Women’s Roles in the 1950s

By: Nina Stoneham

Women’s roles were greatly changed in the 1950s, with the men coming back from war and taking their jobs back. Women had, during World War II, taken men’s jobs while they had been away at war. After the war, many women wanted to keep their jobs. Many of them became wives and mothers as the men came back from the war.  In 1957, 70% of working women held clerical positions, assembly lines or service jobs. 12 % held a profession and 6% held management positions. Those that held professional jobs worked as nurses and teachers. They found themselves taking care of the house and of their children.

Many of the advertisements in the magazines and T.V. shows somewhat defined the role of motherhood. They were constantly aimed at feminine concerns because women were normally the ones that were buying the products for the house. T.V. shows such as “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” set an example of how normal “American” life should be. These advertisements often times showed smiling women with their arms loaded with cooked food, or a women cleaning house and looking happy and content to be doing that and nothing else. These were dedicated housewives whose only goal in life was to meet the pleasures of their husband and children. Society believed women fit this role and it should be the goal for women. On the contrary, few women assumed this role completely.  New appliances that were being made allowed women to spend less time in their house. Women could then explore other interests besides home and family, such as going to college. 

The number of girls who entered college dropped during the 50s. Many women left college early to marry after the war and other women who did stay were not planning on working toward a job. They were planning on a quiet life after college with their husbands and tending house. In fact, Lynn White, president of Mills College said that “the curriculum for female students should prepare women to foster the intellectual and emotional life of her family and community” (Educating Our Daughters by Lynn White). Female students were encouraged to take special courses that got them ready for home life such as interior decoration and family finance. Many women applied for jobs regardless of what society thought of them. Getting a job required more work. Because those women were putting all their time into their work, they had less time to spend at home.

Some people became worried that because the women weren’t at home all the time, they thought that children might be being deprived of a parent. Social commentators said that because of this, women were in fact endangering the family by not being there for their children and husbands. The husband wasn’t always at home all the time either because he might have been away in the city. Life went on regardless with the wives buying all the purchases at home and making all the family’s finances. The husbands bought the groceries and because he had the car he could also drive he children around as well. Since the husbands were away at work all the time the wives would have to do a lot of the manual work around the house. These changes in the home may not have been considered as positive but they were for the women. Women really progressed in the fifties with finding new job opportunities and finding their place in society. Not necessarily the role of the happy and obliging housewife but a role of a woman who has helped out in the war and who has risen above society’s standards. She has kept the family up in times of war and peril, such as the Great Depression. Now after the war, she has maintained her role in society and her courage to face a new America. 

Information from:

“Women’s Roles in the 1950s.” American Decades. Vol. 6. 2001. 278-280. Gale Group. 2005. 16 July 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com>.