Ladies and Lawns

vintage illustration suburbs gardening lawns

Vintage Illustrations (L) Saturday Evening Post Cover 1955 illustration: Dick Sargent (R) Vintage Ad 1955 Beer Belongs Home life in America Series “Showing Off The New Power Mower” illustration by Fred Siebel

The silent spring morning of my suburban childhood were broken by the sounds not of birds chirping but of a symphony of puttering gas lawn mowers synchronized all over the neighborhood.

The air would permeate of fresh-cut grass, gasoline and a heavy dose of testosterone

While ladies might putter in the garden, the lawn was strictly male turf.

But there was one fearless housewife in our neighborhood who broke the grass ceiling, venturing boldly and brazenly into that vast male prerogative known  as mowing the front lawn.

Better Homes and Garden

suburbs Housewives Better Homes and Garden Book

Most afternoons the Kaffee Klatch of new young mothers from our suburban development would congregate in one another’s brand new fully loaded kitchens that had once been land where Farmer Gutsky planted Long Island potatoes.

The girls would gather to play cards or more often than not just to schmooze.

They exchanged hints on such vital information as which was the best diaper service, the most reliable milkman, which Jackson Perkins roses were the best to plant in the rocky Long Island soil and how to keep hubby off the links and onto their front lawns with their power mowers.

One neighbor who regularly was absent from the Kaffee Klatch was Martha Mc Guinness.

As much as my mom raced about like a whirling dervish, she was no match for Martha who more often than not missed out on the Kaffee Klatches for some do it yourself project like installing some new asbestos Kentile floor covering in the baby’s room.

vintage ad suburbs lawn mower lawn boy

Be Modern…go Lawn Boy! Not just for boys anymore. Vintage Lawn Boy ad 1955

 All the girls marveled at Martha. The only Gentile on the block, she was a real do-it-yourselfer.

 A freckled face 22-year-old mother of three, with a bun in the oven, she didn’t let pregnancy or a household of toddlers get in her way. After all, there’s so much to do to get ready for that little bundle of joy.

 Martha was a real force of nature.

 If she wasn’t busy chemically stripping and painting an heirloom crib in it-never-flakes-lead paint, she’s off gardening making sure to spray plenty of insecticides to get rid of those pesky old flies, grateful for the new insecticide bomb that contained both DDT and Pyrethrum!

 She was also the only gal in the neighborhood who could be found every Saturday morning marching up and down the lawn with her Lawn Boy, leaving in its wake a lawn as smooth as velvet.

 While advertisements for power motors often showed scantily clad young women in short shorts and dresses to attract the attention of the male reader, Martha chose sensible peddle pushers, foregoing the pumps for a pair of good ol’ Keds.

 Male Turf

suburbs lawn mowing husbands

(L) The Household Magazine 1940 cover illustration John Holmgren (R) Vintage ad Lucky Strike Cigarettes 1951

Of course like all homeowners, the gals were concerned about the appearance of a perfect lawn, the very symbol of the American Dream and suburban success.

Women’s magazines were chock full of  “Advise to the Ladies” articles on achieving the exemplary deep green  lawn. But they did not assume women did the work themselves.

No sir.

Smart cookies, women should manipulate their husbands to achieve a beautifully landscaped home, guiding their husbands, for example, into buying proper lawn food or fertilizer.

 Women who wanted model lawns got men to work on them.

One Power Mower ad promised: “Easier mowing makes husbands easier to get along with!”

Some ads acknowledged that in the modern marriage, wives were often part of the decision-making process for the purchase of power equipment even though men were actually the ones to use the mowers.

The Goodall Manufacturing Corp addressed the ladies directly: “Mowing is a mans job…but here’s a tip for wives whose husbands are about to buy a mower. Unless your lawn is the kind that obligingly stops growing when hubby ‘just cant find the time to  mow it’…you’d better slip your arm through his and join him when he goes lawn mower shopping. If you’re going to end up chauffeuring a power-driven grass cutter- make sure its one you can handle!”

Look Lady we designed this big mower just for you!.

vintage illustration 1950s housewives housework  lawn mower sexist ads

Vintage ads (L) Hoover Floor Polisher 1958 (R) Moto Mower 1953

 As the suburbs continued booming, clever ad men began to see the opportunity to include women in an expanding lawn care market. Advertisements for power mowers began appealing to women by making it sound as easy as housework.

Splendor  in the Grass

vintage illustrations 1950s suburbs gardening mowers housework

Vintage illustrations (L) “The Happy Family” Little Golden Books 1955 (R) Lawnmower ad 1958

In 1952 House and Gardens published “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Power Mowers”. The article assuring m’lady that : “You don’t have to be mechanically minded in order to operate a power lawn mower. It’s no more difficult than running your vacuum cleaner or learning to drive the family car.”

Other lawn mowers  promised that the mower “pushes easy as a baby buggy.

suburbs lawn mowing sexist

Mother loves its streamlined beauty! Vintage ads (L) Bruce Floor Products 1948 (R) Mowa -Matic Lawn Mower 1953

Lawn mowing could be downright fun “Everybody loves to use the Worchester Lawn Mower. Kids and grown ups- male and female- they all get a thrill out of the Worchester power mower.

The Eclipse Lawn Mower targeted the lady of the house in one ad : “Mrs. Home Owner will appreciate the easy handling, free rolling and distinctive styling of your new Eclipse as much as the man in the family goes for it s its exclusive mechanical features and trouble-free maintenance.”

Despite the best efforts of ad men, men dug their heels into their turf and  lawn mowing remained a male domain, then as now.

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12 comments

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  3. Hello,

    Your blog is a real treasure, I am so glad I found it!
    I’m actually looking for a vintage image with a lady doing domestic tasks and I was wondering whether I could use the image ‘Hoover Floor Polisher 1958’ on my blog? If not, could you recommend any websites where I could find such images for free? (unfortunately I don’t have the means to buy any images for my blog).
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Like

  4. Anthony

    i love the look of some of the old mowers. I’ve got an old 1958 Gravely clean-cut pusher with its original 4 hp Clinton. Aluminium deck

    Like

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