Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Romantic Mid Century

I have always said I should have lived in a time different from my own. I have always said that I should have lived in the 1940's or 50's. To me, life seemed simpler and far more swank.

Take for instance vintage tablecloths. If I could, I wish I could have been woven into their screen printed threads to hear the decades of stories; to hear the conversations over coffee between two neighbors, to feel jelly smooshed into my fibers by tiny fingers enjoying a peanut butter sandwich, to feel the loneliness of a housewife waiting up for her husband to get home from work. How it must have felt to hang free and clean from a clothes line flapping in the wind, all the while listening to the conversations of children hiding between me and my bedspread counterpart.

I also have several vintage hats. With no real purpose except to accentuate the perfectly powdered nose and painted bright red lips, these hats are true works of art. Sculptures made from felt, velvet, satin, and fur; set precisely on beautifully coifed heads and pierced with ornate hat pins. And all of this to go to the grocery store. Hats were a matter of pride, pride in one's appearance and stature. Pride in being a woman. Perhaps they were also a shield for what lay beneath the surface, an intricately stitched facade with matching coat and gloves.

So was life really easier? I found the following info at It's a glance at the major policy changes for a women during the mid century era. Let's not forget that only 18 years earlier we were finally allowed to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. I think women had a few things to think about:

1938 The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes minimum wage without regard to sex.

1947 The U.S. Supreme Court says women are equally qualified with men to serve on juries but are granted an exemption and may serve or not as women choose.

1961 The U.S. Supreme Court upholds rules adopted by the state of Florida that made it far less likely for women than men to be called for jury service on the grounds that a “woman is still regarded as the center of home and family life.”

1963 The Equal Pay Act is passed by Congress, promising equitable wages for the same work, regardless of the race, color, religion, national origin or sex of the worker.

1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes including a prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.

Basically, if you wanted to work and and wanted to be treated fairly, you were screwed. So you are a stay at home mom and there's a 21.53 % chance that there is no vehicle in your household. There is a 56.94% chance ( that there is only one car in your household and more than likely your husband has it at work. Lonely? Perhaps...

I know my car is my escape.

It's my escape from the never ending laundry, the bills, the vacuuming, the "to do's" that never seem to get done. Would I be a better housekeeper if I had no car? I don't know. And let's not forget the technology that wouldn't be available: no computers, no cell phones, no cable/satellite tv (possibly no tv at all). You had to have a few bucks to afford the new electric vacuums, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and washing machines. If not, well, get out your brooms Ladies 'cause your man's gonna be home soon and he wants a clean house!

But, they were women, and women are ingenuitive. One of my favorite movie lines is from Dangerous Liasons. The Marquise (played by Glenn Close) is commenting on the social situation of women in 18th Century France.

Marquise de Merteuil: Well I had no choice, did I? I'm a woman. Women are obliged to be far more skillful than men. You can ruin our reputation and our life with a few well-chosen words. So of course I had to invent not only myself but ways of escape no one has every thought of before. And I've succeeded because I've always known I was born to dominate your sex and avenge my own.

Well, I'm not so sure that mid century women had it much better (wigs were optional so that counts for something). So many women were in the same boat of cultural predjudice that women's clubs abounded. Opportunities to get together and feel better about the situation in which they found themselves. Coffee over that vintage table cloth was therapy, the chance to release some of that loneliness and frustration.

Or perhaps, they were just too damn tired to be frustrated or lonely. You've probably seen this article. If not read it. I think you can click on it to make it bigger.

So with hats, gloves, laundry, sexism, and bright red lipstick, what's not to love about the American Mid Century? Can't say I want to go back and relive it. But I wouldn't say "no" to a visit or two!


Victoria said...

Yup--you hit the nail right on the head. I'd visit, but I'd never go back. It's interesting what a fantasy-version of the 1950's as a "Golden Age" has grown up---one that shoves all of its dark bits under the rug. It was definitely not a "Golden Age" for many, many people--not that it didn't have it's good points, but life was certainly not a sitcom (upon which a lot of our notions of The Fifties are based anyway).

The column (which I'd read somewhere before) is also interesting in that we can read it and be appalled, but still....many of those concepts are hard to die, even among our generation who were not even born in the 40's and 50's, but who absorbed them from our parents who were. You know--the ideas that men's work is somehow more difficult and valuable (this even when both partner work outside the home); that they should be able to come home and turn off for the rest of the evening, while women just start another round of work, etc., etc.

Stacie said...

Sorry to all about the reposting ( I don't know how your "reader" shows this). But if I find a typo I have to fix it. Call it an illness. I'll try and not reread the post anymore.

The Green Stone Woman said...

I'm not struck by nostalgia. I always find the time in which I'm living to be the best time of all. I guess I'm not very romantic and would not trade my life with that of a housewife of the 40's. I'd rather commit suicide. I think they had tough lives and suffered a lot in silence. All the restrictions would have suffocated me.

Stacie said...

Me too Green Stone Woman. I would've ended up running away!

Sarena Shasteen said...

I know I am from a different time too. I think I could live without modern technology since everything would be on that level. I am such the 50s housewife. I love the cooking and cleaning and just simply taking care of my guys. I know it seems kinda sick, but it is what I like to do.

Stacie said...

Sarena, it is not sick. I think I would feel better about it if I liked to keep the house clean...but I don't. Of course I
WANT it clean but unfortunately just wanting it clean doesn't make it so... Believe me. I've tried. And there are so many women who really do enjoy all of it. I enjoy most of it but I still need to get out and take a ride in my car!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

When people talk about the "good old days of the 40s and 50s" I always say, "sure--unless you were black or a woman!"

Oh My Goddess said...

It's kind of weird, but I think we as women still are doing all of those things but for different reasons.
I have thought a lot about the "women's movement" that I lived through as a child.
I'm not sure it got us to where they thought they were leading all of us.
We seem to be something less if we are not excelling at being an executive in the office, and a perfect wife/mother at home.

Sorry to be on my blogging box over here. I may pick it up over at my place.

This is a great post!

Stacie said...

Thanks Goddess! If you ever need a soapbox, you can borrow mine as my husband says that i am on mine a little too often...hmmm sounds like mid century macho crap to me!

Louise said...

I love being home. I wish I didn't need a car. I never escape; I only run the most vital errands that have to be run. I think I could have handled it--especially without worrying about jury duty! (But could I have the same, enlightened husband, please?)

ethelmaepotter! said...

I have a half-written post somewhere on this very subject, and you have inspired me to go back and finish it. You're absolutely right about "the good old days." And the "good wife?" OMG. She knows her place; her conversation isn't as important as his; she is there for the sole purpose of making life easier for her husband. OMG!!!
Thanks for such a thought-provoking piece.

Stacie said...

Louise- I know several women who are like you. I wish I was. but I like getting out. I don't think that I could stay at a home everyday. I think if I had my own space to be creative, it would be better but we are out of room!

Ethel- LOVE the name of your blog BTW!! Who knewy? I am inspiring!! Get to work on that blog!!