Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Women's Roles as Reflected in Advertising, 1930's through 1950's: Mid-Century Women's History in a Nutshell

If you want to know what women were supposed to be doing, all you have to do is look at the advertising for an era. Call it advertising, call it propaganda; the lines blurred between those 2 things to set the tone for the nation.

Here's a WPA poster from the 30's, encouraging women to apply for jobs as "domestics."

So you could wash your dishes at home, and then go wash someone else's. Lucky you! At least you got paid for it; you weren't slave labor. (I found this gem, above, at Vintagraph. You can order prints of this and other great images there.)

A few years later, and they'd be making posters encouraging women to take jobs that were thought of as "man's work," because of the war. Even in this day and age, there are few of us who haven't heard of "Rosie the Riveter." Here are some of her sisters at work. Talk about empowered! This was a step up.

The War turned the tide for women in the workplace, but of course we were "asked" to go back to the kitchen when the men came back from the war. (It was our patriotic and wifely duty to give them back their jobs, so they'd have a sense of purpose. Never mind what happened to ours.) The war machine turned into the consumer goods machine, and created the wonderful domestic tools that would soften the blow of being sent back to the kitchen.

Doesn't she look HAPPY?! The next decade would be that of "Mrs. Robinson," the bored (house)wife who resorts to pills to cure her depression and ennui.

How does advertising work now? Are we still that malleable, or have we become savvy and jaded enough to see when we're being manipulated? I wonder. Maybe if we all have jobs that are fulfilling, the advertising becomes irrelevant? But how do we all reach that happy mecca of satisfaction? Is it possible? The modern world certainly raises questions that earlier generations never conceived of...


  1. Wow, Vintagraph is amazing. Now I want every print on there.

  2. Yeah, I'm a sucker for vintage graphics, especially from the Depression and WWII. I keep finding little treasures like Vintagraph online, but I never order anything... we don't have enough wallspace in our tiny house!

  3. Have you been in to The Frame Shop on Buffalo lately? I was there today (like hundreds of others in Ithaca, to pick up my framed Obama poster) and they had a nice selection of vintage vegetable ads, and some art deco-y looking foreign prints (ad?).

  4. Hi Karen - I am almost never downtown in Ithaca anymore; thanks for the tip!


Thanks for stopping by for a chat!