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Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story of Women in the 1950s

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  232 ratings  ·  40 reviews
In Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes, Virginia Nicholson tells the story of women in the 1950s: a time before the Pill, when divorce spelled scandal and two-piece swimsuits caused mass alarm.
Turn the page back to the mid-twentieth century, and discover a world peopled by women with radiant smiles, clean pinafores and gleaming coiffures; a promised land of batch-baking, maraschi
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published March 5th 2015 by Viking
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Mar 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating look at how women lived in the 1950s. If, like me, you were a child in this era the book is like a trip down memory lane and a wallow in nostalgia. But were the 1950s really the golden age that they seem to have been to many? I suspect that after the austerity of the years during and immediately after World War II, the increasing prosperity of the 1950s seemed like heaven. It seemed as though the weather was always sunny, people were always in a good mood and everyone was h ...more
Nancy Oakes
A long, more fleshed-out look at this book can be found at my online reading journal here -- otherwise, carry on.

Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes focuses on the lives of women in the UK from both working-class and privileged backgrounds during the 1950s. Using a number of different sources -- diaries, interviews, memoirs, archives, newspapers, periodicals, the web etc., -- Virginia Nicholson offers her readers a very up-close and personal look at how women dealt with "some of the conflicting press
Dec 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Didn't know whether to laugh or cry at a lot of this book. Absolutely fascinating look at the life of women in the 1950's.
I admire Nicholson's research compiling this - she's clearly interviewed some of the women as well as using resources such as Mass Observation diaries. We have a whole range of women wanting to tell their stories, women as diverse as debutantes, Butlin's Red Coats, air hostesses, prostitutes and factory workers.
It's so hard to think how different things were for women not tha
Erica Chambers
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not often I give five stars - but this is a marvellous book.
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys social history
I stumbled across this in Waterstones a few months ago and couldn’t resist the inviting front cover and, being partial to a dose of social history, its promise of “The story of women in the 1950s”. Before buying this book, I had no knowledge of the author but on doing some research discovered to my delight that she is the great niece of Virginia Woolf. Having recently watched the excellent BBC dramatisation “Life in Squares” about the lives of the Bloomsbury Group, I had gained a great insight i ...more
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this. Fascinating, well-written amount of women's lives in the 1950s with loads of social history and interviews. You think you know what it was like for women then but it's mind boggling to think that pretty much no women tried to go to university at that time and Oxbridge wouldn't award women degrees!
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 10-fav-2018
Absolutely Amazing, very well written and extremely enjoyable.
Was so interesting and covered an amazing range of topics, real peoples lives and there was never a dull moment.
I couldn't put this book down!!!
This was a wonderful and informative book, but I knew quite a bit about the period already, so for me there wasn't all that much in here that I didn't already know. If this is a period you know very little this might be far more enlightening.
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was great, like sitting down with a dozen old ladies to hear about their fascinating lives in the 50's
Jul 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: myp, history, 12fave
I was born in the 1950s and enjoy reading about this period. The author follows the fortunes of a large cast of characters throughout the decade. She talks of their upbringing, their education, their opportunities (or lack of them), their careers and so on.

It is shocking to remember just how curtailed most women's lives were. Only 1% of girls went to university, and most of those were from middle class families. Working class girls were expected to take menial jobs for a couple of years until t
Carolyn Harris
In Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story Of Women In The 1950’s, Virginia Nicholson, author of Millions Like Us: Women’s Lives in the Second World War and Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived without Men After the First World War, provides a social history of women’s lives in Britain in the 1950s. Popular culture expected them to be Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes but whether the women profiled in Nicholson’s book lived in palaces or council houses, their homes rarely conformed to ideals. ...more
Penny Hill
Nov 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Really interesting and very enjoyable. Some surprising lessons included discovering I was married on anniversary of Queen's coronation!
The social history was fascinating. London was so very different as I guess were many cities. I loved the aspirations of so many of the women some achieving their dreams and fighting the system whilst others slipped into a more traditional way of life. What would we have done? I think women still have these dilemmas to some degree.
So much in this book, politics
Ruth Dipple
Nov 05, 2015 rated it liked it
This is an interesting book based largely on anecdotes, but the world it describes will be familiar to any girl who grew up in the 50's or 60's. In fact there are traces of the same mindset still around: the choices facing women even today are much more circumscribed than those facing men and always will be as long as women produce the next generation.

I did think that the tone of this book was sometimes patronising - 'poor dears, allowing their lives to be dictated by others' expectations' - whe
Jan 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting look at the lives of women in the 1950's and expectations both from and of them. It shows the lives of several women from the beginning of the decade to the end, accompanied by changes in wider society.
Aug 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Intellectually, I know that women have made a huge amount of progress since the 1950s, but the interviews and case studies in this book really bring it home. Bonus: from a UK perspective! This was truly a good read.
Mills College Library
305.409 N628 2015
Rachel Glass
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I absolutely tore through this fascinating history of women in the 1950s, backed up with research from newspapers, statistics, interviews and more. It's an era we all feel familiar with, but the enormous changes in society since then are astronomical (not to mention the changes even from the beginning to the end of the decade).

The stories of everyday women were the highlight for me, although there were so many of them that it was tricky at times to remember who they all were. I also gained some
Unexpected way to tell this story - through multitude first-hand accounts that Nicholson managed to put in a narrative that work. The amount of disbelief, anger, helplessness and disgust for the unfairness of it all just strengthened my own resolve to stand up for women's rights, to call out misogyny and push for true equality even in, or especially in day-to day situations. We need to be aware of history, of how things were, what was done so we could move forward into fairer society.
I wasn't e
Zoe Johnson
May 01, 2020 rated it liked it
I do love Virgina Nicholson's books - they're always well researched, accessible and genuinely affectionate toward the subject matter. I just found myself skipping through chunks of this with no real explanation as to why. I think possibly it's the wrong kind of book to read cover to cover; rather one to dip into and get lost in another era for a while and pop back on the shelves. Nevertheless I left, as I always do after reading VN, feeling simultaneous anguish, admiration, and joy for the wome ...more
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
I really enjoyed reading this book. I liked the structure- not quite oral history, but with enough interesting real-life examples that I felt the points made by Nicholson had their origins in fact and real experience. Certain sections interested me more than others- though I chalk this up to my personal tastes and not to shortcomings on Nicholson's part. Would recommend; is interesting and some of statistics, especially those relating to women in higher education, were quite shocking.
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very enjoyable and easy-to-read book about women in the UK in the 1950s. It's full of detail on individual women's lives, following their stories throughout the period, as well as drawing conclusions about society as a whole and tracing the roots of why things were as they were. Reading this it seems impossible that things have changed so much in so short a time.
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a fantastic book of social history of British women in the 1950s. The author illuminates the subject by telling individual women’s stories, largely in their own words. It’s very thoroughly researched and then rendered into an extremely readable, very enjoyable, wide-ranging look at an often over-looked decade in British history.
Clare Boucher
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another readable and well-researched book by Virginia Nicholson exploring women’s lives, this time in the 1950s. She includes a wide range of women from all parts of society but the common theme is how constraining life was for so many of them.
Abe Frank
Sep 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Rich detail, especially in terms of oral histories, but a little repetitive given its length.
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this.It was interesting and the author didn't use rose tinted glasses and say how wonderful the period always. A very good readable social history.
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, read-in-2018
Very informative and well written
Sonja Faust
May 15, 2019 rated it liked it
A bit repetitive. could have been a third of the size.
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Lovely social history read!
Liz Owen
Oct 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting in places, but I felt it was overly long. Amazing to think how much the lives of women have changed in the last 70 years.
Cherise Wolas
For research purposes. I don't review or rate when I read for that reason.
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VIRGINIA NICHOLSON was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1955. Her father was the art historian and writer Quentin Bell, acclaimed for his biography of his aunt Virginia Woolf. Her mother Anne Olivier Bell edited the five volumes of Virginia Woolf’s Diaries.

Virginia grew up in the suburbs of Leeds, but the family moved to Sussex when she was in her teens. She was educated at Lewes Priory School (Comp

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