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Housewives' Choice - Women as Consumers Between the Wars

Catherine Horwood looks at how the launch of Good Housekeeping in the UK 75 years ago heralded a new image of domestic activity.

In March 1922, America's leading domestic magazine was launched in Britain. Prophetically, publicity promoted Good Housekeeping as 'infinitely more than a magazine – a New Institution, destined to play an important part in the lives of thousands of women'. It was claimed that 'no magazine to compare with Good Housekeeping has ever been attempted in this country before'. Was this a fair claim? Did Good House- keeping indeed become a trend-setting 'institution' – or was it part of an inevitable growth industry as a sea of consumerism linked to household goods washed over women's lives?

Women's magazines have often been seen as central to the promulgation of a cult of domesticity, and perhaps none more so than Good Housekeeping. Its very title seems to con- firm this clichéd image. Undoubtedly, many women's magazines have tried to elevate the image of women as home-makers by aiming to dignify what elsewhere could be seen as drudgery. They attempted to do this by raising the status of housework to that of a true 'science' and by encouraging women to buy their way to a new domestic freedom. But whose side were they really on? Were they trying to tip their readers' lives towards an even more domestic bias? Did publishing entrepreneurs see in advertising, a golden opportunity to harness the wealth of the rapidly developing manufacturing industries? Or were they merely answering a need as shifts occurred in the pattern of women's daily lives during these two interwar decades'?

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