Archive for 2011

Episode 19: Madame de Pompadour

Posted 21 December 2011 by
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We attempt to be as PG13 as possible during this episode’s discussion of a woman who won the favor of a King, and is remembered as one of the most influential mistresses France has ever seen.

But before she could hold such a lofty position, Madame de Pompadour was a fair maiden with an interesting family. Jeanne Antoinette Poisson was born December 29, 1721 to Madeleine de La Motte and Francois Poisson. Or maybe to Madeleine and Paris de Montmartel. Or maybe Madeleine and le Normant de Tournehem.  Ah, yes, Mama got around. But Francois was her husband and the father of record , so we shall call him,Papa. Tournehem was a very important part of Jeanne Antoinette’s life, so we shall call him, Uncle. And de Montmartel? He doesn’t show up much in our tale, so we don’t call him anything (although he was, technically, her Godfather.)

We discuss the education of this young woman. What was life like in this time for a child of a not titled,  but wealthy family? We also discuss various versions of her early years that are floating around. How long did she study with the Urseline’s just outside of Paris?  How much influence did her father have in her life? Did she really visit a fortune teller at the age of nine and what did that woman say?

But this we know: Thanks to a number of people, she got a very fine education despite Papa being sent to Germany for ten years for a financial scheme gone very wrong, and Mama losing most of their fortune in his absence. Hey! She was pulling single mom duty for not only young Jeanne Antoinette but also a younger son, Abel. She did the best she could given her circumstances, connections and, er, talents. Jeanne Antoinette was raised to be a delightful, well spoken, dignified, entertaining and educated young woman who charmed with a beauty from within. Not too shabby for growing up Kardas…Poisson.

Eventually Papa returns to Paris, Mama decorates a new beautiful home, and our girl Jeanne Antoinette is married to the nephew of potential daddy, Le Normant de Tournehem. All is well, although Jeanne Antoinette has set her sights a liiiittle higher than her husband, the father of her child. She wants the King.

And by “wants” we mean…claim his heart and serve France at court.

This is the King she has her sights on. Louis XV

Snares him she does. We go into the juicy details, but basically he just so happened to have an opening for a Maitress en Titre ( the chief mistress to the king), and Jeanne Antoinette (although married…and with a child) is the woman for the job! But she needed a title. He gets his people on it, finds one that wasn’t being used, and voila!  Marquis de Pompadour. A little training in life at Versailles, a presentation to court and she moves into the palace and gets to work. Such as it is.

by Francois Boucher

Hard at work (Boucher)

For the next twenty years she is at the King’s side. Oh, yes, he had a Queen….but Madame de Pompadour understood and inspired the King like no other woman in his history. He listened to her on matters of state, of design, of art, of leisure, of just about anything that he was involved in- so was she. Sometimes the endeavors were successful, sometimes notsomuch.

We try to not get too bogged down with the wars and the politics, but those were just two of the things that Mme de Pompadour’s opinion was sought by Louis. We do name drop a little during the podcast, seriously, when the woman’s bestie is Voltaire, you KNOW there are going to be some A list parties!

She suffers sadness, uncertainty,  a lot of bad press, a loss of sexual abilities but maintains a close, deep friendship and love with Louis for the remainder of her days.  In 1764, at the age of 42, she dies in Versailles (which was forbidden, btw) of either lung cancer or tuberculosis.

Final portrait begun just days before death, finished after it (by Francois Hubert Drouais)

Time Travel With The History Chicks

As always, there is so much more to the life of this woman than we can cover in an hourish. If you are intrigued, we suggest your first stop should be over to (There really is a dotcom for everything, isn’t there?) Lots and lots of info and links to get you cruising along.

If you are as fascinated with Versailles as we are, or even just a little, here is a direct link to purchase the book we told you to get waaay back when we talked about Marie Antoinette:  Versailles, A Biography Of A Palace, by Tony Spawforth. Get it now, you are going to want it. (And, we do not get paid by Amazon, or anyone else that we recommend in this section, but that’s how much we want you to have this book!)

Get this book.

Not Mme de Pompadour specific, but we also would recommend The Bourbons: A History of a Dynasty by J.H. Shennan

Want some historical fiction to go with your newfound Mme de Pompadour knowledge? The book Beckett recommended is To Dance with Kings, by Rosalind Laker; the book that Susan’s friend Melissa recommended is The Philosopher’s Kiss by Peter Prange.

Here is a link that we promised to l’ecole Royale Militaire, the military school begun by Louis XV, ( with the encouragement of Mme de Pompadour, of course).  L’ecole Militaire.

And finally, what discussion of Madame de Pompadour would not be complete without a TARDIS?

We are not endorsing this product. We don't have one, don't know if it works well, know nothing about it other cool is that?!

Get it here, and tell us if it’s as cool as it looks. Seriously though, Mme Pompadour appeared in the Dr Who storyline…read all about it here.

As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at

Clue: Episode 19

Posted 20 December 2011 by
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Episode 18: Ella Fitzgerald

Posted 5 December 2011 by
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Once again, you asked and we answered! This week we discuss the other winner in our guaranteed content poll- the inimitable Ella Fitzgerald!

From a rough start on the streets of Harlem, to the Apollo stage, smokey clubs,years on the road  and in recording studios Ella led the  world through the trends and wild ride that was the musical scene during most of the last century. So much has been written about her life, her voice, her contribution to the history of music- it was hard to pick and choose what we were going to discuss. But pick we did!

Ella Jane Fitzgerald’s beginnings were the most humble-  born April 25, 1917 in Newport News,Virginia to William and Tempie Fitzgerald. Of course we talk about her parents, her move to New York, what life was like for a young girl at the time. We talk about her rough beginnings, her family and the fork in the road last minute decision that changed her life. We discuss her loves, losses and her slow  steady and forever upward rise to super star status.

With husband, Ray Brown

It’s a remarkable story of a remarkable woman and at every turn we were afraid that we were sounding cliche–but we couldn’t help it: Ella Fitzgerald rocked past the conventional path that she could so easily have fallen into. She  followed her dreams, always learning and always working to perfect her gifts.

There are so many times in her life that her story weaves into other topics—other people, other musicians,  different styles of music, other stories of the progression of segregation, the history of New York City…the list goes on. We thought we would devote these shownotes to a collage of  sorts: Ella images, sounds of the times, and some ways we can think of that might start you on a journey of discovery via the life of this woman.

Time Travel With The History Chicks

To get a clearer undestanding of the times that Ella was born into, here is a good place to start: We adore NPR

And we are very fond of PBS and Ken Burns, as well…click to learn more about the history of Jazz, and to get hooked up with Jazz a Film by Ken Burns.

You know who else we also adore (in a purely respectful way, we assure you)? The Bowery Boys. Ella’s history intertwines with several of their podcasts, and blog entries. For instance,  Episode #15 Tom and Greg talk about The Apollo Theater, including a chat about the history of Harlem.

Ella got her start at the Apollo Theater. There is so much history surrounding the building- someone could make an entire podcast series about the Apollo. (Apollo Chicks? No…) Here is information on the Apollo today. Click on over and start down a really exciting path..see what happened to Ella when she did? The Apollo Theater

We need you to play this. Close your eyes, and imagine the scene at the Savoy Ballroom, and it’s just before closing time. Everyone has been dancing for hours, exhausted and exhilarated…

…and the battle of the bands is ON! This is Duke Ellington’s “Trombone Buster.”



Just a little peek of the dancing that took place at the Savoy Ballroom ( which sadly, is no more)

Her first big hit landed her on the silver screen with Abbott and Costello in , Ride ’em Cowboy!


This from 1961, she must have carried those Savoy Ballroom memories with her forever!


Ella and Ol’ Blue Eyes…one of many times they appeared together:


Scat isn’t for everyone, but if you want to see her scat like no other…this is from 1969..6 minutes, full-on scat:


From 1974…We are just getting quite fan girly over here…but check this one out!


Really, we could keep embedding videos all day…but , can’t. This is from 1992, four years before her death. Oooweeee, she still had it!



We know that you like your books! If Beckett’s recommended nerdtacular tome appealed to you, here it is:

First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald by, Geoffry Mark Fidelman

A  little lighter reading but still an excellent biography:

Ella Fitzgerald, A complete biography by Stewart Nicholson

And for some great information in a young adult format ( no shame in reading young adult as an adult,either!)

Ella Fitzgerald: Up Close by Tanya Lee Stone

Based on all the information we gleaned for this podcast, this was one honestly kind woman. will give you lots of Ella-tacular information and links- biography, pictures, discography..and a link to this, but we are going to give it to you again so you don’t have to look. The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation

Ok, you’re right! We have to end with Ella…and Count Basie!  We didn’t take your advice, and we are sorry, Ella, but we had to talk about you when you are gone!


music courtesy of Music Alley

Episode 17: Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire

Posted 18 November 2011 by
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You voted and we are pleased to present the first winner of our Guaranteed Content Poll- Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, The Duchess of Devonshire!

This woman wasn’t just another pretty face under a big wig with an unusual home situation… oh, no! She was an author, a mother, a fashion trend setter, and a political powerhouse that altered the landscape of British politics at a time when women should have been seen, but not heard.

If anyone knew anything about being seen- it was Georgiana.

Born in 1757 , she was the first of three children born to the love match of John and the former Margaret Georgiana Poyntz.

Georgiana was, from the get-go, Mama’s favorite. You know us by now, we go into a lot more detail on the podcast, but young Georgiana was raised in a loving home by parents who exposed her to a wide variety of subjects. A series of the finest tutors taught Little G the usual: deportment, and languages, and writing and geography and singing…but also harp , French, Italian Latin. And the lessons that our young Lady excelled in the most: etiquette.  Mama was proud. And also fairly ambitious. And did we forget to mention: wealthy. Daddy would become the 1st Earl of Spencer when Little G was just a child.

Mama and her pride and joy

This family is connected.

And what other family is connected and nearby? The Cavendishes. And their first son, William, was just about the right age for our fair, well bred, charming Georgiana! And what does he bring to the table? Well, um, his dogs? Ok, so he wasn’t as polished as our Little G, but opposites attract, right?

William Cavendish the Duke of Devonshire

She marries up, and becomes the 5th Duchess of Devonshire. He gets a beautiful, graceful bride guaranteed to bring him a male heir.

Ahem… guaranteed to bring him a male heir.

Is this thing on?

Georgiana doesn’t exactly have the easiest time getting pregnant. She partakes in some pretty wacky measures to do so with no success. (And allows us to prattle on about 18th century medicine- which we really enjoy.)

Georgiana, by Thomas Gainsborough

She does use this time to throw quite a few parties, and created an environment where politics can be played. She sets some trends in fashion.  And, oh yeah, she writes a book- The Sylph which is an thinly disguised autobiographical novel with the author credit given to,” a young lady”.  Four editions? Everyone knew who wrote it.

by Matthew Darly, Courtesy British Museum

How DO you ride in a carriage with all that hair? (by Matthew Darly, courtesy British Museum)

She does become a mother…although step-mother would probably be a better description…when one of William’s former mistresses dies, leaving his daughter Charlotte. Georgiana steps up to the plate and not only takes the child into her home, but into her heart.

But  she is still without a male heir of her own production. Her last medicinal attempt at conception was to go to Bath and take the waters- which meant drink or bathe in the hot mineral waters of the area. Also at Bath was a woman a woman who would be a force in their home for the next 25 years: Elizabeth “Bess” Foster.

Lady Elizabeth "Bess" Foster

Lady Elizabeth “Bess” Foster

To put it delicately, Georgiana, William and Bess struck up a relationship for the ages. All three of them. And that’s about all we are going to say here (but gush on and on in the podcast with a little less tact).

But let’s not focus on that, it worked for them, who are we to judge? And to talk about it in detail takes away from the rest of the life of Georgiana. (psst, listen to the podcast for more details) First off she got on the baby train…girl, girl, FINALLY a boy and heir! WOOT! And because she was on a roll, she went and had a baby from an affair with Charles Grey. We tell you all about those children, how she was as a mother, and what a political mover and shaker she was.

by Joshua Reynolds (She sounds like a pretty hands on Mama!)

Really she had smarts, charm, and charisma that she used to advance the politicians that she favored.

And she also had a gambling addiction. And a laundenum addiction. And, quite possibly an eating disorder. She lived a life as big and bold as the ginormous big hair wigs she was famous for!

But all good things come to an end, after a series of medical issues Georgiana dies at the age of 48 in 1806.

Give a listen to the podcast for more juicy details about the life of this amazing woman!

Time Travel With The History Chicks

Of course we only introduce you to her awesomeness, and give you a working knowledge of her life. But you want more, right?  And where can you go for that? PLEASE check out this blog, The Duchess of Devonshires Gossip Guide to the 18th Century. First off, it’s gorgeous. Second it is jam packed with stories and art from the era of this woman. We can’t say enough good things…so, go…

The book that we both devoured:

By Amanda Foreman

Amanda Foreman also has a website that is full of intel:

And there is a movie, which is visually stunning but has some factual holes in it:

It was, um..pretty.

Yes, we know…some of you have skimmed this post looking for the name of this book by Arthur Calder-Marshall:

The Two Duchesses:The Sexual and Dynastic Intrigues of Two Bewitching Aristocrats in a Time of Unbridled Extravagance and License

And, finally, when you have absorbed everything…take a trip! Visit Althorp!

As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at

Episode 17 Clue:

Posted 14 November 2011 by
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Episode 16A: Mary Shelley

Posted 5 November 2011 by
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It was a dark and stormy night. Three friends sat around the fire taking turns reading German ghost stories…

No, really. It was. Ok, maybe that night wasn’t stormy, but it was a summer night in 1816, when a then  18 year- old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, and the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron were sitting around a fire at Lake Geneva. It was here that the three challenged each other to write the scariest story they could, Mary’s contribution would become her first published work and a tale so creepy that it would endure to present time, and beyond: Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus.

Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell

In this mini-cast we take a little time to look at the life before, and after, Mary Shelley wrote her most famous book.

The story of Mary Shelley begins ten days before her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, dies.

How is that for a dramatic entrance?

Born on August 30th, 1797, she was the first and only love child of writers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. (For the details on this woman, please give a listen to our podcast on Mary Wollstonecraft). Her mother had a  young daughter from another relationship, Fanny Imlay, who was to be raised by now single dad Godwin with his own daughter- Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin…not to be confused with his wife, Mary Wollstoncraft Godwin. (Susan puts down her head and weeps…why must you people name your children the same name as you have!?)

When Mary was four, her father remarried Mary Jane Clairmont who brought two children, Charles and Claire into the home.  William was a pretty involved father, and while Claire was sent off to school, Mary was pretty much educated at home. But being educated at home by an intellectual who ran in some pretty cool circles- as well as encouraging you to read all the writings of your mother-isn’t exactly a lacking education.

By now you should know that we love to get into the more, er, gossipy side of women’s lives. And Mary Shelley gave us a bit to look at. As a young teen she meets Percy Shelley. MARRIED Percy Shelley. He falls for her while studying at the feet of her father. And helping to pay his bills. At one point, Daddy says “stay away from my daughter”, but that’s not to happen.

Pretty boy-Percy Shelley

At 17, Mary runs off with Percy, taking her step-sister Claire with them.

Oh! This is a road trip for the ages! We do go into it in detail in the podcast, but by the time a penniless Percy and Mary come back to England she is pregnant, and his wife is pregnant. Harriet Shelley gives birth to a son, and Mary gives birth to a premature daughter, who dies shortly after birth.

So sad! Right before little William's death in 1819

We do tell you all about Mary’s five pregnancies, and the one child who lives to adulthood. About the death of Percy’s wife, the marriage of Mary and Percy, and the travels of the trio of Percy, Mary and Claire and their children. We chat about the creation of Frankenstein, Lord Byron, and the death of Percy.

Lord Byron...(yeah, we don't get into THAT much detail)

This may be a mini-cast but it is full of drama! What a life this woman created and lived!

After Percy’s death, Mary’s life settles down somewhat. She is a writer, but never sees success to the likes of Frankenstein- which in our opinion- makes her quite a writer indeed.

The end of  Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley’s life was full of illness and living with her remaining son*sigh* Percy. She died of a brain tumor in 1851 at the age of 54.

Time Travel with The History Chicks

We admit, this was a minicast about the full life of a woman who did a lot of living in her years. Here is a great starting place to look  a bit more into the life of Mary Shelley, and there are other posts about her on this site as well:

Just because we thought it was an interesting look at the beginnings of Frankenstein:

And we really liked this book:

Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality  by Emily Sunstein

Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality, by Emily Sunstein

Go, read Frankenstein! Read the graphic novel! Watch the movies! Enjoy! It’s a classic!

1931 with Boris Karloff

heh heh...

Episode 16: Mary Wollstonecraft

Posted 23 October 2011 by
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Imagine that you had ideas that were so radical for your time that it would take a couple of hundred years for them to be accepted? Can you imagine that your lifestyle would be given more attention in those years than your message? Can you imagine that your most important work was often mispronounced?

Such was the life of the woman we spoke of this week, Mary Wollstonecraft.

Born April 27th, 1759 in London, as the second of seven children to Edward and Elizabeth. Her birth station in life was one of upper middle class. However her father pretty much squandered his inheritance, and the family moved frequently. Each time they did it was a step down to a less affluent home. Dad was a drinker, and pretty abusive…it really wasn’t a warm and happy childhood.

Mary had a couple of close friends as well as some neighbors who cared for her, helped her with her education as well as providing bright spots in a pretty bleak life. Her future prospects didn’t seem very promising.

For an unmarried woman of her time and social class she took up pretty much every career that was available to her.

Lady’s Companion?


School Teacher?

Good…for a bit.


Not so great.

Of course we go into more detail in the podcast, but she left home at 19 to try and make a living. She supported her sister Eliza, who she  helped leave a possibly abusive marriage. She tried to also hang out as long as possible with her friend, Fanny Blood- but conventional lifestyles were not really her thing and they were very much Fanny’s thing.

“I am not born to tread in the beaten track – the peculiar bent of my nature pushes me on.” Mary Wollstonecraft wrote to her other sister, the cooler named Everina.

She got that right.

Finally she ends up in London, working for a man named Joseph Johnson, a book publisher. He encourages her in her writing, and write she did.  Children’s books, reviews , and her first novel  – entitled   Mary- a fiction, which was based on her travels to Portugal to attend the birth- and unexpected death- of Fanny Blood and her first child.

She wrote a book about what she learned as the head of a school, and as a Governess, with the lengthy title, “Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct in the More Important Duties of Life.”

Got that?

She also established herself as a political writer with the publication of The Vindication of the Rights of Men, which was a rebuttal of piece written by Edmund Burke.

And on the heels of that document she wrote the biggie: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Did you catch that? ” WOMAN” Not “womEn” as is often mistaken. Even in this podcast. *coughbySusancough*

What is it about? Well, ENTIRE college level courses are devoted to this work, so we can’t sum it up here. But try this version:

-Women are only inferior due to their inferior education

-All minds are equally receptive to knowledge no matter what package they arrive in

-Women ought not to have power over men, but over THEMSELVES.

(Plus 449 more pages of important information)

While she was starting to grow in both works and audiences  as a writer, her personal life was a mess.

She fell in love with artist Henry Fuseli and went so far as to ask his wife if they can all live under one roof. Yeah. That went over well. (No, it really didn’t).

Then she falls in love with American Gilbert Imlay. This relationship produces a daughter, Fanny, as well as a lot of scandal. Imlay claims her as his wife while they are in France ( just watching the French Revolution), although they are not legally married. Mary settles into life as a mother, but Imlay didn’t sign up for such domesticity and is gone for longer and longer times. yadda yadda…two suicide attempts and a business trip to Scandinavia later- he moves in with another woman.


Mary, Mary, Mary…sigh…

Enter William Godwin. The two had traveled in similar social circles in London before life mellowed out Mary. He fell in love with her through her writing and finally they see eye to eye ( as well as other body parts) and begin a fast romantic relationship. He gets her, she gets him, they get pregnant and married.

The end.

Ok, not quite…she gives birth just a mere year after their romance for the ages begins. Ten days after the arrival of baby Mary Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft dies from complications after childbirth. This left the love of her life to raise her two daughters, Fanny and Mary–who will grow to become Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

And just because  you don’t think that this story can’t get any more tragic: In an act of deep mourning and love Godwin publishes her letters in an attempt to show the world what a remarkable and special woman she was. Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. With this book, all the details of her private life are revealed and her reputation is trashed for a couple hundred years.


Time Travel With The History Chicks

You can read A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Or you can listen to it – Librivox has it for free on itunes.

We know, you want to read the one that trashed her reputation…naughty listener! 18 bucks on Amazon or download it to your Kindle free!



The letters of Mary Wollstonecraft are available in many different books, as are a good number of her works.

The Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft compiles a great number of her letters.

And you REALLY want to watch this, we know you do.

And now that you are really into the life of this woman, check out this blog, or follow Mary on Twitter ( we kid you not!)

****CORRECTION! Sharp listener Jacki caught a slight faux pas in our Drop Into History segment! George Washington’s wife’s maiden name was Custis, not Curtis.  Sorry for the error!*********

As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley,

News from The History Chicks

Posted 13 October 2011 by
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We  recently received news that we had been nominated for a 2011 People’s Choice Podcast Award in the Education category! How did we react to this news?

First- we were shocked.

And then we looked at the amazing podcasts that share the Education category, and we were stunned.

Then we were delighted.

Our delight stems from the fact that you, our listeners, voted to put us up for this award. THANK YOU!!!

Now we would like to ask for your vote.

We do not think of "chicks" as derogatory. We think we rock our chick-ness!

Please click this link to do just that.  While you are there, vote for your other favorite podcasts just like we will be  doing every day until October 27th when voting ends! The Bowery Boys are facing some Disney competition in the Travel category; and Filmsack is up for best Movie/Film’s all very exciting and we are thrilled to be a part of it.

Thank you, again, for listening, offering topic suggestions, dropping us notes of encouragement, and for helping us become nominated for this award.

Now what are we? Busy… researching and preparing for the next time we get to sit down together and chat about some pretty extraordinary women!

Many hearts,

Beckett and Susan

Episode 15A: Betty Crocker and our first Giveaway!

Posted 12 October 2011 by
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In this minicast, we have a little discussion about the history of Betty Crocker. (You know she wasn’t real, right? We’re going with the fictional character theme.)

We talk history of this brand icon and the times she was not only created, but the many years that she has endured and changed. You may find out some things that you didn’t know ( like she started on radio).  Or you may just end up wanting to go bake something. It really could go both ways, too. Why don’t you bake something WHILE you listen?

Original Betty Crocker image for radio show, 1927 courtesy General Mills archives

Latest reincarnation

 Watch this vintage Betty Crocker cake commercial : The men sure love it – and so will your bridge club!


For our very first ever giveaway we are offering up two very stylish, vintage inspired aprons made by our  dear friend, and Susan’s personal apron supplier- Other Susan.  We picked out the fabrics, and Other Susan did the rest.

First prize: Two-in-one, custom- made, vintage inspired apron.


Work it, Kitten, work it! ( Same apron, now a hostess style)

Second Prize! Custom, full practical apron (This is the style Susan runs around her neighborhood wearing. *sigh*)

Close up of main fabrics.

Yes, the apron is a symbol of some less than feminist qualities—but dang it! These are cute and- in the words of Beckett  when she saw these pictures, “That’s being a true chick! Do what you do and damn the rest!”

Want one? Post a comment to THIS shownote, telling us who your favorite TV Mom is (any era).  On October 30, 2011-mid dayish- we will do a random drawing of the names and pick two winners. Make sure that the email you supply us with when you post your comment (it  does not appear on posted comments) is one that you monitor so that we can get the shipping details from the winners. Good luck!

(Here is a link to Other Susan’s Etsy shop, From Pieces. She does custom work as well as featuring some pieces in her shop.)

Before we leave the 1950’s behind, thank you for listening! We are nominated in the Education category for the 2011 People’s Choice Podcast Awards! If you would like to vote, and it is before October 27th, 2011–click this link! Thank you!

Episode 15: The 1950’s Housewife

Posted 8 October 2011 by
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Once a season we take a slight break from reality and sit down for a chat about a fictional woman. This season we chose not one, but a group: The 50’s TV Mom – and their slightly more real counterparts, the 50’s suburbanite.

That’s right, what better way to embrace our modern womanhood, than to take a serious look at a stereotypical, unobtainable-to mere-mortals, obedient, white, heterosexual wife?

WOOT! Fire up the keyboard and get those letters of protest going!

(Ok, really? Don’t. Yikes… Thank you!)

DISCLAIMER: We get a bit, um, goofy in this episode. If you are looking for serious, somber history- look away. We present facts of course, but our usual speculation and lighthearted chatter is upped. Big time.

We DO look at this topic from a historical point of view, but first our exhaustive research of the women had to be undertaken.  We narrowed  our focus down  to several  whom we thought were true representatives of the genre.

(And we use words like “genre” to give the illusion that this is more brainy that it really is. We watched A LOT of TV)

Harriet Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet)

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

Donna Stone (The Donna Reed Show)

Lucy Ricardo (I love Lucy, Lucille Ball)

I Love Lucy

June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver, Barbara Billingsley)

Leave it to Beaver

We touch on characters from other shows-Make Room for Daddy, Father Knows Best, The Dick van Dyke show- but we felt that these  gave the best example of the ideals that the 50’s stereotypical  housewife possessed.

We are, after all, all about history, so we lay the scene that created an environment to let such a symbol of femininity grow to idol status in American society. We talk the Great Depression and WWII because that is the background of the Moms of the 50’s. We discuss the economy, the sociological and economic changes in the country, throw out some statistics and paint a picture of the expectations and role of women in society.

Then we get to the giggly part and talk about the stereotypical woman herself. What her life was like vs the real life of the woman she represented during this era. We talk about both the dark and the light sides of this women’s life. We talk about the foods, the appliances, and the conveniences of the time.

And we talk fashion because we like retro fashion. A lot.

*sigh*, but the 1950's TV Housewife is a part of the American culture, a step in the path of progress to who we are today, and should be looked at and discussed.

Bottom line: The 1950’s Television Housewife was a part of the American culture and a step in the path to where women are today.
Because we are off of our usual factual woman topic ( and possibly still riding a banana bread buzz) we will also stray from our usual methods….and will actually have * trumpets please* a giveaway!! Stay tuned for details!

Stay tuned to whatever screen you are watching at this very minute for giveaway details!

Time Travel With The History Chicks

Right at the top of this list, we recommend this blog, Jen But Never Jenn. She conducted a 50’s Housewife Experiment that both  amused and fascinated us. (Susan so much so that she decided to conduct her own, in a total rip off way. We contacted Jen and she was cool with it. More on this in an upcoming minicast)

If you are enamored with the era, there is a  blog and messageboard for that!  Kitchy and fun!

We Lol’d repeatedly at The Gallery of Regrettable Food:

The link to the Striving Wife (the one that Susan could not remember) is here. Written by, and for, women who think the 50’s Housewife ideal is spot on. This is just one post of many on a blog devoted to the life of a Christian wife.  The posts are written with respect and a very deep faith.

And  we watched HOURS of old TV episodes – Father Knows Best, I love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show and  The Dick Van Dyke show.

Speaking of Donna Reed, The Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts, a museum in Denison IA dedicated to her memory and work . Visit them online

And here is a link to those Maidenform ads that cracked Beckett up:

We KNOW you love your books! We recommend:

The Way Things never were by Norman Finklestein

Something from the Oven, by Laura Shapiro

And finally, the one that we loved, not just for this episode, but for many eras: The History of the Wife by Marilyn Yalum

As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley, visit them at