7 Tips for Keeping Your Man (from the 1950s)

George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images
George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

There's always someone around to offer marital advice, but historically, words of wisdom to wives have a tendency to be daft and maddening. Still, that's not to say variations on these ideas can't be found in advice columns and books today. Want to keep and please your man? Here are seven tips from the early and mid-20th century. It's about to get real.

1. Don't Talk.

Oh, did Mavis from next door insult your prize-winning squash? Did little Timmy get sent home for starting fires again? Does that shooting pain in your left arm just keeps getting more intense? Keep it to yourself! Your man works all day and the last thing he needs to hear about is how yours went. Refer to the first four commandments on "How to be a Good Wife" that Edward Podolsky gives in his 1943 book, Sex Today in Wedded Life:

Don't bother your husband with petty troubles and complaints when he comes home from work.

Be a good listener. Let him tell you his troubles; yours will seem trivial in comparison.

Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego (which gets bruised plenty in business). Morale is a woman's business.

Let him relax before dinner. Discuss family problems after the inner man has been satisfied.

In his 1951 book Sex Satisfaction and Happy Marriage, Reverend Alfred Henry Tyrer has more to add to that—do not ask for things. This is called "nagging":

I verily believe that the happiness of homes is destroyed more frequently by the habit of nagging than by any other one. A man may stand that sort of thing (nagging) for a long time, but the chances are against his standing it permanently. If he needs peace to make life bearable, he will have to look for it elsewhere than in his own house. And it is quite likely that he will look.

Unless your husband wants you to talk. Then don't you dare disappoint him. Says Reverend Tyrer:

If [the husband] is intellectually inclined, and from time to time seeks to explain little things to her so that she may have at least a bare knowledge of what it is that interests him, and, without the slightest comment, she takes up again the fashion magazine she laid down when he commenced to speak, we may be pretty sure that there is going to be a 'rift in the lute' sooner or later in that house.

2. Bad cooking will drive your man to seedy saloons.

My god, woman, this turkey tastes like wet toilet paper stuffed inside a burnt basketball! Have you no pride? Oh, you had a late volunteer shift at the hospital and then went straight to Timmy's intervention? No excuses! Heed Reverend Tyrer!

A social service meeting, an afternoon tea, a matinee, a whatnot, is no excuse for there being no dinner ready when a husband comes home from a hard day's work.

Housekeeping accomplishments and cooking ability are, of course, positive essentials in any true home, and every wife should take a reasonable pride in her skill. Happiness does not flourish in an atmosphere of dyspepsia.

Or listen to the even more plain-spoken Dr. William Josephus Robinson from his 1922 book Married Life and Happiness:

Bad cooking is responsible for dyspepsia, dyspepsia is responsible for grouchiness and irritability, grouchiness and irritability lead to quarrels and squabbles. And bad cooking, which is the usual thing in the average American home, has been responsible as much as any other factor for driving the husband to the saloon, and to other places. And when she does cook, she should cook, and not be, as somebody said, a mere can opener.

If you didn't want your husband to become a syphilitic alcoholic, you should have learned to make the damn pot roast properly.

3. Be the Hot Steak, Not the Cheap Pork.

Speaking of cooking, Reverend Tyrer has a metaphor for you.

Picture a woman preparing a fine meal for her husband.

She remembered his choice of meat and was careful to get an extra-fine cut … her best cutlery and dishes and finest linen are all in evidence, and a little colorful decoration has been tastefully displayed … and as he comes into the house she greets him with a smile of welcome and a touch of manifest love.

Now, say that linen was a bed sheet, the colorful little decoration was fuzzy handcuffs, and you had the privilege of being that extra fine cut of meat. What does all that equal? A husband who doesn't cheat on you!

But say that same wife "is constantly setting him down to indigestible meals, cold and unappetizing, with nothing properly cooked, set out on a kitchen table with a dirty cloth, she need not be surprised if her husband frequently telephones from the office that business will prevent him from being home for dinner."

All because you weren't properly cooked when he was hungry!

4. Don't be a Sexual Vampire or a Frigid Franny.

Of course, as Dr. Robinson warns, it is possible to be over-cooked. Then you become a "sexual vampire" and you will drive your husband to his grave, feasting on his life force.

Just as the vampire sucks the blood of its victims in their sleep while they are alive, so does the woman vampire suck the life and exhaust the vitality of her male partner—or "victim."

It is to be borne in mind that it is particularly older girls—girls between thirty and fifty—who are apt to be unreasonable in their demands when they get married; but no age is exempt; sexual vampires may be found among girls of twenty as well as among women of sixty and over.

The opposite of that, of course, is to be frigid. That means you take no particular pleasure from sexual acts with your husband. Oh, "we should talk it out openly and honestly," you say? Maybe see a doctor, a therapist?

Terrible idea. What do you think that will do to your husband's ego? Listen to Dr. Robinson and save your marriage!

Now, if you are one of those frigid or sexually anesthetic women, don't be in a hurry to inform your husband about it. To the man it makes no difference in the pleasurableness of the act whether you are frigid or not unless he knows that you are frigid. And he won't know unless you tell him, and what he doesn’t know won't hurt him. Heed this advice. It has saved thousands of women from trouble.

5. Pink panties are a must.

And while we're on the subject of you performing convincingly in the boudoir, you better be costumed correctly, too. Dainty pink panties are so important, in fact, that Dr. Robinson wrote about them in at least two books. First, in his 1917 book Woman: Her Sex and Love Life:

This may be considered too delicate or too trifling a subject to discuss in an important sex book. But nothing is too delicate or too trifling that concerns human happiness, and you will believe me if I tell you that nice underwear or dainty lingerie plays a very important role in marital life. … If anything in a woman's toilet should be immaculately fresh and clean it is, I emphasize, her underwear. Silk and lace and delicate batiste should be preferred, if they can be afforded, and attention should be paid to the color. As a rule, a delicate pink is the color that most men prefer.

And again, five years later, in Married Life and Happiness:

That the underwear should be spotlessly clean goes without saying, but every woman should wear the best quality underwear that she can afford. And the color should be preferably pink. And lace and ruffles, I am sorry to say, add to the attractiveness of underwear, and are liked by the average man.

6. Let him have a little fun now and then.

What if your man strays during your marriage? Well, Dr. Robinson is here for you again. He says that ultimately, a wife will react to infidelity as her heart dictates. But he still offers some advice: Get over it.

But in case of an occasional lapse on the part of the husband—there a bit of advice may prove acceptable. And my advice would be: forgive and forget. Or still better—make believe that you know nothing. An occasional lapse from the straight path does not mean that he has ceased to love you. He may love you as much; he may love you a good deal more.

7. Remember your husband is the boss of you.

It is fitting to close with a simple truism from the renowned Eugenicist Prof. B.G. Jefferis, in his Searchlights on Health, The Science of Eugenics:

The Number One Rule. Reverence Your Husband.—He sustains by God's order a position of dignity as head of a family, head of the woman. Any breaking down of this order indicates a mistake in the union, or a digression from duty.

Stop talking, slap on some pink drawers, and start worshipping!

This story was updated in 2019.

Why Beatrix Potter Ended Up Self-Publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was Beatrix Potter’s first book—and is still her best known. But had the beloved author not had the confidence to publish the book on her own terms, we might not have ever known her name (or Peter Rabbit's) today.

The origin of Peter Rabbit dates back in 1893, when Potter wrote the beginnings of what would become her iconic children’s book in a letter she sent to Noel Moore, the ailing five-year-old son of Annie Carter Moore, Potter's friend and former governess. “I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were—Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter,” the story began.

According to The Telegraph, it was Carter Moore who encouraged Potter to turn her story and its illustrations into a book. Initially, she attempted to go the traditional route and sent the book to six publishers, each of whom rejected it because Potter was insistent that the book be small enough for a child to hold while the publishers wanted something bigger (so that they could charge more money for it). It wasn't a compromise that Potter was willing to make, so she took the matter into her own hands.

On December 16, 1901, a 35-year-old Potter used her personal savings to privately print 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The book turned out to be a hit—so much so that, within a year, Frederick Warne and Co. (one of the publishers that had originally rejected the book) signed on to get into the Peter Rabbit business. In October 1902, they published their own version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, complete with Potter's illustrations, and by Christmastime it had sold 20,000 copies. It has since been translated into nearly 40 different languages and sold more than 45 million copies.

In August 1903, Frederick Warne and Co. published Potter's next book, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. A few months later, Warne published The Tailor of Gloucester, which Potter had originally self-published in 1902 for reasons similar to her decision to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

"She was very dogmatic about what she wanted it to look like and couldn’t agree with Warne," rare book dealer Christiaan Jonkers told The Guardian about why Potter self-published The Tailor of Gloucester. "Also he wanted cuts, so she published 500 copies privately. By the end of the year Warne had given in, cementing a relationship that would save the publishing house from bankruptcy, and revolutionize the way children's books were marketed and sold."

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, more than 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit author.

1. Beatrix wasn't Potter's real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit , was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper—a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

4. Potter’s house was essentially a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. Beatrix Potter understood the power of merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. Potter was a naturalist at a time when most women weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper , “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, ” proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. Potter sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code . This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. Potter was reportedly a disappointment to her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. Potter wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer , producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin , The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle , and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher . Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. Potter asked that one of her books not be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan . It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Potter's later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of potter's was published in 2016.

A lost Potter story , The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots , was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. Potter was an accomplished sheep farmer.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association.

15. You can visit Hill Top, Potter's home.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

This article has been updated for 2019.

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