and read for an extra 1/2 hour or invite a friend for tea in the afternoon tomorrow.

    I think your ideas about gardening are very green and good for our planet. My mom says that during the 1950's they really depended on their vegetable garden and wild berry picking to get them through the winter. They were a farming family living very modestly during the 1950's. I think that remembering the hard times of the depression and the war and doing without, people tried to have a little set aside in case of future hard times.

    Thank you for being an inspiration to all of us "vintage girls" out here in cyberspace.


  2. I agree that small-scale gardening is coming back into popularity. A great book on how the land around our homes has changed and evolved is Front Yard America, covering pre and post war eras.

    Here is my garden early last summer!

  3. Hey 50sgal!
    Um, am I a bad American for admitting that we don't even own a coffee pot? I can't drink coffee when I first get up unless I'm eating a huge breakfast. Mr. Hairball is an avid hot tea drinker so he doesn't really miss it either. We occasionally get some with dessert when we go out to eat or that rare trip to one of the locally owned coffeehouses.

    "I really do believe people my age and older in 1955 would keep the memory of food shortage and the Victory Garden to heart."

    They would also have vivid memories of the hardships endured during the Depression years.
    I think between those two experiences, you would have some people still very devoted to their gardens.

  4. oh my yes! i too feel very american and inspired when i see a victory the late 40's it was a small WAY where a homemaker could do her part for her country& family...i couldn't believe your post...i thought i was the only kitten who found pride in a victory garden...not living with alot of space i too try and planT a few take care of my family and do my part as the 40's homemaker did...what a honor...what a pride...what a great post...I do see more of the homemakers of today taking advice from the 40's vintage housewife...thank your

  5. Michelle-Wow, I am honored and thank you so much for such a wonderful compliment. I am always happy when others feel as moved as I have been by these things which are growing in importance to me.
    Garbagedog-Thanks for the tip, I think I might get that book for my research. Good job on your garden. Were those purple jalepenos or the beginning of a standard purple pepper?
    Hairball-NO, in fact my vintage friend also has no coffeepot. She and her fiance' drink only tea and they have scads of it in their pantry. I, too, love tea. I love our trips to our local teashop (very english with finger sandwiches the whole business) but I just adore coffee. I guess there is just something about that vintage silver perculator that really gets me going in the morning. The sight of it. Its little perk perk blurp sound. The smell, OH THE SMELL, is so wonderful and that is part of what wakes me up. I really enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning and often will have one in the evening with dessert (or instead of, which I am trying to do more!) But, somehow as a Bostonian, it is my patriotic duty to still enjoy a good pot of English tea, but I have to punctuate each day with my little slap in the face of the motherland with my cup o joe! (I love you England, don't get me wrong!)

  6. Vintage Housewife-It is interesting how the concept of Victory Garden is really becoming Vogue again. Though we are not embroiled in a war costing us our produce and food, we are in some very troubled times with our economy and the state of our planet, the perfect time to rally together and do one for the country, only this time we are doing it for the PLANET! Funny to think that the 40-50s were pretty green (at least in the beginning for the 1950s)

  7. I love to have a garden when we are in a place that has good soil. I'm sure if I researched it enough, I would find some things that would grow okay in our soil without having to build it up, but as me may be moving soon, it's not going to happen this year.

    I really enjoyed watching the 1940s House and seeing how the family responded to the challenges they faced. I don't want to give anything away for those who have not watched it. All I'll say is that if you haven't seen it yet, do so as soon as possible.

  8. Funny, I've had the same lazy feeling for the last two days. I couldn't pull myself together to do anything - except having a cosy time scanning all the vintage magazine photos for you. :) I will be a homemaker for three more weeks and I still have my "to-do" list with lots of projects on, but I felt exactly as you described it: blah!

    And I'm sure a fifties homemaker would have had days like this too, it is only human. Then she would have done just like us: done the necessary tidying up and sweeping, and then pamper with a nice magazine or book. We must allow ourselves to do so.

    The Victory Garden sounds lovely. I live very old-fashioned too (I don't even use my dryer, but linedry everything), so I pick berries and apples and have a glass house with tomatoes and cucumbers, which is always successfull. I have given up a Victory Garden with vegetables, since my garden is so big and I haven't got time to do it. But I buy a lot from the locals at the Isle of Moen (where my small summer cottage is). It is cheaper and of much better quality.

    DH has invited to view an episode of Miami Vice with him. It is almost vintage today! ;)

  9. I just put my first steak and kidney pie in the oven, wish me luck. I love it, but have never attempted myself. The butcher had a sale on kidneys and I just had to! There will be pics and a report tomorrow, don't worry!

  10. penicillin was definitely one of the best inventions. As for being a homemaker, I'm enjoying getting that chance to get back into it now that I"m at home more now, my mother was telling me that for her mother back then in the 50's it was a job, an unpaid job but nevertheless it was a busy full time one.

  11. 50sgal,
    I apologize if someone has already mentioned this and I missed it.

    I stumbled onto a book that you and your readers may be interested in reading- Fresh Food From Small Spaces.

    "Many gardening books describe ample land and space as being a prerequisite for growing flowers, plants, and food. And the ever popular container gardening books, generally written for those with little land or space in which to garden, do not always cover the question of raising fresh food that way. Ruppenthal, a business professor and lifelong trial-and-error gardener, here fills a gap in gardening literature and helps readers discover techniques for sustainable food production—even on a small scale—by using every square inch of space that is available to them."

  12. Spouse would mock you to no end for your shunning tea over coffee in the morning! But then I married an English man who sometimes still refers to the American Revolution as "your little uprising."

    Is there such a thing as a coffee making version of the Teasmade? If so, perhaps you should look into something like that to get you going in the mornings. Personally, I would love a Teasmade to wake me up (it's an alarm clock that brews tea) since it takes so long to get the tea made first thing (I can't bring myself to use the electric kettle because it doesn't whistle.)

    As to the victory gardens, I really need to get us on a list to get an allotment. They are hard to come by in Boston, and if you have not green space, like most of us apartment-dwellers, you're out of luck for growing things. I think most of them date back to the war (as allotments), but compared to how Britain had it, we hardly needed to bother. They had half the food rations we had in the US and had to go from importing over 80% of their food to producing it all. Still, I want my damned garden!

  13. Good luck on the steak and kidney pie. My mom made one once and my dad and I gave it to the cats. Even the cats turned up their noses at the kidneys! I bet Spouse would eat one if put in front of him though, if only for nostalgia.

  14. I also love the classic book "Square Foot Garden." His method has enabled us to try to have a garden (we have three different varieties of lettuces growing right now in four of the squares and radishes in two others). Our city water has so many chemicals in it that we have difficulty growing anything in our desert microclimate, but we've had enough rain this year to at least eke out the lettuce and the radishes.

  15. Amy-your mother is right! It IS a job! I see it more and more that way everyday. No pay, per se, but it can be very rewarding.
    Hairball-I really want to get that book, but it is not published yet. However, I am typing on a computer. I guess I will research what was being 'said' about small scale gardening at the time. I am sure there were British books about such things as the Victory Garden was so important over there.
    Teru-Perhaps if I invited your hubby to a tea potty, which just happened to be set at Boston Harbor. Then, of course, I would play 'mother' and pour out and...What? I dropped the tea pot and all the tea into the water! What a horror, then like Annie Oakley, I wip from the recess of my split skirt ta dah! NOt a gun, but a gleaming perculating coffee pot! "It's you or me" might sneer across my lips and the thick black brew would splash into his tea cup, spilling all over his nice white trosers (He is wearing white trousers in this scenario) and the smell of freedom is too much for him, it all goes slow motion. "NOOOOOO" he screams out. And breakfast, American style, is served!
    But I kid, I think it is hilarious and very British of him to say that. In fact, I think I am a little jealous, because if I had an English husband, I'd move to Devon so fast, our heads would spin. I am covetous of your dual citizenships!
    Oh, and the pie was beautiful, so yummy.
    Dr. Julie-Ann-good luck with your garden. I hope your lettuce and radishes do well. I promised myself snow peas and lettuce in by the weekend!

  16. "Hairball-I really want to get that book, but it is not published yet."

    *smacks head* Duh! Sorry! *blushes*

  17. Hairball-no worries, I mean I could use it, as I am using the computer, but I am trying my darndest to stick to the time period, it isn't always easy, though, because I unfortunately don't have a car from 1955 (which I now actually sort of want)etc. So, maybe if I can find info from the book on the internet it won't be as bad.

  18. How about this restored 1952 Oldsmobile. A frugal family in 1955 would probably wouldn't have a brand new car, but it would be nice to find a 55. $25,950

  19. If you could post your recipe for the steak and kidney pie, that would be wonderful! I wouldn't make it myself, but I think Spouse would for when we have the neighbors around (after we have the lamb roast dinner we had to put off with them!) His pastry is also FAR superior to mine. I have my great-grandmother's recipe which, unfortunately, stopped at me because I just can't make it work. Luckily, my stepsister has the knack (my mom taught her as she did me) so while it isn't in the blood family, it's still in the family.

  20. I did post the recipe today, Teru. I really liked this recipe. I had a recipe from Margaurette Patten, whom I am sure your husband is familiar, but I could not decipher the measurements. It was yummy. MY next steak and kidney is going to be a pudding. I LOVE steaming puddings. I don't know why. I think it is like magic. Perhaps because it is somewhat alien to American cooking.

  21. Oh and I adore lamb! We had the best rack of lamb the other night. So wonderful. There is a wonderful pie with lamb I want to try!

  22. i would do a victory garden... except that the drought and water restrictions make keeping anything alive in the garden a struggle...

    the new water tank helps, so at least the citrus trees haven't passed away yet... and we do have a super crop of sunflowers at the moment.

    and i often have those days where nothing seems to be achieved...

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  25. I really liked this post. My husband and I have a garden, there is nothing quite like being able to go out to the garden and pick ingredients to make dinner with. I have a separate herb garden were I grow mint, oregano, tarragon, thyme, chives and ruhbarb because these are all perennials and grow quite agressively. I also love doing home canning, anything we can't get from our garden we get from the farmers market when it is in season so we can make tomato sauce, pickles, pickled beets, relish, etc. And you know, it tastes so much better than the store bought stuff, I didn't even like relish until I had it homemade. We are both very busy with our full time jobs and our farm so our garden does get weedy at times but we do it for the enjoyment of it, and where possible we do make an effort to eat local. My husbands sisters live in cities in appartments and they even garden, they have containers out on their balconies and if they want something that can't be grown in a pot we save some room in our garden for it. And it really is amazing how showing a genuine enjoyment can prompt others to do it, my friend this year for the first time got some herbs and veggies to grow on her balcony.


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