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The 1930s Housewife

About 18 months ago I came across an unusual find on eBay. I was actually looking at old editions of women’s magazines when I stumbled on, what I consider to be, a gem.

Lots of people have done cut-out-and-keeps in magazines and newspapers in the past, but this one dates to 1937. A Manchester newspaper called the Daily Dispatch did one for housewives called ‘Home Hints Library.’ Every edition, there was a cut-out-and-keep on housework, cooking, health, children etc, which could then be kept in a binder.

Home Hints Library

The housewife who collected the ones I have didn’t manage to get them all (there is some missing.) I don’t know how long the cut-outs went on for, but this housewife managed to collect 56 of them. Each has a page and volume number.

Home Hints Library - first page

Home Hints Library

There are tips no longer needed in a modern household. For example, did you know that old tennis racquets make excellent carpet beaters? No, neither did I. But there are still some valid ideas on maintaining the home. It makes for fascinating reading, seeing what was important then to the average housewife. What are even more fascinating are the adverts. Kendals department store, Chocolate Crisp (the precursor of the Kit Kat) are just two of those that give an idea of what people were buying in the shops. One advert that made me laugh (although unintentionally) was for Cow & Gate Milk Food. The tag-line is ‘The Food of Royal Babies.’ It proudly declares that two new royal babies are being fed with Cow & Gate, taking the total to seven. Along with this are two royal ‘by appointment’ crests, one for the King of Yugoslavia, and the other for the King of Iraq.

Things have changed in 74 years, but perhaps not that much. Health, childcare and home maintenance are still a priority, and just as important to the 1930s mother and housewife. Yet there was always a pride in her skills in keeping her home nice and not spending money where it wasn’t needed. A lot of the tips given are thrifty and show how to make something last, whereas we live in such a throw-away age. It’s easy to pop to the shops and buy a cheap replacement. It’s a shame we have been groomed in such a way by corporate advertising to accept this as normal. Skills in looking after clothes, knowing how to clean them with household items, such as salt, could be considered a thing of the past. Yet it shows how inventive and adaptive a housewife had to be, something that seems to be taken away. Argumentatively it could be said that we don’t need to work so hard, with freely available cleaning fluids and wipe-down surfaces. It’s not so time-consuming with the electrical goods we have now. And yet, despite all this, attention to detail seems to have been brushed aside in the tide of making-life-easy. I guess we don’t need to make-do anymore. But I wonder if the modern housewife would feel prouder if she bought a replacement, or mended the original instead.


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