Lessons Magazines of the Late 1940s and 1950s Taught Women About Dating and Marriage?
The objective of this study is to examine magazine articles from popular women’s magazines in the 1940s and 1950s and answer the question of what these magazines taught women about marriage and dating.
The 1940s and 1950s were decades that were characterized by change and expansion in the roles of women in society. Popular magazines of these two decades helped to form the conceptions of women concerning dating and marriage. This is clearly evidenced in articles in these magazines.
Magazines in the 1940s
World War II began in the early 1940s and men were drafted to fight leaving gaps in the manufacturing and production lines in U.S. companies. The United States needed workers to produce supplies and during this time, women were looked toward by employers to fill these gaps. Just as had been the case during World War I, women were urged to go to work. Public opinion during this time was in general set against married women going to work however; the government and media in the United States began an aggressive campaign to bring about a change in public opinion.
The government informed women that it was not possible for the United States to realize victory in the war unless women entered into the workforce. In other words, in order to be good citizen and a patriotic person the wife should enter the workforce. The theme for September 1945 was ‘Women at Work’ with the accompanying slogan being ‘The More Women at Work the Sooner We Win’. Magazine issues were of the nature that contained “stories that glorified and promoted the placement of women into untraditional jobs” and incidentally, the jobs in which workers were needed at this time. It is stated that the idea of the government was that if the unexciting and smaller type jobs were held out to women as being more noble and attractive for entering into that more women would be compelled to join the workforce.
‘Rosie the Riveter’ was created by the media during this period. Rosie was a “mythical character” (Khalid, 2004, p.1) created for the purpose of encouraging women to enter into the workforce. Rosie was the portrayal of a patriotic woman and held out as an example of a hero for American women. Stated in the print in regards to Rose was that she “All the day long, Whether rain or shine, She’s a part of the assembly line. She’s making history, Working for victory, Rosie the RiveterThere’s something true about, Red, white and blue about, Rosie the Riveter.” (Khalid, 2004, p.1)
The magazine and government efforts at propaganda were successful in that during the war in excess of six million women entered the workforce and most of them being women who were married. While prior to the ear in 1950 only 36% of workers who were women were married however by 1945 following the war, 50% of all women who worked were married women.
Rosie the Riveter
The 1950s began a new era in which American families prospered as men returned from war and once again entered into the workforce. During this period, the government and media worked in cohesion to convince women to return to home instead of being a part of the workforce. However, as history shows the government and media were not completely successful in this endeavor because many women remained in the workforce out of economic necessity and secondly, the rise of the consumer culture began during the 1950s.
Sheridan Harvey writes in the work entitled “Rosie the Riveter: Real Women Workers in World War II” that Rosie the Riveter “was the home-front equivalent of G.I. Joe. She represents any woman defense worker. And for many women, she’s an example of a strong, competent foremother.” (Journey & Crossings Library of Congress, 2010, p.1) Harvey writes that he found something “unexpected” upon turning to Norman Rockwell’s Rise stating as follows: “It appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943 — the Memorial Day issues. This was not the tidy image in my mind. This Rosie is brawny and ‘larger-than-life’.” (Harvey, 2010, p.1)
Norman Rockwell had written the name ‘Rosie on the lunch box in his illustration’ providing a “big boost to the Rosie story. Since the Saturday Evening Post had a circulation of approximately four million in the 1940s, ‘Rosie the Riveter’ became a popular icon. This icon was one described as being a woman who is:
“big and dirty. She’s oversized, with working class brawn. She wears goggles and a shield, she has no wedding ring. On her lapel you see various pins — for blood donation, victory, her security badge. She’s wearing overalls. Women didn’t wear pants in public much before World War II; but during the war it became common to see women on the way to and from work in overalls or trousers. She’s wearing loafers. Only after July 1943 were safety shoes with metal toes produced for women. There had been no need to manufacture these shoes in women’s sizes before because women didn’t customarily work in dangerous jobs where such shoes were needed. Most women wore their own shoes. She cradles a very large riveting gun in her lap, and it links visually to Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, beneath her feet. The implication is clear: through her defense job, she will help to crush Hitler. The American flag background, red, white, and blue, adds to the patriotism of the cover. Rosie is powerful, competent, and womanly.” (Harvey, 2010, p.1)
Harvey states that there are however contradictions in the image presented by Rose in that she is:
“masculine: look at the size of her arms, which are a real focus of the cover. She’s working with a very large and heavy riveting gun. She’s dirty; she’s doing a man’s job. She’s wearing overalls, men’s clothes. Yet she’s feminine: She’s wearing rouge and lipstick. Makeup is essential to women’s mental health, according to some articles of the time. Her compact and handkerchief peek out of her pocket; she has nail polish on; her curly red hair and upturned nose feminize her; her visor almost looks like a halo, providing an angelic side to this strong woman. She is depicted eating, like these real women, an activity linked with the home and thus showing her domestic side: women/food/home. She isn’t seen working.” (Harvey, 2010, p.1)
Promoting ‘Beauty’: Pond’s Facial Cream & the Bride
The magazine ‘Good Housekeeping’ in the July 1945 issue is inclusive of at least one picture of a woman dressed in her wedding gown and the Pond’s facial cream states that the young woman in the picture is “engagedlovely..[and] she uses Pond’s.” (Nesbit, 2010) The advertisement in the magazine provides a description of the young woman’s complexion stating it is “porcelain-like in its smoothness, with a dewy young-soft look — the look so many Pond’s engaged girls seem to have.” (Nesbit, 2010) It is stated that an advertisement at the same time for Woodbury’s facial soap “takes a similar strategy, parading the courtship and wedding of the former Miss Virginia Scott. The ad includes five photos of this glamorous woman on dates and at her wedding, yet includes only one small photo of the actual product. Not only do these endorsements promote the idea that marriage is glamorous and desirable, they also ascribe a fallacious causality between soap and marital status. Apparently, a lifetime commitment requires neither hard work nor devotion, but rather Woodbury’s facial soap!” (Nesbit, 2010)
Matrimonial Biases in Magazines of the 1950s
It is reported that tainting the fashion articles of the 1950s are biases towards matrimony and specifically that the February 1955 issue of Mademoiselle contains a ten-page special section entitled ‘Fashiosn of the Heart’ which is filled with bridal gowns and bridesmaid dresses. Many issues of Mademoiselle during the 1950s are inclusive of a section entitled ‘Pretty Pregnancy’ featuring seasonal maternity clothing for women photographed artistically. The January 1955 issue of Mademoiselle is inclusive of an excerpt from the novel entitled ‘The Portrait of a Young Wife’ with an accompanying note from the editor stating that the young wife that is portrayed in the novel is one with which many of its readers will likely identify. (Nesbit, 2010, paraphrased)
Other Magazines of the 1940s and 1950s
Another magazine that attracted women readers during the 1940s and 1950s was Harper’s Bazaar, which had as its focus fashion for women. Mademoiselle was marked to “smart” and “young” women and was designed to appeal to the female college student. It is stated in the work of Nancy A. Walker entitled “Women’s Magazines 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press” that contents of the magazine during that time period “reflected its editor’s judgment of what readers were interested in and wanted to know, from choosing a college or a winter coat to attracting and feeding a husband.” (1998, p.4)
While it is not possible to actually know the precise role that each magazine played in the lives of American women during the 1940s and 1950s “there are several important indications that they had a significant part in defining women’s aspirations regarding work and family, appearance, health and happiness.” (Walker, 1998, p. 4) The first indicator is stated to be that the magazine’s expanding readership had increased circulation from several thousands to millions” (Walker, 1998, p.4) In fact, the magazines became a type of form for women in which they could speak to the magazine’s editorial staff and as well which allowed them to speak to one another.
Walker states that the “very existence of mass-circulation periodicals designed largely to instruct women in their appearance, duties and values reveals fundamental differences between attitudes toward female and male gender roles.” (Walker, 1998, p.5) In the work entitled “America in Midpassage” written in 1939 by historians Charles A. Beard and Mary Ritter Beard it is stated as follows of the magazines of that time:
“Owned and managed almost exclusively by men, as commercial enterprises, the journals for women automatically registered men’s ideas of the audience to which the appeal was directed, and their enormous circulations implied that the managers correctly gauged the women to which they supplied month by month fashion plates, fashion articles, and society gossip, tepid fiction, bloodless sentimentality, Cinderellas, Fairy Princes, directions for the use of cosmetics, advertisements of the ‘allure’.” (Walker, 1998, p. 5)
The stated objective of this study was to examine magazine articles from popular women’s magazines in the 1940s and 1950s and to answer the question of what it is precisely that these magazines taught women of the 1940s and 1950s about marriage and dating. Specifically noted in this study is the instructing of women by magazines in the 1940s and 1950s upon how they should look, dress, think, and compose themselves for the purpose of attracting men or especially for the reason of attracting a husband. The magazines of the 1940s were filled with government driven propaganda with the intention of compelling women to fill factory jobs that were vacant due to men being drafted into military service and duty and were of the nature that attempted to motivate women based on patriotic duty to their country encouraging them to enter the workforce so that American could win the war in which the country was involved during that period of time. Magazine articles of the 1940s and 1950s were used strategically by the government to bring about changes in the structure of the American Family and in the thinking patterns of women in the United States. Whether the government wanted the American women to enter the workforce or alternatively to return home from the workforce, the media in the form of magazine publishers were recruited for the purpose of furthering government sanctions agendas during the 1940s and 1950s.
The Library of Congress Rosie the Riveter: Real Women Workers in World War II http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/journey/rosie-transcript.htm
Harvey, Sheridan (2010) Rosie the Riveter: Real Women Workers in World War II. Journey & Crossings Library of Congress. 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/journey/rosie-transcript.html
Nesbit, Kate (2010) The Wedding Bell Blues: Interpreting Changing Trends in Common Perceptions of Marriage in Recent American History Through Young Women’s Magazines. 15 Apr 2010. Retrieved from:
Walker, Nancy A. (1998) Women’s Magazines: 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press. Palgrave MacMillan, 1998. Retrieved from: http://books.google.com/books?id=RGy-0uPXCFgC&dq=magazine+articles:+women+in+the+1940s+and+1950s&source=gbs_navlinks_sKhalid,
Khalid, Areeba bint (2004) How Women Were Lured Out of the Home in the U.S.A. And They Called it Women’s Liberation. Albalagh 2004. Retrieved from: http://www.albalagh.net/women/0064.shtml