Thought Catalog

How to Be a Good Spouse in the 1930s

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When we get glimpses of the way things used to be back before the divorce rate climbed to one in three, whether it’s a scene from Mad Men or the charts presented here, we try not to think that this might have been the way things were for our grandparents and great-grandparents — that marriage was a kind of pleasant business partnership in which both partners walked a fine line between cheerful (he) and deferential (she). Would my great-grandfather have really been disappointed if his wife “put her cold feet” on him at night “to warm them”? Then again, can I even imagine my great-grandmother putting her cold feet on him at night to warm them? Nope.

Of course, the saddest thing about these charts, which were created from surveys of real men and women of the 1930s by Scientific Marriage Foundation founder George Crane, is that the answers are so different. I don’t suspect my female forebears had a craving for red nail polish, but it is comforting to think that these days, fewer and fewer people would even blink at the sight of anyone wearing any color of nail polish, least of all red. Nor would they necessarily mind if a woman had crooked seams in her hose, or if she didn’t “dress for breakfast.” These small fashion statements speak loudly of how times have changed.

As for the men’s chart, it’s particularly depressing that women wanted men to read aloud newspapers, books, and magazines to them, and it makes you wonder whether we’re about to find out about some horrible Way Things Were, like that women weren’t required to learn how to read in school, but no one has let on until now because they thought it would make us sad.

There are a couple of things listed here that will always stay the same. For one, it’s still not fashionable to be “jealous” or “suspicious.” Too bad. TC mark

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Cut yourself some slack. One of the biggest regrets most people have about their 20s is that they didn’t enjoy them more. And I’m not talking about “buy more expensive dinners, take another trip to Thailand” type of enjoyment. I mean having the ability to take a deep breath and sip coffee in the morning knowing that you have done, and are doing, your best.

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  • Brian McElmurry

    Great find on the charts. You know the reading to your spouse seems like a plus (not that it connotes that women weren't taught to read), but it seems like bringing a solitary enjoyment to both. I live with my girlfriend, which is pretty much like being married, and reading/alone time is sometimes hard to find. You know the days I want to sit and read, be quiet, when she wants my company. My coworker actually said his wife reads to him at night, and he really likes that. And back then they didn't have TV, and radio was relatively new, so reading aloud was a viable option for entertainment when at home.

  • Franklin McNeil

    This looks fake. Sorry but the language is all wrong for the period and the context. It's clearly someone trying to be funny.

    • The Other Jordan

      Wikipedia says it's the real deal, and it seems to be well sourced.

  • JSEC

    I agree with most of these.

  • randa11

    I agree with Brian about the reading aloud for entertainment. I imagine a wife working with her hands, mending or knitting, while the husband reads aloud. I love reading aloud and having someone read to me.

  • Betsy

    The “reading newspaper at the table” wasn't referring to “reading aloud”… meant that he was reading the newspaper insted of conversing or speaking to his wife or kids. Even now that should be considered rude. But I guess since everyone these days sees texting and ignoring the person they're with as no big deal, it's no wonder people “read” this wrong.

    • sprout

      Um… actually the article is referring to #9 under Merits: “Reads newspaper, books or magazines aloud to wife.”

      • HiredGoons


  • Lis Loosh Andersen

    I love being read to. (Just thought I'd make that known.) I don't think that one is weird at all.

    So the husband is not supposed to bring guests home without warning wife, but the wife is expected to be a great hostess, even to unexpected guests? Compromise. It's so hard. :)

  • Mark ''Arĉjo'' Adams

    I had the same thought about women's literacy while I was reading the charts, then I started imagining some guy reading the chart itself to his gal and trying to convince her “Enjoys spending time with your sister” was actually in the “merit” column.

  • Vanillocat

    The scoring doesn't make sense – it looks like the maximum score for a husband is 32 points, even though this is in the “poor” range, and minimum is 8 points. For the wife, the max is 25 and the minimum is -8.

    I had to laugh at “puts her cold feet on husband at night to warm them up” – isn't that what husbands are for?

    • LisaK

      Actually, if hubby takes his wife out for a date 7 days a week his highest score, by my reckoning, is 62 (that's if he treats her friends well and doesn't blow his nose at table lol). But you're right about the wife's high score…it does seem a little rigged.

  • GayBoy

    Undresses for breakfast (50)

  • Ed

    You can take this test online:

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