Keeping House in the 50s

By Sandra Sylvester | May 05, 2014
Evangeline Sylvester, 1956

Knox County — In honor of Mother’s Day and my mother’s birthday which also fell in May, I bring you a look at how our mother’s kept house in the 50s when I was a teenager.

This is a picture of my mother, Evangeline in 1956. It’s a typical shot of women in that era. I think this shot was taken when my folks, and my sister-in-law’s folks, the Keizers, went to visit my brother Harlan and his wife, Kay, when they lived in Texas while Harlan was in the Air Force.

My mother kept a clean and orderly home and she was one terrific cook. As my father was mainly a meat and potato man, we ate hardy every day when he came home from the Cement Plant. Dinner, or Suppah, as we called it was served at the same time every night and we all sat down at the kitchen table to eat together or we didn’t eat. Once the dishes were washed and put away and the kitchen was again orderly, you were on your own if you came home late. And you’d better not mess up her now perfectly clean and orderly kitchen in the process of finding something to eat.

My mother could put together a holiday meal, such as a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, and have everything ready, hot, and ready to eat at the same time without the convenience of a microwave. She did get upset though if everyone didn’t sit down when she called them. “Everyone, come and sit down before this food gets cold,” she would say.

When it came to housekeeping, she was like an efficient machine. No maid you could hire could have done a better job. Tasks were usually delegated a day during the week. The wash was done on Monday, the ironing on Tuesday. Most things were ironed, including my Dad’s undershorts and the bed sheets. There was no permapress.

Remember the old wringer-washing machine? It took a long time to run each item through the wringer. (See a picture on the blog space.)

Cleaning aids consisted of a bottle of Chlorox, a spray bottle of Windex, SOS or Brillo pads, and maybe some Vinegar. Scrubbing powders in a can were used for the sink and bathtub.

I found a video of an enactment of an article found in Good Housekeeping for May 1956, called “Good Wife’s Guide.” I don’t know of any women who followed these suggestions in that era, but it did perpetuate the idea of “a woman’s place” at that time. Madison Avenue did a good job of keeping women where they belonged, “in the home,” and from advancing in our society as individuals who knew how to do more than clean house, cook, and raise children. The women’s magazines at that time like Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and others also set women up as failures in anything but working in the home.

See this video at YouTube: “Good Wife’s Guide”

The ads at that time most always showed a woman wearing an apron and doing some chore in the home.

My mother and our dear Aunt Virginia kept up a sisterly rivalry when it came to keeping a clean house. I remember one day when Aunt Virginia was visiting and she said to my mother, “Now, Evangeline, you’d better dust off the top of that refrigerator. I think I see some dirt up there.” Of course my mother grabbed the first rag she could find and proceeded to wipe it off. And you know that Aunt Virginia was only teasing her. They were like that with each other.

Keeping a clean and efficiently run household was important to women in those days, to be sure. A woman who didn’t do “her work” at home was often looked down upon by her housewife peers. My mother never failed in her “home work” and only later did we realize what a difference her “work” made in our lives. Keeping her house orderly, kept us in order too. We benefitted from her example of “work first and play later.”

I miss calling her up on the phone to ask her help in some chore or other or with a recipe I remember from years past.

To honor her memory I share with you and your mother one of my favorite recipes of hers:


Put together:

1 pkg. seeded raisins

(if you can’t find them, unseeded will work just fine)

2 c. cold water

½ tsp. salt

2 c. sugar

½ c. shortening

Put on stove and boil 5 minutes. Cool thoroughly then add:

2 tsp. soda (I assume this is baking soda)

2 tsp. cloves

2 tsp. cinnamon

4 cups flour

Bake in 350 degree oven. Makes two loaves.


Enjoy. Thanks for listening.

(To see more pictures and the video mentioned, go to









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