The Manchester Guardian Sept21st, 1950, p.5
Many grievances and much Contentment (by a correspondent – Judith Hubback)
Before her death in July 1949, Mrs. Eva Hubback principal of Morely College of the LCC and an untiring worker for the reform of the law in favour of women and children , decided to find out some of the facts about the conditions and methods of work of English housewives and their views on the lives they lead.
With the help of the Townswomen’s Guilds, the womens’ Cooperative Guild, the Women’s Institute, the Manchester Guardian, Picture Post, and Housewife, she managed to get almost one thousand questionnaires filled up, designed to show all the facts which might together make up a picture of typical housewives.
Women Out to Work
The results now analysed show that the subject on which the greatewst number of them are united is in their enjoyment of home life and family happiness. When asked to give details on the worst features of their lives, financial worries head the list, followed closely by complaints of no leisure, drudgers, and too much work, housing conditions, washing difficulties, and bad health.
On the subject of paid work, which gives a woman scope, variety, and presumably money of her own, while 40% say they do not want it, 8 % of those questioned were working full time outside their homes, 15% doing part time paid work, 24% say they would like to undertake paid work if they had help with their housework and 21% if they had help with their children.
Those who were working and those who wished to were asked which of three stated motives influenced them: 35% said they wanted an interest outside their home, 15% that they did it to help the country’s production effort, 41% because they need the money, and 9% gave no reason.
Look at as a whole these views, various as they are, reflect the attitude of women with a rising material standard of living. They are obviously not entirely contended with a domestic existence. And important as it is that the homes of Britain should be well run, it is also valuable if the housewives are looking outwards, and not only outwards towards the cinema. In their spare time nearly half of them say they read, more than half say they sew, knit, or mend ( can either of those be called truly spare time occupations?) Social work, gardening, entertaining, visiting the theatre and friends, concerts, walking, letter writing, hobbies, outdoor games also present a picture of a reasonably civilized existence. But the reverse of this picture is given by the fact that 50% of all of them say they get unduly tired at their work.
Of these about one –fifth have one child under five years old and one- third have two children in all but only one- sixth have ywo children under five years old. It is notorious that younh children make a great deal of work and that it is very difficult for their mothers to get long enough on and away from them to feel really refreshed.
An interesting comment was made in one of the letters accompanying the forms: “I don’t think it is realized to what extent the gene rally higher standard of living, involving better care of the children, more elaborate meals etc has increased the strain on housewives though of course in some ways it has helped them.” Another correspondent pointed out three ways in which women overwork themselves: “ In the middle classes there is an unwillingness to differentiate between unnecessary conventional standards and what is desirable in order to maintain a cultured existence. More marked among working class types in the unwillingness to train the boys (and the husbands) to do housework. Thirdly there is the general assumptions that the brainy member of the family must be exempted from household chores”.
The answers to the inquiries reveal that 15% of the housewives questioned had help from their husbands during the week 20% at the week-end and from their children 17% had help in the week and 25% at the weekend.
The two letters quited above bring up to the core of the problem of women today. Thanks to the work of the early educational pioneers of a century ago and the success of the movement for political and social equality, the cause of reasonable feminism has been virtually won, These developments have had the effect of glossing over the differences between the sexes for biological reasons, there is a division of labour, but culturally women have the same needs and desires as men. The new advance must be in the direction of so organizing homelife and the education of girls that women are competent to bring up families without so much sacrifice of health and personality that they are unable to return to a broader life in middle age when they will not only contribute to the community through their work but find life worth living outside the immediate family circle.