By Ashley Yarbrough
I often feel I was born during the wrong time period. I really love the modern medicine and technology of today. It’s amazing in so many ways, and I don’t envy the struggles of those before us who are the reason we have these amazing luxuries. However, I can’t help but feel like we are missing some unnoticed luxuries now that women need to work more, sometimes causing a struggle for balance at home, and food processing is so rampantly causing more and more disease and sickness. I felt reminded of these ‘small luxuries’ when I watched Call the Midwife on Netflix. The show gives a great window into the past, showing the struggle of women and mothers of the time, but also the great qualities of the 1950s in England.
Women during this time period rarely went to university. Instead, the expectation was to get married, manage the home, and raise the children. This affected what teachers sought to teach them. Instead of today’s classes in school that focus on academics, schooling at the secondary level during this time also taught girls cookery, management of a household, sewing, ironing, and how to parent and support a husband. While these lessons were definitely valuable for helping women learn the skills to care and support their future families, the downside of this focus was women often could not support themselves if something happened to their husbands or if they needed to leave an abusive marriage.
The houses and food during this time were also different from today. Central heating was not available, so they relied on coal and electric heat for their homes during the cold winters. Hot water bottles in the beds, heavy dressing gowns, and slippers were necessities. Clothing was often homemade. Women recycled the clothing for seasonal wear and to fit the children as they grew. They would unravel and re-knit or darn as needed, skills learned at home and through their schooling. Since freezers were not yet available for home use and food processing did not match today’s, women usually had to visit shops daily on foot (most families did not have cars yet, although motorbikes were becoming popular). However, there were regular deliveries of milk, bread, and meats from the local shops. They recycled bottles for a few pence. Men and boys would do the deliveries and buy old clothes, mend pots and pans, and sell lemonade and sodas. Today’s cleaning products far surpass the ability of the products during this time, so between the cleaning and walking women had to do, along with the lack of sweet and salty foods, they did not need to visit a gym.
Overall, the women of the 1950s definitely had a busy and tough job in keeping house. I do not envy not having my modern washing machines, especially when women during this time had to wash diapers! I also don’t envy how trapped a woman could be because of culture, opportunity for work, and education. The medicine? Improving, but horrible! Call the Midwife looks into the thalidomide drug, and I spent episode after episode sobbing on my couch. It also depicts a character who struggles with polio.
I wish we could rethink our food system and our expectation for what family balance and preparation looks like. How important is focusing solely on academics vs. managing a family (for both men and women)? How many skills are we losing since the balance at home is so different? Should food processing and longevity really focus on the sugar and chemicals when we have so much access to household freezers and canning now? Also… the dresses. I would so wear those dresses.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ashley Yarbrough is a writer, mother, teacher, gardener, and many other things. She writes about it all here. Feel free to take a look!