The Way to a Man's Heart: Gender Roles, Domestic Ideology, and Cookbooks in the 1950s

By Neuhaus, Jessamyn | Journal of Social History, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

The Way to a Man's Heart: Gender Roles, Domestic Ideology, and Cookbooks in the 1950s


Neuhaus, Jessamyn, Journal of Social History


The way to a man's heart So we've always been told, Is a good working knowledge Of pot, pan, and mold.

The talented gal Who can whip up a pie, Rates a well deserved rave From her favorite guy.

A juicy red steak, Or a tender, fish fillet Done to a turn In a bright copper skillet

Will soothe the rough edges Of tempers, no fooling!!! And leave the man happy Contented and drooling.

- To The Bride (1956)

In the mid-1950s, the editors of To The Bride created a cookbook to advise a newlywed woman in the culinary arts and, as we can see in the above poem, to reassure the young wife that skills in the kitchen would ensure a happy married life.(1) Armed with a good pie recipe and a "juicy red steak," they counseled, a woman was ready to become a wife. In some ways, this selection from To the Bride seems to bear out the assumption that post-WWII cookbooks were part of a larger discourse that sought to limit women's roles to those of wife, mother, and homemaker. The domestic ideology of the 1950s seems vividly illustrated in the inane rhymes of these lines, which introduced a chapter coyly entitled "The Care and Feeding of Young Husbands." But can we, as historians and cultural critics, dismiss cookbooks as simply another way the "feminine mystique" was glorified in the postwar era? What, upon closer inspection, might cookbooks reveal about their role in 1950s society and the place of domestic ideology itself in postwar America?

Too often historians have echoed Betty Friedan's most famous work(2) and have characterized the postwar era as uniformly repressive, oppressive, and miserable for women. However, in the past decade, some historians have complicated this analysis. It was in many ways a repressive time, these critics argue, but there were women who were able to enact resistance strategies in the face of powerful gender ideology. Some scholars have focused on uncovering the civic life and activism of white middle-class women working in political or religious organizations and community groups.(3) Some authors point out that the political and social experiences of women of color and lesbians during the 1950s were, of course, quite different from those of white women, and require further and better historical research.(4) Others argue that a careful reading of excavated cultural artifacts supports the notion that gender and domestic ideology were not as omnipresent as Friedan suggested. Popular culture, they assert, revealed anxieties and uncertainties about domestic ideology and gender roles - uncertainties often overlooked by historians. They argue that films, television programs, and rock and roll from the 1950s presented contradictory messages about a woman's proper role in society.(5)

In the following essay, I follow the lead of these last scholars and examine another cultural artifact from the 1950s: cookbooks. I argue that a careful reading of cookbooks from the postwar years demonstrates how, at this site at least, gender ideology in the 1950s was not simply an overwhelming and omnipresent discourse demanding conformity to the domestic ideal. I examine cookbooks first published or revised any time from 1945 to 1963.(6) I cite both widely published cookbooks and lesser-known works, with the assumption that both obscure texts and best-sellers reflected the nature of domestic ideology in the 1950s. I do not claim to have drawn from an exhaustive sample: experts in the field of cookbook history note that it is probably impossible to know exactly how many cookbooks are in circulation at any one time.(7) My research sample consisted of about one hundred texts, housed mainly in the Los Angeles Public Library and the Hunnold Library in Claremont, California, and was comprised mostly of cookbooks published by corporations for promotional purposes (including Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book). I limited the books authored by individuals to those documented as popular in terms of sales or those which exemplified a certain genre of cookery text, such as books aimed at new brides or barbecue cookbooks.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Way to a Man's Heart: Gender Roles, Domestic Ideology, and Cookbooks in the 1950s
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.