We are often fed the stereo-type of the 1950’s woman in pearls, vacuuming or serving her husband. The modern world, for whatever reason, seems to want to relegate any woman pre-1960’s as an oppressed victim bordering on slave. I, of course, have been discovering more and more over the past two years this is far from true.
I thought I would show some women from my 1950’s magazines. These two little snippets are from a 1956 magazine. This first lady is called ‘the Frog lady’. You can read the article by simply clicking on the image.Dr. Doris M. Cochrin is a scientist. Not only is she working in the professional field she even, in the 1930’s, travelled to Brazil to continue the research started by a male scientist on frogs. There is no mention of how ‘cute it is’ that she is doing ‘man’s work’. She is shown in her office with a frog. I like to compare this with the modern image my hubby wrote about a modern young starlet (She once played Winnie on the Wonder Years) There are images of her inside as well. But, why is it that a woman who is intelligent in a ‘man’s field’ today needs to be sexualized? Why does Algebra need to be “HOT X”?
Next we have Dr. Alice Richards teached at the University of Wisconsin and is here show doing her second job: Training the Milwaukee Braves in Concentration techniques. We see a married woman who is a professional and also a key role in training a major league baseball team. Rather interesting, I think.
Now, this is not in any way to try and downgrade our modern homemakers. For, at this time, if one were a homemaker, I doubt very highly she would be looked down upon by either of these two ladies. In fact, I am sure she met many homemakers as they are both married professors who most likely have a university level social life of parties and gatherings where many homemaker wives of professors are present. This also would be a way for any young lady to see that one could have a choice.
Although the main role considered for women was the home, we must realize in most cases women did indeed have choices. Many homemakers also worked jobs. Especially among the working class, it was not uncommon to have both parents work. And those in the middle class who could afford to send their daughters to college usually did. Although many think it was for the intent of ‘finding husbands’, once there if the girls found a career as well, I don’t think they were discouraged by it. And if so, a strong woman would ignore the convention and follow her heart, I believe. Much as we, who stay home, do today.
Speaking of Homemakers and their own place of power in the world, there was an amazing even that happened this year (1956) with seven Homemaking mother’s in gathered in Chicago’s blue collar suburb of Franklin Park, Illinois. They were to become the La Leche League (Leche being Italian for milk).
These ladies were gathering to try and gain acceptance and spread the word for something that had gone out of vogue and been discouraged by the medical community: Breast Feeding.
Doctors at that time routinely told women that they didn't have enough milk to nourish their babies, or that their milk wasn't good enough. There had been an increasing level of pressure from the medical and scientific community to take the baby from the breast and put it to the bottle on very rigid feeding schedules. There was little study done on women’s breast milk at the time and what there was had been chiefly ignored. Many doctors felt cow's milk formula was better than what nature had provided.
These ladies ‘league’ formed one summer afternoon in 1956 at a picnic in Wilder Park in Elmhurst, Illinois, USA. During the course of the picnic, two of the ladies who were to form the league had breast feeding babies. The other mothers noticed how easy it was for these two to care for their babies, with no bottles to warm or formula to keep cool. Eventually the other women attendees approached them with this basic story: "I had so wanted to nurse my baby but...My doctor told me I didn't have enough milk...My mother-in-law said the baby must not be getting enough because he wanted to nurse so often...My baby lost interest after I started supplementing with formula...I tried to breastfeed, but I just couldn't."
The first official meeting was held on an October evening in 1956 at Mary White's house in Franklin Park. The original group consisted of these seven ladies: Marian Tompson, Edwina Froehlich, Mary White, Betty Wagner, Mary Ann Cahill, Mary Ann Kerwin, and Viola Lennon.
Another main aspect to the decline in breast feeding ties into that same element I keep running up against in the 1950’s. The growth of the Corporation. Again, I don’t want to sound political, but I also need to represent the facts. And one of the main reasons women and also doctors were encouraged to ‘take the baby from the breast’ was the increase in Nestle’s formula production.
Though Nestle had invented baby formula as early as 1860, it wasn’t until WWII that it really took off. With the men away, many women, even those with small children, went into the workforce. Though women with younger age children could be exempt from the need to help in factories and such, the emotional and patriotic need to do so had many mothers leaving their infants with older relatives or friends. So, baby formula was a good answer to this baby left at home problem.
The baby boom generation were the first generation to be mainly bottle feed. And it was silently put around that if you were intelligent, middle class etc you bottle fed. If you say someone breast feeding it was thought they were ignorant, poor etc. Much of this perception was propegated by advertising and the subsequently corporate supported ‘studies’ in the medical field.
Now one could say, well that sounds as if you are being to critical or reading too much into it. Yet, when I see such things as this going on in Africa in the 1950’s. Nestle had created ‘Milk Nurses’ to offer free formula to South African mothers. The downside to this was they took the free nourishment (as their country was in war and great poverty) and then as the mother’s own milk dried up and they began to depend upon it, they simply stop giving it away and then had it for sale. It is one thing to make a product and sell it for money, that is fair, but to make a market through underhand ways is what I have a problem with.
And, so, in our own country, this sort of stigma to breastfeeding was put around. And during this time the middle class really was growing. Many young mothers and couples were, for the first time in their family, actually better off than their parents. They wanted to ‘belong to the middle class’ and not be seen as ‘backward’. So, the bottle and formula grew and the stigma against breastfeeding was set.
I find it very gratifying and a rather proud moment in Women’s history to know that these mother’s came together to help other mother’s take back their personal right to breast feed their children. And, in a way, their little revolution was done with sense and decorum on their part. There was no picketing and brash screaming on ‘news programs’ but rather living accornding to common sense and their example helped to spread the real knowledge and truth behind breast milk to other mothers.
I think, today however, that many mothers most likely do still bottle feed. I can’t imagine how they couldn’t since so many are working mothers. Many women get no more than a few weeks off before returning to work and if they don’t want to mess about with breast pumps, their only option is the formula.
Again and again I find that what I am most enamored with the 1950’s are the people and particularly the women. I am also finding that the current state of subterfuge and ignorance we have allowed ourselves to be in with our own food, health, economy, and government is heavily wrapped up in the corporations starting then. What may have been a growing family business happy to become larger has turned into an almost self-entity (including the fact that a corporation is now legally accepted as an individual and with an individual's rights) that seeks profit over any other aspect including human rights AND truth.
What I don’t understand is a vast majority of people today who seem to want to ‘return to an old way’ don’t realize that by simply focusing on silly topics and being lead by politicians (all of whom are puppets of the large business) are only further removing us from the ‘good ole days’. Because the main tenants of the good ole days were common sense, hard work, and decency to one another. Today we seem to think we must ‘pick a side’ draw a line in the sand and begin shouting. When really this only causes us to be further separated from one another and the common goal and a happy and good life.
But, I digress. I thought it would be good to show some strong and intelligent actual 1950’s women to contrast with the current image of the be-pearled half-idiot we seem to think the 1950’s homemaker was. I, however, am proud of that past and hope to continue to sort out the good from the bad and implement more and more of the good through learning and practice and skills.