Category Archives: 1950s

“Perfect Wives In Ideal Homes”: British women in the 1950s

images“Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story of Women in the 1950s” by Virginia Nicholson, Viking, 2015

Virginia Nicholson tells the story of women in the 1950s: a time, when divorce spelled scandal, two-piece swimsuits caused mass alarm and the only thing women were expected to do after finishing school, was to get married.

The book reconstructs the real 1950s, through the eyes of the women who lived it. Step back in time to where a shining doorstep was one of the signs of a good housewife leaving in this house, where young smart women just couldn’t imagine they actually had the possibility to enter a college or university and where having a TV set at home was yet a  luxury.

Perfectly structured book with lots of examples of first-person experience and from literature and popular culture.

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Leila Williams, one of the many heroines of the book,  won the 1957 Miss Great Britain title.

Eric Morley, the founder of Miss Great Britain contest, stated very definite parameters for the ideal British beauty:

“…would have to be at least five feet five inches tall (ideally 5 feet 7 1/5 inches), weigh between eight stone ten pounds and nine stone six…”.

But for Leila this was a way of escaping from the environment she didn’t like, working at the pub in Birmingham.

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Donkey stone was a type of scouring block, used mostly in the mill towns of the North of England to clean stone steps. The ‘donkey brand’ was originally the trade mark of a Manchester company called Edward Read & Son, who were one of several makers of the stones. Other companies used other animal designs or simple lettering, but the name ‘donkey stone’ stuck. Donkey stones were first used in textile mills to clean greasy steps, and give them a non-slip finish. However the stones also became popular with housewives who would use them to give doorsteps a decorative finish. Quite often the stones would be given out in exchange for old clothes or scrap metal, by rag totters, or rag and bone men as they were sometimes called.

Learn about other interesting 1950s realities and remarkable women in this captivating book.

Available for borrowing at the British Book Centre.

Also in the library: “Best Of British” vintage magazine about Britain’s past and culture.