A Defense of 1950s Housewives

I believe that women are inherently as valuable as men and that impositions put upon them because of their sex are crimes. But I don’t believe this because of politics, I believe it because of experience.

Young people these days know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that women before 1970 or so were suppressed, deprived of education, and legally raped by their husbands. Questioning this dogma can be dangerous.

But I’m telling you the dogma is false. My mom, her friends, and many other women I knew were not dupes, cowards, weaklings, and victims. Whoever wishes to can hate me for this, but I was there and I know what I saw… and I will defend the women I loved.

What I Know And You May Not

Yes, women have been mistreated over the centuries and still are. Ask a young woman how many of her peers have been sexually assaulted; you may be shocked by her answer. But that doesn’t mean that abusing women was acceptable before 1970.

Were some wives treated badly? Of course. Women have been mis-treated over all of human history, but so have men been mistreated, and children too. We have large human problems to fix, and they manifest themselves all across the human spectrum.

I lived through the housewife era. I knew a significant number of such women, and knew a large number of men and women whose births stretched back into the 1870s.

So, I had a lot of direct experience with women of that era. What I’m writing here concerns what I personally saw and experienced. Here are some essential points:

They were generally not forbidden education.

Forbidding education was and remains a despicable thing. It’s that way in Afghanistan, but it wasn’t that way in America between 1900 and 1970. Boys and girls had fairly equal access to grammar school and high school. I don’t think I knew any housewife who hadn’t graduated high school. Furthermore, there were literally hundreds of women’s colleges. My mom went to one; so did many other women. One of my aunts, born in about 1890, was a highly successful lawyer. There were indeed cases of denial, such as the one Emmy Noether had to overcome, but it wasn’t all oppression and evil, as the narrative maintains.

Women like my mom wouldn’t have stood for outright exclusion. These were intelligent housewives with the ability to carve out some free time… they could be a powerful force if someone or something got them angry.

They voted.

Prior to 1920 voting was forbidden to women in some US states, but many others, especially in the west, had long allowed women to vote. In 1920 it was mandated for all women in all states. My mother could vote as soon as she came of age, as could my grandmothers.

They were economically essential.

Before I get to details, allow me to dispense with the theory that a lack of “economic value” (that is, a job) made women powerless creatures who could be tormented without recourse. That theory rests on a Marxist posit that the lowest kind of economic power – the mere possession of dollars – dictates who can abuse whom.

Bypassing the false and insulting assumptions implied by that belief, you can check it by finding an anarcho-capitalist or a voluntaryist – the purest of free-market capitalists – and ask if they think only monetary transactions matter. They’ll look at you like you’re nuts.

Money as God is something only Marxists and maniacs really believe.

I’ll illustrate this point with a very stark example; that of a rural housewife in a poor family, during the early years of the 20th century… and with an abusive husband.

The woman in this situation, however, was not a confirmed victim. Here’s why and how:

First of all, the housewife was absolutely necessary. Husbands who lost their wives would generally be ruined, and quickly. You cannot, by yourself, farm your land, get the crop to market, feed your children, cook your meals, pay your land mortgage, wash and mend everyone’s clothes, tend a vegetable garden, carefully preserve and store your excess crops, and so on. Men who lost wives in those days had to remarry promptly. If not, disaster followed.

While this wife had no economic value in the “measurable as GDP” sense, she had tremendous real value, and thus leverage if she needed it.

And the woman in this story did need leverage. After being beaten up and telling her husband that she wouldn’t stand for it, the brute came home drunk and beat her again. So she waited until he passed out in their bed, then got out her sewing kit. She sewed the sheets together all the way around him, leaving him drunk and bagged. Then she pulled out her iron skillet and beat the hell out of him.

So, when the rotten husband sobered-up and healed-up, did he kill the wife? Nope, he went back to his chores as if nothing happened. Except, of course, that he stopped slapping her around.

Again, consider his situation: If he killed the wife, he and his children would be going hungry by the time the funeral was over. (Even confirmed bastards dislike watching their children starve… or at least being a public failure.) On top of that, he’d have to face the revulsion of the other men in the community.

However undeveloped they may be, most men have an instinct about hurting women… as in, we are disgusted by it. The man who is known to abuse his wife is excluded from the company of decent males. You can either trust me on this or call me a liar, but I’ve spent decades in gyms and on construction sites, with thousands of men. I’m telling you that nearly all of us detest a guy who beats his wife.

So, for the woman of our example or for the better-off women of my mom’s place and time, being a housewife was not to be powerless. And yes, that’s a true story.

My mom paid all the bills and did the family accounting. When it was necessary, she set me up to manage the house and went out to work. Once my parents had some money she managed the investments; it was she who called the stockbroker and coordinated real estate purchases.

Most housewives believed themselves to be in a partnership with their husbands, and they were not delusional. Daily life was a lot harder as you go backwards, and two people were quite necessary to run a family. Home Economics was a serious course of studies in those days, not the joke it’s been portrayed as more recently.

Marital rape was always considered degenerate.

Young people are under the impression that marital rape was acceptable fifty years ago. I’m telling you that it was not. Anyone who spoke in support of such a thing would have made themselves an instant outcast.

Were there marital rape laws? Yes, there were some. How they became law I don’t know, but politicians have always been buffoons. So what if a few of them passed some insane edicts? Political stupidity has always been.

I lived through quite a bit of the Ozzie And Harriet era, and I never heard of marital rape. It was a non-issue.

The were not kept at home.

All those millions of nurses were clearly not kept at home. Nor were the switchboard operators, secretaries, typists, housekeepers, clerks and so on.

Forcing a women to remain at home deserves condemnation, but that was in no way a universal problem. Did husbands and wives fight about how to arrange things? Of course they did; they still do. But to claim enslavement is simply false. Given that there were millions of families, it must have happened, but I never saw it.

There were, back to at least 1900, large numbers of women who worked. (My great, great grandmother was a highly regarded nurse.) Not every career path was open to women, which was stupid, but lots of women did lots of things.


So, what I’m telling you is this:

Women of my mother’s generation were not the pitiful characters they are made to appear. They faced obstacles, but pushed forward and made just as much progress as the current generation of women, perhaps more.

On top of that, women of my mom’s era had options that are forbidden by the modern narrative. Under the narrative, seeking a husband and children – the number one choice of women from time immemorial – is excluded, demeaned and punished.

According to the narrative, Grandma and your want-a-family-now sister are not valid women. That’s not a way to move forward, it’s a way to setup an abusive clique.

The vast majority of housewives were not (and are not) doormats. Grandma’s generation brought women to where they are now, and trashing their memory is just another kind of abuse.

The goal is clear: women should be unrestrained because of their sex. The modern narrative, however, cuts women off from their actual benefactors (like Grandma) and turns them against one another.

We can all do better.


Paul Rosenberg