The silent spring morning of my mid-century 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
Most afternoons the Kaffee Klatch of new young mothers from our new development would congregate in one anothers fully loaded Kelvinator kitchen. These recently built ranch houses were part of a bumper crop of housing that were sprouting up with record speed, and now stood in the fields where only a year before Farmer Gutsky planted Long Island potatoes.
The newly minted suburbanites would gather exchanging 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.
Do It Your-selfie
One neighbor who regularly was absent from the Kaffee Klatch was Martha Mc Guinness, the neighborhood’s reigning do- do-it-yourselfer Queen.
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.
All the girls marveled at Martha.
A freckled face 22-year-old mother of three 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.
The Lady and the Lawnmower
Even with a “bun in the oven” 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 poplin peddle pushers, foregoing the pumps for a pair of good ol’ Keds.
Ladies and Lawns
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.
Women who wanted model lawns got men to work on them.
A smart cookie could cleverly manipulate her husband to achieve a beautifully landscaped home, guiding them for example, into buying proper lawn food or fertilizer.
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!
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
In 1952 House and Gardens magazine published “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Power Mowers.”
The article assured 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.”
Lawn mowing could be downright fun.
“Everybody loves to use the Worchester Lawn Mower,” exclaimed onw ad. “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 its exclusive mechanical features and trouble-free maintenance.”
“Lovely Conover Girl Joan Tuby” coyly appealed to the ladies that choosing a lawn mower was “Like picking a Husband.” Wearing short shorts and a halter top, the vivacious model also appealed to the gents.
Despite the best efforts of ad men, men dug their heels into their turf and lawn mowing remained a male domain, then as now.
Copyright (©) 2015 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved
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