Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Craig Eliason

Second Advisor

Heather M. Shirey

Third Advisor

Victoria Young


The 1950s housewife has been a mainstay of American visual culture, used to embody both the hopes of postwar economic opulence and the limitations of the domestic sphere that second wave feminism pushed against. This paper explores the visual representation of the 1950s housewife, analyzing her representation in advertising illustration, cover illustration, and illustrations for parenting columns. Placing these images into the context of postwar marketing practices, the impact of women’s magazines, child psychology, and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, this paper demonstrates that the housewife image was a highly malleable
image used to idealize the white, middle-class American lifestyle. Although the idealized domestic imagery featured in advertisements and cover illustration affirm Freidan’s assertion that postwar society put limitations on women, the illustrations for parenting columns offer another perspective on her critiques. Parenting columns provided a unique opportunity for illustrators to portray a more realistic conception of housewifery. Illustrators Lorraine Fox and Howard Sparber took full advantage of this opportunity, creating illustrations that portray the ups and downs of domestic life, portraying the housewife as an individual with the talent and intellect to actively engage with the developing field of child psychology. These illustrations present a
grounded depiction of housewifery that plays on the imperfections of domestic life, while also uplifting the work of the housewife. Rather than presenting the housewife as gleeful, glamorous women, or discontented, creatively stifled women, Fox and Sparber validate the struggles of domestic life and as well as the intelligence of the individual housewife.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.