Housewife’s Week’s Work (in 1947)

Nina Leen, [Housewife Marjorie McWeeney amid symbolic display of her week's housework], 1947

“Woman’s Dilemma,” Life, June 16, 1947, p. 105

A nice husband, three fine children keep her busy 100 hours a week.

Mrs. John McWeeney of Rye, N.Y. has a big, good-looking husband who works in a nut and bolt company, and three children, Shawn, a grave little 4-year-old; John, called “Rusty,” almost 2, and baby Mark, 4 months old. She lives in a bright new seven-room house that has a safe backyard for Shawn and Rusty to play in and a number of modern machines to help her with her household chores. She uses a diaperservice and she can afford a cleaning woman once a week who does the heavy laundry.

But even under these better than average circumstances Marjorie McWeeney’s hours are long and her work demanding. She must keep an eye on her children during their 70 waking hours a week and also watch over them when they are supposed to be in bed but may actually be popping down the stairs to ask for water or an extra goodnight kiss.

The picture [above] shows the household tasks that Marjorie must accomplish every week. She has a crib and four beds to make up each day, totaling 35 complete bed-makings a week. She has hundreds of knives, forks and utensils to wash, food to buy and prepare for a healthy family of five and a whole house to dust and sweep. . . .

Actually Marjorie’s chores are much lighter than they would have been a few generations ago. She cleans with machinery propelled by electricity, she uses food prepared in canneries, she buys clothes factory-made to fit every member of the family. But her jobs, though relieved of old-time drudgery, have none of the creative satisfactions of home baking, home preserving, home dressmaking. And, because her family unit is small with no aunts or cousins in the household, all the time she saves from housework must go into supervision of her children. Unless she makes special arrangements with a baby-sitter, she has no relief from child care.

Many women in Marjorie’s position feel that this is a life of drudgery, that it is not good for Marjorie, a graduate of a junior college, to stay with small children long, continuous hours. Marjorie herself has no desire to work outside. Because as an individual she likes the job that she does, she has no problem right now. Like most busy young housewives, however, she gives little thought to the future–to satisfactory ways of spending the important years after her children have grown up and left home.

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About erinbarnett

Assistant Curator, Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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One Response to Housewife’s Week’s Work (in 1947)

  1. Felicity says:

    Marjorie was my mother-in-law, who died a few years ago, only months before her husband John died. John “Rusty” is my husband. Always an interesting article to read, but never tells the whole story.

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