Our image of mothers has changed dramatically since the early boomer days. The 1954 “Home Economics High School Text Book” gave this advice to young women to take to heart when they became wives: “Have dinner ready, prepare yourself, prepare the children, minimize all noise, be happy to see him, listen to him, make the evening his.” That pretty much summed up a mother’s place in a 1950s American home.
Our TV shows reflected our image of what a mother was supposed to be, too. Yet Mister B thinks our popular TV shows helped further the image of mom.
In I Love Lucy (1951-57), Lucille Ball’s character gave birth to Little Ricky in the second season, coinciding with her real-life pregnancy. Both Lucys became moms at the same time. While Desi is off doing man’s work — in his case as a bandleader and singer — Lucy tends to the house. She usually ends up in some sort of trouble that tests the patience of her husband. He treats her in an almost child-like manner when he intones, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.” Lucy as a mom was naive, fairly helpless and definitely second banana to her husband.
Barbara Bilingsley was an idealized version of a 1950s mother as June Cleaver in Leave It to Beaver (1957-63). She wears dresses around the house and constantly looks like she is ready to go out, with perfect hair and makeup. When her boys Beaver and Wally get into trouble, she doesn’t always agree with their father’s (Hugh Beaumont) decisions on how to address the situation and punish the boys, but in the end, it’s Mr. Cleaver who delivers his judgment while his wife looks on in support.
With Wilma Flintstone we see a strong-willed mother who makes her wishes known in the house. Daughter Pebbles appeared near end of the third season of The Flintstones (1960-66), and although Wilma is a stay-at-home mom in the early part of the series, she sees to it that her husband gets her all the modern conveniences that will make her life easier. Wilma was even known to physically bite or hit Fred if she felt it was warranted. Yet in Honeymooners fashion, she could still serve up a mean Brontosaurus steak to please her man.
Unlike most of her predecessors, Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha on Bewitched (1964-72) wore pants as much as or more than dresses. A mother to her daughter Tabitha, she was a housewife who was also required to have dinner ready for her husband’s boss on a moment’s notice. While she promised her husband she wouldn’t use her witch powers around the house, she often used them to keep things running smoothly for when her husband got home.
What we often hear or read about the era of the fifties and sixties is that a mother’s job was to take care of the house and her children. What we see in many of our TV shows, like these mentioned, are strong women figures who not only take care of the house and children but do quite a bit to support their husbands without them knowing. In this TV image of mother, she is really the head of the household, but the husband just doesn’t know it.
Mister B’s mom was a traditional housewife in the 1950s, but by the early sixties, she’d had her fill. The first thing to go was getting up and making his father’s breakfast. Since he left by six a.m., she would be up before five, which was no longer acceptable. Soon after breakfast for dad ended, she put her foot down again and told Mister B and Brother Boomer they would get themselves up for school and make their own lunches. About two years later, she started working outside the home. Mister B is sure this scene would be appreciated by those TV moms. Chances are it repeated itself throughout the 1960s as mothers
wanted and needed more than what a suburban house could offer them. They never stopped loving their husbands or their children, or relinquished their role as Chief Domestic Engineer. As time went on, they enlisted our help to keep things running so they could become the mother they always knew they could be.
So in the end, our boomer image of mother was shaped by our own mothers and the mothers of friends around us. Whether they found inspiration in some TV moms, or conspired over coffee with the neighbors, we may never know. The image of what we thought mother should be changed right before our eyes, and it was mothers who spurred it on.