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Grace Carlson

Poorly-Housed Workers
Long for ‘Dream Home’

(31 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 13, 31 March 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Do you dream about ‘that place in the country’?” begins an article in the March issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. Then the author goes on to answer her own question. “We do. We like to think of the room pictured above in the farmhouse of Mr. and Mrs. William Rietheimer in Woodstock, Illinois."

You may be very, very sure that the room pictured there was not the unlighted, shabbily-furnished one room of a sharecropper’s cabin. No, indeed not! Nobody “dreams” of that kind of a “place in the country." Neither the gushy writer of the Good Housekeeping article, nor her millionaire boss, William. Randolph Hearst nor the magazine’s readers. As for the sharecropper himself, his “place in the country” is much more of a nightmare than a “dream.”

“Casual Living”

Photographs of the interior and exterior of this real “dream house” are shown in the article with details to appeal to the housewife-reader, weary of the cramped living-quarters and the dirt of city life. “The sun streaming through the crisp organdie curtains filled the rooms with warmth and friendliness.” And more delectable details – “The entire attic was covered with pine panelling” ... “Storage and closet space was cleverly tucked under the sloping roof” ... “There were three built-in beds with deep drawer space underneath.”

This all adds up to what the Good Housekeeping writer calls a “design for casual country living.” No sharecropper or “dirt farmer” is Mr. Rietheimer for we learn from the article that he “commutes to his business in the city.” His wife and daughter putter around in the garden of their 30-acre farmyard and raise fresh vegetables for the family dinners, but they wear gloves while working to keep from getting “farmyard hands.” Casual country living is very different from the life of backbreaking toil and grinding poverty which is the daily experience of millions of agricultural workers and “dirt farmers!”

Only a Dream

Why does Good Housekeeping show its readers glimpses of a life which they can never hope to experience? Designed as “the magazine America lives by,” Good Housekeeping is read chiefly by housewives of the working class and lower middle class. When William Randolph Hearst and his associates want to tell the members of the “Smart Set” how to live or what to wear, they use one of the >many other Hearst-owned periodicals, such as Town and Country, Harpers Bazaar and House Beautiful. The “upper classes” do not read Good Housekeeping. Why does every issue of this magazine continue to offer its readers the kind of advice about their homes which only the rich could use?

That is exactly why Good Housekeeping magazine is so popular with working-class housewives – it gives them a chance to dream and to hope. Amid the dirt, noise, clutter and general confusion that form the warp and woof of life in workers homes, the housewife can dream of “a place in the country” – quiet, comfortable, clean, well-furnished, adapted to the needs of growing children.

If the average reader of Good Housekeeping were told of life in Hearst’s Enchanted Hill Castle on his 75,000 acre estate in San Simeon, California or on one of his luxurious “ranches” in Texas or in Mexico, it would seem so unreal that it would have little meaning. Such remote, lofty and obviously unattainable luxury can never form the basis of the poor housewife’s dream. But a cottage in the country, with plenty of “storage and closet space,” “crisp organdie curtains” at the windows, “built-in beds with deep drawer space underneath” – this is a dream that even a worker may have!

But under this social system, it will remain only a dream. According to the latest government figures on housing conditions, half of the homes in the United States – nearly 17 million – had no private bath. Eight million homes had neither gas nor electricity; 11 million had no refrigeration equipment; 4½ million had no central heating or stoves. Houses in rural communities were said to be in even worse condition than those in the cities. Farmhouses were the worst of all.

Housing conditions have grown still worse since 1940. The war has stopped the building of new houses almost entirely. The virtual absence of vacancies in lower-priced houses and apartments makes it impossible for workers to force their landlords to make necessary repairs on the old buildings.

And so, working-class women continue to dream of “that place in the country,” while they go through the dreary round of daily housekeeping tasks in crowded, uncomfortable, run-down city homes!

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Last updated: 19 June 2018