Monday, November 5, 2018

17 Vintage Photos Documenting a Day in the Life of a 1940s Housewife

In 1941, LIFE magazine sent photographer William C. Shrout to document the lives of one of the biggest single demographics in the U.S: the 30 million housewives who did most of the washing, made beds, cooked meals and nursed almost all the babies of the nation, with little help, no wages and no other jobs.

They are responsible for making a greater number of attractive homes, raising better-fed and clothed children and managing the highest standard of mass home living that the world has ever known.

The magazine chose Jane Amberg from Kanakee, Illinois as its subject, a modern, young, middle-class housewife. Around 1927, she went on a blind date with Gilbert Amberg. Three years later they were married, when Jane was 21.

LIFE documented the jobs Jane performed to make sure their household ran smoothly. It represented the responsibilities of millions of other American women a the time: seamstress, chauffeur, laundress, chambermaid, cook, dishwasher, waitress and nurse. In Jane's case, a maid came in occasionally to vacuum the floor and wash the windows, at $0.35 per hour.

Through all of this, Jane had to be her husband's "best girl" outside the home. Once per week, the couple went to dinner, the movies or visited friends. They also entertained at home.

Jane busy straightening up before launching into some heavy cleaning 
with dust mop and carpet sweeper.

Jane making one of the four beds she does daily, after doing breakfast 
dishes and getting the kids to school.

Jane scrubbing the bathtub in bathroom at home.

Jane with Peter, Tony and Pamela, as they go to the drugstore to buy ice 
cream cones, after the boys had haircuts at local barbershop in town.

Jane using pop-up toaster, as she makes sandwiches for her three 

Jane conferring with a mechanic at gas station about the car she uses to 
chauffeur her husband to and from his office, plus get the children back and 
forth to school.

Jane mending a pair of socks as she lounges in bedroom while listening to 
her favorite jazz records during her leisure hours (time with out kids).

Jane loading the automatic washing machine with several days' dirty 
clothes, in basement at home.

Jane bathing her daughter Pamela, 4, before dressing her for bed at 

Jane standing on ladder to place special china plate as decoration above 
the doorway in the living room, which she decorated herself, as her son Tony 
plays on the floor.

Jane rapping admonishingly on the window in the background as she 
oversees her kids Peter, 7, climbing the slide ladder, while Tony, 5, blocks 
the slide, and Pamela gets kicked out of the tent while playing with a 
neighbor's children.

Jane prepares for a dinner party.

Jane chatting with her dinner guests Mr. Bert Miller and wife, as her 
husband Gilbert stands behind her, carving a roast beef to be served at the 

Jane shushing her husband Gilbert, as they sit having a quiet 6:30 a.m. 
breakfast before their three kids wake up, in the kitchen at their home.

Jane serving lunch to her husband Gilbert, who has come home from the 
office a few minutes away, and her ever-present kids.

Jane posing with her husband of 11 years, Gilbert, and their three kids 
Pamela, 4, Tony, 5, and Peter, 7, in front of the large two-story house they 

Jane dancing with her husband Gilbert (third from left) amidst other 
couples at their country club's formal dance. 

(Photos by William C. Shrout/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images, via 

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