The societal expectations for married women of the American 1950s were quite a bit different from those of the current times. Married women -- and women were expected to get married -- were generally expected to stay home, have children, and take care of the household and their husband and children. They were often discouraged from working outside the home or seeking a higher education.
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Duty to Have Children
American women of the 1950s faced heavy pressure to get married and to begin having children, often right out of high school. The dominant expectation was that adult men and women would get married, and that the married woman would have several children. The family was seen as the key to happiness and as one way to "beat Communism."
Expectations to Manage Home and Children
The wife was expected to take care of the home and children, as her husband would be occupied with work and providing for the family. The woman performed childcare, shopped and cooked, cleaned the house, and was generally expected to be a "domestic goddess." In the 1950s, there was no expectation for men to help take care of children or do housecleaning, so these important tasks were shouldered by women.
Pleasing the Husband
After gaining independence during World War II, American women in the 1950s went back to more domestic roles. The war was over, the husband was home and had the job, and it was the wife's duty to try to please her husband. It was OK for her to like sex, too, as long as it was with her husband and made him happy.
Wives Were Discouraged from Working Outside of Home
In the 1950s, it was much more unusual for American women to have careers or full-time jobs outside the home than it is in the 21st century. While World War II had opened up the work world to women as valued defence factory workers, after the war ended there was a strong push from societal leaders, based on economic realities, to have women leave the workforce so there would be more employment available for returning veterans. In contrast, during this time married African American women made gains in employment, and by 1960, wives of this group ages 25 to 34 years old were 50 per cent more likely to work than white wives of the same age group, according to Susan Thistle's 2006 book "From Marriage to the Market."
A High School Diploma Was Good Enough
Women of the 1950s did sometimes attend and graduate from college, but there was the expectation that college graduates would soon get married and start a family. A high school diploma was considered "good enough" for most women. Of course some women did not follow the "rules" even then, and were even able to obtain advances degrees and attain career success with those degrees.
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- "The American People: Census 2000"; Reynolds Farley and John Haaga, Eds.; 2005
- University of Colorado at Boulder: American Women in the 1950s
- "Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era"; Elaine T. May; 1988; reissued 2008
- "From Marriage to the Market: the Transformation of Women's Lives and Work"; Susan Thistle; 2006