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If the old adage, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” was ever applicable, it was during the 1930s in America. The 1930s were the perfect storm for economic crisis and catastrophe. Think of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Imagine keeping a home and making do under circumstances such as these.
But this is what homemakers of the time did. Budgeting and using everything they had creatively were the watchwords for women of all ages and occupations. During this time, only 1 out of every 4 women worked outside the home and as such, homemakers carried the burden of stretching food budgets, sewing clothes, and keeping their houses and property clean. As the average family had around 4 children, women were also tasked with raising and caring for their offspring—often alone as men left to find work in different locales. Gardening, in whatever form, was also a must, as growing food kept many from enduring hunger due to food shortages.
And as with their mothers, the homemakers of the 1930s worked with routine and with seasons; especially if they were rural women. For up to 2 weeks in both spring and autumn, 1930s homemakers deep cleaned and organized their homes. Fruit cellars were scrubbed and prepared to store home-bottled fruits and vegetables. Wood was collected, chopped and stored. Gardens were either cleaned, fertilized and planted or cleaned, fertilized and put to rest for the winter. Clothes, curtains, sheets and blankets were washed, repaired and either stored or brought out of storage. And the entire house and property were emptied, polished, scrubbed and cleaned, then put back together again. By using this routine, homemakers were able to keep an inventory of their home’s particular needs, to keep things in order and repair, and plan how to survive the lean times ahead.
But the 1930s were not all stagnant gloom and doom. Families were close and knit together by the times. New inventions were making their way slowly across the country, touching even the most rural homes. Electricity became even more common place; especially in cities. New gadgets appeared, including mixers, can openers and more lucky households had electric clothes washers. Ice boxes were still prevelant in the early 1930s, but by 1935, half of the homes had refrigerators. Milk and dairy were still delivered by horse and cart but Ritz crackers, Lays potato chips and Kraft macaroni and cheese were all making their debut to those who could afford them. And to the delight of middle and upper-class women everywhere, most of their homes had an indoor bathroom with a toilet, tub and running water.
For rural women, these things were slower in coming, but by the end of the decade, the tide was turning as the country’s economy slowly improved. The strong, independent, and creative women of the 1930s were more than ready to tackle the 1940s, and the threats to the country’s freedom they and their families would now have to face.