Wednesday, June 9, 2010

9 June 1956 “Becoming Our Own Domestics and Living In Our Own Five Star Hotels”

maidandlady I was thinking today how I treat my “work time” and my “me time” ( a very modern term, I know) quite separately. And although the ME in that statement might seem rather 2010 more than 1956, I believe the 50’s homemaker, without the psychological explanation of what she was doing, was rather doing the same thing. To treat that ‘work time’ as very much real work seems an almost alien concept to most modern people. When you understand that you suddenly see why it is so undervalued or not valued at all. Why people consider it only drudgery, even people who have to work very menial ‘paying jobs’ most likely consider the Home Arts more chore than challenge, more Criminal than Career.
This was how I came to see this in myself today. I was about my usual ‘daily routines’ and had just collected up all the washcloths, dishcloths, etc, that I change out. I collect them up daily for their eventual weekly wash day. After that I go about and lay out their ‘new’ replacements. As I laid out, on my freshly cleaned sink, the new dry iron and folded dish rag, I felt as if I was the ‘maid of the moment’. That I was, in fact, the domestic ( a very real job) and that the “ME Time” Me was reaping the rewards of such a thoughtful and efficient housekeeper. Certainly my historical counterpart felt very much the same in that she had a job to do, she did it to the best of her abilities and then had time and made time to read, relax, craft, make herself up, be dressed for the shops and when hubby was home, have time to show off her skills at cooking and baking at home gatherings and enjoyed keeping her hat and gloves on and being ‘treated’ as the lady in her friends home for their gatherings. No over analyzing needed. Her job was real, seen so by society and therefore she did it and also had a Life. In many ways we have no ‘outside’ life and we still make no time to do, ugh ‘housework’ that’s drudgery. Why make your bed, it’s just going to get messed up again any way, right?
Well, many people rush about all year and give away a week or two a year to go on holiday. For that chocolate on the pillow and those few moments to read by the pool or share a nice meal with loved ones. For me, and I think for the 1950’s family (at least many of them) such treats were enjoyed as a part of normal daily life. Even breakfast, for example, was a place where people daily were treated as if in a lovely little diner or restaurant. Again, you, the Homemaker, might be the chef and then waitress, but if you do a good JOB then when you magically become the breakfast guest along with your family, won’t you be happy for those flowers on the table or the few kitchen plants you keep in lovely ceramic holders that you trade out for centerpiece. To have that nice ironed linen napkin on your lap as you sip your fresh squeezed juice? Why, the syrup is heated so as not to cool the pancakes and your little butter pats are soft to the touch, what great service! Conversation (no texting or tv), laughter and sharing of one another’s life or plans for the day.
We’ll send something back in a restaurant if it is not right, we will complain about dirty silverware or smudged drinking glasses. We will be upset if a  store does not have what we want or the dressing rooms are a mess. Yet, our own lives and home, the place we spend much of our time, we care less about. There we put up with and in some cases simply expect the worse service, that most wretched food and the poorest conditions of cleanliness and overall atmosphere. It’s just a place where the tv and computer lives, where we can flop about eating corn chips from bags or pizza out of boxes as we watch our ‘shows’ (re-runs we have seen a million times) and not care a scrap about it. Go to a hotel or a restaurant on vacation and expect that, no way? So, do we really only deserve a week a year as payment for all the work and stress we do have through the rest of the year? Or, do we deserve better? And if so, can we make it better? I think so.
Think about the things you like to do on Holiday/Vacation. Do you like a quiet peaceful cabin on the lake? Do you like to pamper yourself with nice meals and dressing up? Make a list (yes the list returns again, it is SO helpful) of the things you and your spouse/and or family enjoy or dream of as Relaxing, Fun, Pleasure, Pampering and then see if there are not ways to make that a part of your daily life. Your life at home.
Simply preparing yourself and getting into the habit of the thing is half the battle. If you are a Stay-at-home, then certainly we have much time in the day to make our homes thus. But, even if you are a ‘working gal’ with a little prep and routine, you would be surprised how much of your ‘me time’ at home when not at work can be served by being your own domestic for part-time during each week. Think about it, just take even 1/2 an hour of your tv/computer time and dedicate it to being your own maid and you will find cook ahead food in the freezer, ironed napkins in the linen drawer, time to slip that sectioned grapefruit and juice on your breakfast table with hubby that morning if your ‘little maid’ saw fit to do it before going to bed and putting it in the ice box.
I think Breakfast is a fun way to introduce a change in how we view and eat our meals. Many may not want to try out the big dinner at the table, so why not try the early morning family breakfast? This article in my 1953 Better Homes and Gardens  tells us: “Yes, Breakfast Can be lovely!” and it goes on to tell us
You can have attractive breakfast tables-meals as memorable as those served in the dining room. With planning, such a meal is little more work than the usual hasty, makeshift breakfast. These tables are set simply but well-just right for happy, family get-togethers in the kitchen.
breakfasttable1 Round table with yellow plastic surface and comfortable wire barrel chairs encourage pleasant family circle meals in the Mandel Hopkins Dutch blue breakfast nook. Black wire lazy Susan in table’s center is a combination step saver and efficient server. Here it holds the entire meal. Scalloped wire place mats match the lazy Susan.
(Click on the images below to see larger and read corresponding text)
breakfasttable2 breakfasttable3
So, even if you were to just try (assuming you don’t already) having at least one meal at table With nice china, water pitcher, food in serving dishes (no boxes or bottles of dressing-no advertising or packaging) you might find yourself slowing down and enjoying your food and your company. And it isn’t really just food, no that is really just the tip of the iceberg, to how we can change little bits of our home life to feel more as if we are on vacation or just simply ‘enjoying our life to the fullest’. We need to sit down and have a good but firm talk with the domestic in us, telling ourselves we not only Need but Deserve to have a well run ship and nice accommodations and meals. You would not visit an hotel that treated you poorly, was dirty or had bad service/food/ambience, so why return again and again to a home that does not feel welcoming or only serves as a sort of fast food restaurant with tv and computer and a freezer full of unappetizing frozen food. You might be surprised how well you do when you slip into your little ‘maid mode’. Give it a try, you might like what you find.
I had intended to talk about a good Vintage Fashion Primer, but I think that will hold until next time. I think we all need to get out our pens and pads and start jotting down how we would like to live if we had a maid or were in an hotel and then think about how we can serve ourselves. And, after all, who better knows what you really want than you?
Until next time, Happy Homemaking.


  1. Thanks for the inspiring post 50sgal. I try to look for ways to improve my housekeeping by imagining our home as a Bed and Breakfast. We are selling our home (first time we've done so) after living here most of our married life and I endeavour to put even more effort into it's function and appearance. I'd love to see what the other ladies may 'jot down on their lists'. I'm always looking for more ideas. Thanks for your specific examples as they're always much appreciated. Linda

  2. Great post! I've been working on that myself.

    One of my 1950s magazines had a reader who wrote about how society looked down on her because she kept house for someone else INSTEAD of being a housewife.

    My how things have gotten upside down!

    Here's the link if you'd like to read it:

    Whatever You Do...

  3. This is one of my favorite posts you have ever done. It rings true and makes me think a lot about making my home my own retreat.

  4. I get the idea of making your home your retreat but in reality with kids, at least for me, I really must get away to take it easy. (even if the kids are with me). The ideal breakfast (or dinner for that matter) where the whole family gathers around the table and mother stops working to eat with the family doesn't happen much for me. It seems that after I dish up everyone else's plates and finish the little extras the kids are almost done and either they're asking for seconds or have excused themselves and cleared their plates. I've tried to have everything out and ready but it's rare that someone doesn't have a request for which only I can locate the item. If I ask them all to wait they go back to what they're doing only to complain about the meal not being ready or are so hungry they snack while I'm getting everything to the table. (I always put out fruit, veggies, and the salads first for this reason.)

    While the idea of domestic comforts rivaling those of a fine hotel would be appreciated and savored with all that I do on a daily basis I'm just happy to have some down time after the kids are in bed for a "mini vacation" of reading or knitting before I go to bed.

    But I get your point, 50's gal. As a society we need to focus on making our everyday lives delightful. One thing I love about summer is the lack of a rigid schedule based on the children's school hours. Waking up and deciding with the kids to go to the beach or pool, even if it means creating more laundry and a trail of sand in the house and car, is a freedom that feels like a mini vacation too. How many of us get this kind of flexibility? So while I'd love to have the amenities of a hotel in my home the freedom of being a housewife gives me the mini vacation feeling too.

    (I hope this makes sense. A housewife and mother feeling free? Really I do. Sometimes anyway...)

    Sarah H

  5. Dear 50’sgal, on one hand I feel you’re right, as a housewife we create the atmosphere of the house; we can improve our lifestyle without money. And yes there for we have to accomplish tasks that may seem boring to some of us (not to me! I personally think my job as a home keeper is the most varied, creative and challenging job I ever had).

    But on the other hand, I don’t think we have the duty to transform our house in a five stars hotel, to feel happy in it.
    To me the most important for us home keepers is to transform our house in a welcoming, cosy, and warm place. I really do like when people come into my house, and they don’t want to leave because they feel comfortable. But that doesn’t mean the house has to be neat tidy and shining all the time (of course a minimum of tidiness is required to make a home feel comfy).

    Maybe I do think that way because just as Sarah I have 3 children to deal with. That means less time and more mess...

    My dream house is a house always smelling fresh baked bread, with flowers on the dining table, a fire lightened in the winter to keep it warm and a can with fresh water with lemon slices and ice in it in the summer.... No one matters the book lying on the table in the sitting room that should be in the library, or my guys little cars on the ground when they should be in the toy box...

    I hope I made my thoughts understandable...

    Have a very nice day!


  6. Sarah-I think what you address in your first paragraph (and agian I do not have kids, so what do I know) but from what I understand of a 1950's relationship of mother/father to child (and I know this was true for me though I was not of the 50's I had old parents who were 50's parents) I was not allowed to eat until we were all sat at the table. If I were to complain, hurry up etc, my father would point out that my mother took the time to make the meal and we should appreciate it, and also to get up and snack or such would just not have been heard of. I think the parenting of the 50's was more about really having a certain level 'I'm the boss' that maybe modern parenting doesn't have. At least, I see that a lot in stores where mother's have unruly children who are going crazy and they ignore them and then occasionaly say, "Now, stop that or I won't buy you this" then they kid cry's and starts having a fit And there is not follow through.
    Now, again, I am not giving parenting advice as I have NO child and would never ever deign to do so, but I do think in the 1950's eating at the table was such a normal thing, that a child from an early age would just do it. Today most parents may eat in front of the tv more often and so how would the child learn or know to not do so?
    I guess I just see a table being set (by the kids) while mother is cooking (no 'ifs ands or buts they just do it) then mother sets out the table with all the food, all are seated (water in pitcher so not having to get up, all the food on the table to pass no need to get up and no one has started until mother sits down) then they all dig in. If there are complaints, again pointing out that mother has worked hard to make dinner.
    I don't know, maybe we are all so used to instant gratification that a child has no concept of waiting. They get it NOW. Entertainment click of a button, don't even have to get up, want to talk or chat with frinends, turn their eyes to the screen and begin texting. etc.
    I know I don't have a child, but we do talk of one and I think I would, (at least now that I have gone so far into my schedule) try to have meals that way. Rather or not it would work, I don't know. I think if a child only knows that he must sit still and wait for mother (she is not the servant to the child but to herself) and that no eating until dinner (Do parent's not say, "no snacking you will spoil your dinner" anymore or You will not leave the table until you clean your plate of everything?) I honestly don't know. I know I wasn't allowed to snack before meal, had to clean my plate and also sit up, napkin on lap and no bad talking at dinner and no whistling or 'messing about'. But, I did it becasue my parents asked me to. Maybe there is just no follow through with children today, I honestly don't know,as I said, I have no children and so what can I say other than what I would do and how I was raised.
    I think maybe the structure that once existed in homelife must just be gone. I know in the summers we had a 'freeer' schedlue, but at breakfast, my mother would tell us (often I would get my neice who is a few years younger than me to stay with me for the summer) what our plans were. If we were going to the beach etc, that we knew it and the day was structered around that. I have come to like the safety and balance of a schedule so much (with flexibility of course) that I think I would even have those 'free days' scheduled. Of course, I think I would homeschool, so structure would be needed or else chaos, I would imagine. (cont.)

  7. I am glad you do enjoy your summer, but I wonder if maybe you could have a more relaxed dinner time if you asked more of your children (setting the table, no snacking before dinner, waiting for mother to eat, no complaints and make it a game to only talk about good things at table-you never know, I mean we are training our children to be adults one day, right?)
    So again, from someone with no child nor any real 'right' to give advice, that is mine. I just think maybe mother's today aren't giving themselves a fair shake because they think their kids happen to just act a certain way. I mean, if you are the parent, can't you tell them how to act, or am I just a bully? Honestly, let me know mother's I am sure I need to be put in my place, but I think it a good discussion, don't you?

  8. EEF-I think maybe you misunderstood. When I said 5 star hotel, I was really just saying what we would LIKE a five star hotel to be. To some that means impeccable cleanliness and galmour, to others, baking bread and rustic old tattered sofa's. That is why I said, make a list of what your 'ideal' realxing feeling should be and try to incorporat that into your life. My home is not always shinning and perfect, as that is not what I feel comfortable in. To some a stark modern room of glass with no clutter and terrazo floors might seem heaven to me it would seem aniseptic. I love old things, old family photos and tattered old bits that may have seen 'the nursery floor' out to enjoy, BUT, I also like a clean bathroom and not piles of clothes or such about me. That is me. I was just hoping to help we modern homemakers to realize what we love in magazines or in our minds CAN be part of our house. Again, I have no children, but maybe it is not done anymore, but I believe in the old days you had to pick up your toys. I remember when I used to watch the design shows (like trading spaces etc) and there would invaribaly be a living room that was literally FULL of plastic toys and games just piled and piled. How could anyone live that way, I thought, because, if we don't teach our children to pick up their toys when they are done with them and have a place for them, we are only teaching them to be disorganized and live in chaos themselves. It will seem comforting to them. I know I don't have kids, but when I was little and I was playing with toys in rooms other than my playroom or bedroom (and really even there too) I had to pick them up and put them back. there was no playing and then just walk away leaving a mess. I dont' know maybe that is not a parenting style anymore, but I know if I had a child, that even when they were young, I would make it part of their day, because it is part of mine and I do not want to be their maid. Because if I have to pick up after my child and my husband and myself I will never be done, but if I have the example and also ask others to pick up to aid me, then my job is easier and I have more time to play and enjoy and less to rush about becacuse, 'company is coming' or because I want to suddenly inflict cleanliness on my child who doesn't understand. And again, I have no child and don't know anything other than how I was raised. Putting my toys away was just a normal part of my life. My husband, too. At the end of the day, they put their things away and they also did not have so much that it couldn't all fit. What are we teaching our children about consuming when they have so much it CANNOT be put away?
    So, the idea of the 5 star was really just saying, what would we like to have as a nice environment in which to live and try to go about making it.Does that make any sense?

  9. 50’s Gall, you’re right I should have red better, I didn’t really get the deep sense of your message. You are so right when you say that what we love in magazines can be our house with a little effort.
    But I do think you’re wrong with children, when you have kids especially small kids (under the age of 3) you have to have an eye on them all the time so you can’t send them playing in their bedroom or in a separate room. They have to be in the room where you are that means, they are playing in the room where you are busy.
    My little girl for example has a play corner in the sitting room, toys just are part of the decor when you have small children.
    And if I have an unexpected visitor, well he’ll see the buggy and the doll my little one walks around the house but that’s not a problem to me.
    For bigger kids I do agree with you, my boys don’t have toys except in their bedroom (no place enough for a playroom) and they have to tidy up every evening before they go to bed, I also agree that spoiling kids with to much toys is making sure they’ll become materialistic grownups and that’s not what I want!
    I encourage my kids to have a lot of imagination in their games, and I do play with them to teach them that you do not need mountains of toys to entertain yourself (the funniest games even are the ones you do not need toys at all).
    But still you can’t avoid the peek-a-boo of a Playmobil pirate when you open your linen drawer from time to time.
    You can’t expect perfection from kids as you can’t be perfect yourself.


  10. Oh, no, I never said perfection. In fact, my point was that if your child has the living room full of toys all afternoon as you clean and read and live in there, great, but at the end of the day when it is time for dinner, say or 'family time' I think the child (even at a young age) should be encouraged to pick up the toys and put them in their designated area, rather that is the corner or a box or a playroom. I don't ever expect nor strive for perfection and cleanliness, only comfort and a relaxing atmostphere. In fact, many people often say they feel so homey in my home and rather like it. I don't have a mess, but I do have things out, old books and old things here and there, but with a purpose. They have a place that is THEIRS on the shelf. They seemed enjoyed and loved because they are not all higgeldy piggeldy tossed about. I have a friend who she and her fiance' have so many 'toys' adn plastic games and video games etc piled about you wonder if they even know what they have. Maybe that is their comfort level, I don't know, but my point was that if I did have a child there would be a specific 'pick up' time in the evening before dinner, as that is what I had. I enjoyed the luxery of a playroom of my own, and yet still recall 'picking up' before father came home and then dinner and then usually a bath and a book and off to bed, no tantrums or begging for more games etc. I learned, as did my hubby so says his mother, that there was a time and a place for things, that meant play, and toys. I suppose it is just different styles of parenting, but as I said I have no children and might be a horrid mother, one never knows until they are in that place. And if people like thier mess, that is fine too, I guess my point was more for the harried mother who maybe felt overwhelmed and wishes 'she had her living room back', you know. To encourage them that boundaries and expectations on even small children are not cruel nor unrealistic. In the 19tc century 5 year olds were reading and studying latin and in bad cases, working in factories. In fact today in India and China 5 year old children are working in factories, that doesn't mean I want children to work in facotries, it means I think we have conjured this image of what 'childhood' means and somehow it means being disobedient, headstrong, sloppy and tantrums. Maybe I just have an unrealistic idea of it. I only know what and how I and my hubby and his siblings were raised. my MIL has a beautiful home full of antiques and her children had some modern toys as well as old family antique toys. They played and 'messed' up the room, but at the end of the day, it was all cleaned up again. That is not anal nor aniseptically clean (her home is SO homey- a huge kitchen with a big old cast iron 19thc cook stove on a big brick hearth at one end, a big round table and lovely old cabinets, dishes, a 1920's range she cooks on and lovely family heirloom braided rugs. You couldn't get any homier than her kitchen and at the end of the day, the children cleaned up before Dinner. My hubby remembers playing his cars around and around the braids of the old rug under the big table as a child, the fire warming him, cat asleep in the old Morris chair, food smells filling the place. I just think we CAN have a homey and beautiful (whatever that means to each other) space and children as I have seen people who do it. If people are already happy with their program and set up, why change it? I was really thinking more about those who wish to do so. Does that make sense?

  11. Well, at the end, I think our points of view are pretty much the same...
    Indeed, in my house there’s tidy-up time, around 6 pm, just before bathing time. So our house is tidy and kids are washed when Loulou comes home, and we have supper all together (as we always have breakfast all together). So when the children are in bed (quite early about 7:30PM) I have a quick kitchen clean, wash the dishes, and the day is done, we can relax in a tidy house (even if sometimes a Playmobil who slept true the tidying net is playing peek-a-boo in the sofa) .
    And yes I agree even small children can help with the home work, in fact small children are always happy to help (even if sometimes you get more work having a helper than without) and I do encourage mothers to include their children in their home keeping even boys.
    Glad we discussed about it, because it would have been sad if we just “left” each other on a misunderstanding.

  12. eef-certainly. I just wanted to make sure that it didn't seem as if I was saying I wanted everyone to live in a musuem of shine and polish. And, of course, you have children and have much more experience than I could ever claim. It sounds like you have a lovely system set up. I hope, though, that anyone out there that does struggle with cleaning and feeling overwhelmed in their house that they could realize maybe, just maybe, they could make small changes in both their own behavior and their childrens to eventually lead to a more 'relaxing' and their idea of 'beautiful' home.

  13. 50sgal,you have touched on some important points, and yes I think you would make an excellent mother. My upbringing, and in turn, how I brought up my own children concerning meals was as you yourself have described it. It was commonplace years ago and with some effort,it can still be done today.

    As children we (and my own children later)helped with setting the table, bringing out the food, etc. And no one ate before Mom/I sat down. We put our napkins in our laps, said the blessing and then passed the food. No one, except the babies were allowed to eat before all the food was passed. Elbows off the table, and general etiquette was followed. If there were complaints about the food, might just be that that person might be cooking the next meal him/ it paid to think before one spoke! Ha! When we were finished, we asked to be excused and could then go on our merry way, leaving Mom and Dad to talk. Breakfast was a different matter as everyone had different schedules, but dinner was sacred.

    Raising my own children (they've just recently left the nest)in times that were less "family-time friendly" was a challenge, but I tried to stick to this ideal, and we ate as a family the majority of the week even when the kids were teenagers. If my husband was traveling or working late, then it was just me and the kids, but we followed the same rules. Unless they had a sports or musical event or a dinner invitation elsewhere, they knew what time dinner was served, and if they wanted to eat they had best be there at that time or else get their own dinner later. It usually worked. I wasn't a tyrant about it, I just wasn't going to be cooking dinner more than once a night when there was no good reason to do so.

    And while at the table, the children were expected to engage in the conversation..not just sit there hunched over their food silently. The idea was to teach them conversation skills which would help them later in life, whether they be at a dinner party or a business luncheon.

    I think there are parents who still do things this way, but unfortunately the way our world is set up now with all the events and crazy schedules, it makes it more and more difficult. Still, it's worth the try.

  14. 50'sGal, thanks for your insights. Sorry haven't responded. It's been a busy weekend.

    First, I agree with you about what our family dinner should be. I also agree that 50's parents were more "parents" than today's. (Myself included.) They were "the boss" where too many of today's parents want to be their children's "friend". (Myself NOT included.) I think in my family's case we developed a very informal dinner pattern because for so many years my hubby traveled for work and was only home on weekends. So after being home alone with a baby all day making a "real dinner" for me to eat wasn't a priority. I'd make a salad or frozen dinner. Nothing great but something.

    Our dinners have morphed into us having a "real" meal (meaning real homemade food) at the table and interacting but not exactly at the same time as I described above. Although I'm not always getting up it's generally not as peaceful as I'd like.

    As for your comments about parenting I think it's ok for you, or anyone without children, to say what they'd do if they were to have them "one day". We all come into parenthood with ideals and ideas of the parents we'd like to be. It doesn't always turn out that way but it's good to think about it.

    Sarah H.

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