Matriculating Into Mid Century Matrimony

vintage illustration vintage ad bride and groom 1950s, illustration of college graduation 1960

The graduating class of 1960 was forever enshrined in the vintage illustration on the right that appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in Sept. 1960. Depicting Smith College graduation the accompanying commentary points out that marriage is likely in the future to these smart young cover misses.

June is the month-long associated with graduates and brides and it wasn’t that long ago that they were often one and the same thing.

Most young women in the 1950’s and early 1960’s were convinced that the basic occupation of virtually every girl was choosing a man to marry, and college courses were set up to help Betty Coed in her mission to snaring a proper mate.

In the spring of 1956 , my Aunt Rhonda was a college senior searching for Love and Marriage. Convinced that the basic occupation of virtually every girl was choosing a man to marry, a smart cookie had a keen sense of her market value: her looks, personality and virginity.

vintage illustration 1940s college students art & advertising

Pretty and popular, Rhonda was voted the college senior with the likeliest future for matrimony. It would be 7 long years before Betty Friedan wrote about a problem that had no name, and another 10  before the founding of National Organization of Women.

So for now, Rhonda and her classmates  visualized marriage automatically at 21 along with voting and legal drinking, never doubting for a moment  that the sound of Handel’s  Wedding March would follow directly after “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Women’s Studies Retro Style

vintage fashion ads illustration of college girls 1940s & 1950s

Vintage fashion ads featuring college girls offer some helpful hints. The ad on the left with the comely co-ed wowing her profs is for Orlon fabric “which teaches new fall fashions to keep their figure in the wash.” The ad on the right for Pacific Fabrics with the headline “Well briefed” promises an A+ in fashion for the Miss 5’4″ or less, and judging by the ogling male student she’s scored a good grade.

One of the first National Merit Scholarship winners, Rhonda knew brains were not enough and in fact could prove a booby trap without that right shade of lipstick and that perfectly turned out casserole.

On the ball, she enrolled in the newly developed Marriage Arts Dept.  of  Syracuse University, which promised  to help her with her makeover from a Brain from Main to a regular girl.

It was a far cry from today’s women’s study curriculum but they did offer clever, useful courses such as house planning and family living, providing her with useful training designed to mold an attractive coed into an ideal wife, enhancing her marital resume.

Only a few years earlier in a speech to business and professional women the Dean of Women at Syracuse University announced that feminism was outdated. Luckily, Rhonda thought with a shudder, women had passed through that stage.

Set You Chefs Cap for a Man

vintage illustration cartoon proffesor on a raft 1950s

Illustration by Jim Newhall from the book “Date Bait -The Younger Sets Picture Cook Book” by Robert Loeb Jr, 1952

Home Economic  classes emphasized Man pleasing menus.

By the end of the course, Rhonda would learn “how to set her chefs cap for a man.”

As her teacher Miss Higgins pointed out: “Don’t you dress, make-up to please a man? Cook with the same idea in mind. You’ll discover tempting menus and tempting men.”

They were, she assured the class, “the kind of menus that would make the pampered gentlemen of the evening rise up in gratitude!”

“Knowing how to cook will give you a very agreeable sense of accomplishment”, Miss Higgins  promised. “Nowadays, it’s smart to cook. You don’t hear so many gals say they can’t boil water. And that first casserole brings a thrill!”

vintage illustration of 1940s family Thanksgiving illustration Douglass Crockwell, 1940s woman in bed reading book What every bride Should know

Courses  on making a home were most informative. “Your home,” Miss Higgins told the note-taking girls,  “is the setting for both you and your husband in the eyes of the world. It is your background. It represents your taste, your experience, and your knowledge of how things are done.”

“People who wonder what sort of person you are, see your home and know.”

In this way it was a very important factor in your husbands career.

“Men especially, are very shrewd at judging other men by the women they marry and the homes those women run,” she told the class somberly.

“A New York Financier once told me,” she explained to the class, “that his home presided over by an able gracious and clever wife, had been one of the greatest helps to him. Your home, then, with you as its mistress must provide the right kind of backing for a man.”

A  Head For Figures

There were informative courses in vital matters like decorating, shopping and clothes selection. and the all important grooming clinics taught by Madam Yvonne  trained at the Helena Institute de Beaute in Paris.

vintage fashion illustration art &advertising college girl fashions 1950s

Unlike the matronly Miss Higgins, Madame Yvonne was the epitome of chic and with her swirling feminine dress 12 inches from the floor, tiny waist and pointed bosom the picture of French chic that was revolutionizing fashion.

Catching your hero with an eyeful of smooth fashion was one thing, holding him was another. Bored with your bookings? the class was asked. “A different coiffure may help snag a new stag.”

By the end of the semester, Rhonda’s brain was tuckered out with all this date-data.

The Graduate and the Good Wife

vintage illustration of girl graduate 1950s, 1950s housewife in her many roles as chef nurse, chauffeur and maid

The Bell telephone ad on the right declares “This is the pretty girl you married. She’s the family chef. And the nurse. And the chauffeur and maid.And when she’s all dressed up for an evening out- doesn’t she look wonderful? How does she do it?”

As graduation neared, Rhonda was growing concerned as there was no engagement ring in sight.

She bemoaned her predicament-“I’m sick of playing solitaire…I want to wear one”. What with those pesky Russians building their arsenal of nuclear weapons and  President Eisenhower sending boys all over the globe,  there was no telling how many eligible men would be around.

The government put out a pamphlet called “You can Survive” to help with those Nuclear Bomb Jitters. Sure Rhonda thought, she could survive all right, but not as a spinster, thank you!

With her newly sheered bangs to hide her intellectual forehead, her “beau-catching” curls caught the eye of   a dreamy senior and it was not long before she was calling him her fiancé.

Her hard work had paid off handsomely, as she accepted both the diploma and her glittering ring.

That degree in Sociology would end  up tucked away safely in her Lane Cedar Hope Chest along with all her cherished keepsakes.

Her real work was about to begin.

Copyright (©) 20012 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

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