The Housewife and the Modern: The Home and Appearance in Women's Magazines, 1954 - 1969

  • Rachel Ritchie

Student thesis: Phd


In 1957 a number of women's organizations were involved in planning a government-sponsored Festival of Women - an event that indicates contemporary awareness of and interest in the changing position of women. This study is similarly concerned with the position of women in the 1950s and 60s, relating constructions of the 'modern' woman in women's magazines to post-war developments, such as increasing levels of consumption and changing leisure patterns. There are two major themes in the thesis: the housewife and the modern. The study illustrates the centrality of 'the housewife' while accentuating the breadth and complexity of post-1945 women's roles and identities, with a focus on two sites pivotal to constructions of femininity in women's magazines: the home and appearance. The study also explores how women's magazines shaped the modern, emphasizing the range of ways in which this notion was constructed and understood. The concept of social capital is used to examine the significance of the modern, looking at why it was so important and its connection with ideas of exclusion and belonging.The study looks at two magazines. Home and Country was the magazine of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, and hence it targeted rural women. Woman's Outlook, on the other hand, was the Women's Co-operative Guild magazine, aimed at working-class Guild members. Through comparisons between the two and with Woman, a mass-circulation weekly magazine, the thesis demonstrates that their respective rural and Co-operative identities were distinctive features that contrast with the urban and mass consumption viewpoints evident in other titles. These rural and Co-operative identities heavily influenced the perspectives of the organizational magazines and created alternative visions of the modern. The relationship of these features to post-war British modernity has received little attention, with historians' focus on the urban and the individual consumer positioning the countryside and the Co-operative movement as antithetical to the modern. However, this study reveals that rural and Co-operative interpretations of the modern enhance and develop understandings of key themes in 1950s and 60s British history such as national identity, consumer culture, generation and age. The thesis situates Home and Country and Woman's Outlook within broader social and cultural networks and shows the extent to which women's magazines operated as cultural intermediaries. The study also engages with a number of intersecting bodies of literature, such as revisionist accounts of domesticity and recent work on women's organizations, and contributes to various discussions including housing in post-war Britain and feminist analyses of fashion and beauty. This multifaceted investigation generates new insights into both the housewife and the modern, insights which offer a more complex and nuanced account of 1950s and 60s Britain and the position of women.
Date of Award31 Dec 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPenny Summerfield (Supervisor) & Laura Doan (Supervisor)


  • interiors
  • women
  • 1960s
  • 1950s
  • Britain
  • the home
  • appearance
  • consumption
  • fashion
  • beauty
  • modern
  • modernity
  • housewife
  • Women's Co-operative Guild
  • Women's Institute

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