A Series of Vintage Photos Documented a Day in the Life of a 1940s Housewife

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In 1941, LIFE magazine sent photographer William C. Shrout to document the lives of one of the biggest single demographics in the U.S: the 30 million housewives who did most of the washing, made beds, cooked meals and nursed almost all the babies of the nation, with little help, no wages and no other jobs.

They are responsible for making a greater number of attractive homes, raising better-fed and clothed children and managing the highest standard of mass home living that the world has ever known.

The magazine chose Jane Amberg from Kanakee, Illinois as its subject, a modern, young, middle-class housewife. Around 1927, she went on a blind date with Gilbert Amberg. Three years later they were married, when Jane was 21.

LIFE documented the jobs Jane performed to make sure their household ran smoothly. It represented the responsibilities of millions of other American women a the time: seamstress, chauffeur, laundress, chambermaid, cook, dishwasher, waitress and nurse. In Jane’s case, a maid came in occasionally to vacuum the floor and wash the windows, at $0.35 per hour.

Through all of this, Jane had to be her husband’s “best girl” outside the home. Once per week, the couple went to dinner, the movies or visited friends. They also entertained at home.

Jane busy straightening up before launching into some heavy cleaning with dust mop and carpet sweeper.

Jane making one of the four beds she does daily, after doing breakfast dishes and getting the kids to school.

Jane scrubbing the bathtub in bathroom at home.

Jane with Peter, Tony and Pamela, as they go to the drugstore to buy ice cream cones, after the boys had haircuts at local barbershop in town.

Jane using pop-up toaster, as she makes sandwiches for her three children.

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