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MOOC WHAW2.4x | 16.1-S June Cleaver and Leave It To Beaver

MOOC WHAW2.4x | 16.1-S June Cleaver and Leave It To Beaver


– I expect you’re all familiar
with the traditional story. Let’s call it the story
of the suburban family best reproduced in the TV situation comedy Leave it to Beaver, where the domestic ideal is celebrated. Let it to Beaver wasn’t alone. Think of shows like The
Donna Reed Show, for example, or I Love Lucy. But June Cleaver was a
particular icon in the 1950s, perhaps the most watched
show of the decade. She had a handsome husband, a comfortable house in the suburbs, two sons aged almost eight and eleven. The youngest of these
was nicknamed, Beaver. This was a comedy. A family romance, if you like, about an affluent
suburban mother’s efforts to deal with her growing sons. June Cleaver demonstrated
the ideal living patterns for new generations of middle
income suburban housewives. On screen she was played
by Barbara Billingsley. Notice that she’s wearing pearls, a badge of affluence and good breeding. Her stage husband, a handsome
man, made a good living, enough to provide well for the family and to give them
comfortable summer holidays in a neat summer cabin on the
shores of a Minnesota lake. June is dedicated to her family. Her interests outside the home are confined to social events, like weddings or school
meetings and plays. She has ladylike past
times like needlepoint, cake decorating and arranging tea roses. When the boys arrive home from school, Wikipedia tells us, June
can be found in the kitchen chopping salad vegetables,
basting a roast or icing a cake. Her kitchen is always immaculate. Like most TV middle class
sitcom families of the era, the Cleavers ate breakfast
and lunch in the kitchen. Dinners were full-scale
affairs in the dining room, replete with cloth, not paper napkins. Instructed and guided by
glossy women’s magazines like the Ladies Home
Journal and Family Circle, the suburban housewife learned how to furnish and run her home, what kinds of meals to
present to their families, and how to rear children. Bruce and Beatrice Gould,
the husband and wife team who edited the Ladies Home
Journal from the 1930s through the 1950s, exalted women’s work, by which they meant, the
work women did in the home. “We certainly had many articles showing how important women’s work
was,” they told an interviewer. “Even to the extent once,
that we had an article showing that if a woman were being paid for what she did around the house, she would get $12,000 a year.” In the 1950s, that would have been a
very good salary indeed. In fact, the average
housewife got room and board and a spending allowance
that generally reflected her husband’s income. Missing from the scenario
were rising pressures on the family. The demand to live a lifestyle
that required automobiles, telephones and television
sets, as well as a range of consumer items, like refrigerators, new electric appliances, vacuum cleaners, encouraged to women to help their husbands by earning something, if only a little. Paying off a mortgage and saving for a child’s college education stressed all but the
most affluent families. Most male bread winners couldn’t meet the every expanding needs of families. And though men often resisted their wives income earning activities, families quickly learned
that a little extra help might make a big
difference in family life. The puzzle remains, were women
content to remain at home or to take poorly paid work, because they really imagined themselves to be better wives and mothers
if they didn’t earn wages, or were they working in these jobs, because they were still constrained by what in the 19th century you’ll remember we called coverture. What was the role of custom and culture? A custom and culture that defined femininity and women’s
personas in terms of the caring and nurturing roles that
the family required.

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