Life As a Homemaker in the 1930s [Homemaking History]

Welcome to a glimpse into Life As a Homemaker in the 1930s! As we step back in time, we’ll explore what it was like to be a housewife during this era, from daily routines and chores to family life and frugal living.

Join me at the kitchen table as we discuss what life was really like for our grandmas and our great grandmas. (NOTE: Throughout this post, you will see boxes titled “In My Grandma’s Words”. The stories contained in those boxes comes directly from my grandmother’s writings on life during the 30s. She is the little girl in the photo below.)

Eby family 1930s
circa 1930s (my Grandma is the little girl in front)

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Exploring Life As a Homemaker in the 1930s

Ah, life as a homemaker in the 1930s – it was quite a different world to today! This time in history saw a drastic shift in the American economy, with many people losing their jobs and struggling to survive. 

While some aspects of this era of homemaking may seem outdated by today’s standards, I think we can appreciate the hard work and dedication that the women of this time put into their homes and families.

One thing that stands out about this time period is how resourceful women had to be. Money was tight for most families during the Great Depression in the United States, so homemakers had to find ways to stretch their budgets.

History Note:

The Great Depression or Depression Era were the years of hardship following the stock market crash of 1929. The Depression Era lasted more than a decade, from 1929 to 1941.

In this era, homemakers were essential to maintaining a healthy and organized household. Women were responsible for cleaning, shopping, cooking, laundering clothes, sewing new garments and mending old ones, caring for the health of their family members, teaching children how to read and write, and completing other domestic tasks. 

Despite the challenges, being a homemaker during the Great Depression had it’s rewards. A well-kept home and a delicious meal could bring a sense of pride and accomplishment. These women had a resilience and determination that was key in helping their families to survive this difficult period.

Keeping a home was a full-time job that required a great deal of skill and creativity. Homemakers had to be frugal and resourceful, making the most out of the limited resources available to them. Every penny counted, and waste was simply not an option.

The woman of the house had to know how to cook, preserve and put up food, keep gardens, and mend clothes. It was also important to keep a clean home and make do with whatever resources you had. 

Homemakers were essential to keeping a household running smoothly. Here’s a closer look at what life was like for women in the home during this time.

1930s homemaker canning
Public Domain, Library of Congress, 1935

Daily Routine of a 1930s Homemaker: From Cooking to Cleaning

Being a homemaker wasn’t just a job – it was a way of life.

In the 1930s, homemakers were busy throughout a normal day with a whole range of tasks. This meant taking care of the family, cooking meals from scratch, cleaning all areas of the house (without any robot vacuums or dishwashers), and raising the children. There was often a need for mending clothing and linens as well.

On a daily basis, the homemakers of this era did all the same activities that women do today but with much less modern appliances and conveniences.

In addition to keeping up with housework, women also looked after their family members by providing them with medical attention when needed (for example, using herbs grown in their gardens.) Social outlet was typically through conversation with neighbors or engaging in activities as a family such as playing card games, reading books aloud, and listening to radio programs. 

These women had to be skilled multitaskers and very organized, not unlike the homemakers of today. All of these activities are crucial to maintaining a comfortable lifestyle in any era, but even more so back then!

In My Grandma’s Words:

“Mom would help milk cows and take care of chickens. Then she would come in and make a big cooked breakfast. We had fried potatoes, eggs, and sausage.”

The Morning Routine of a Homemaker During the 1930s

As a homemaker in the 1930s, your day would start early. Most women would wake up around 5 or 6 am to prepare breakfast for their families. They would start by heating water for tea or coffee and then proceed to preparing the meal. 

A Typical Depression Era Breakfast

Breakfast usually consisted of simple items like toast, eggs, and coffee or tea. Luxuries like meat and fresh produce were expensive and scarce unless you grew them yourself. After breakfast, a homemaker would get to work cleaning and caring for the children.

In My Grandma’s Words:

“We had a wood stove with a reservoir for water to warm it. We still had to boil the water in the kettle for dish washing. There was a pitcher hand pump near the sink to pump water out of the cistern for the kitchen. We used this for washing dishes, drinking, and cooking. Our kitchen sink was a cabinet sink with a built in drain board on one end and you’d run the water into the sink bowl. We always washed the dishes after breakfast.”

Kitchen Tasks

Once the kitchen table was cleared, the homemaker would start on her daily tasks.

This would involve sweeping and mopping the floors, dusting the furniture, and washing the dishes.

The same went for dishes, which had to be washed by hand as well. It was a lot of work, but a homemaker took pride in keeping her home clean and tidy.

In My Grandma’s Words:

“There was no running water. We had a pitcher pump. In the basement we had a coal stove with a boiler to heat water for doing laundry. Our washer was a Maytag Square tub with a wringer. It had a Briggs & Stratton gasoline motor, and you had to step on the foot pedal to start the engine to do laundry. Then we would hang the wash on the clothesline to dry. To iron, we had a heavy metal sad iron that we would heat on the stove and then snap on the handle. You had to have a few irons so you could always have some warming when the one you were using got cold.”

Laundry and Clothing Care

Laundry would also need to be washed, which was a time-consuming task, as clothes were washed by hand. This task was a big part of a homemaker’s day, and it was no easy feat in the 1930s.

Without the luxury of modern washing machines, clothes were washed by hand using a washboard or a wringer washer and then hung on a clothesline outside to dry. If the temperatures were too frigid, clothes may be hung in the basement near a coal or wood stove.


In 1937, the very first electric and automatic washing machine for clothes were available for household purchase. It was not until a year later that the public had access to electric tumble dryers.

Afternoon Routine

After lunch, the homemaker would usually have some free time. During this time, she would attend to other household tasks like sewing, mending, and ironing clothes. If the weather was good, she would hang the laundry outside to dry.

In the late afternoon, it was time to start preparing dinner. Women during this time were skilled at cooking and would often prepare meals from scratch. This meant that they would have to spend a lot of time peeling vegetables, chopping meat, and preparing sauces.

Meals, Menu Planning, and Culinary Creativity

As for meals, a homemaker had to be creative and resourceful with the limited ingredients available. Canned and preserved foods were popular, as were hearty soups and stews that could stretch a small amount of meat or vegetables. 

Women also had to be creative when it came to meal planning. There were no fast food restaurants or frozen dinners back then!

Instead, they relied on recipes passed down through generations or found in magazines and newspapers. They cooked meals from scratch using basic ingredients like flour, sugar, butter, eggs and milk.

In My Grandma’s Words:

“A typical meal would have been roast beef, corn, stewed tomatoes, green beans, and applesauce. Sometimes we would bake pies (apple, raisin, cherry, pumpkin, lemon, mincemeat) or cookies (sugar or ginger) if we had enough sugar. “

Baking was also a popular pastime, with women making bread, cakes, and cookies from scratch. A homemaker had to be skilled at stretching ingredients and making do with what she had.

Homemakers spent a great deal of time on meal preparation and would often cook from scratch with limited ingredients due to food shortages during the Great Depression. Many women resorted to canning fruits or vegetables so that their families could have enough food for the winter months. 

By making do with supplies that were available in their homes or local grocery stores, homemakers managed to feed their families despite widespread poverty in America at that time.

One of the most significant challenges for homemakers during this time was putting food on the table. With unemployment rates soaring, many families simply could not afford to buy groceries. 

In response, homemakers had to get creative, learning to cook with less expensive ingredients and finding ways to stretch meals further. They also had to learn to preserve food through canning and other methods to ensure that nothing went to waste.

In My Grandma’s Words:

“We didn’t have electricity. We used oil lamps and lanterns with a handle for lighting. At Christmas time, we would rig up batteries to flashlight bulbs to light the tree. We didn’t have a fridge. We would use the cistern to keep butter cool. Mom would make Smierkase (a type of cheese spread) by putting the clabbered milk in a pillowcase and hanging it on the clothesline.” (see below for a video on how to make smierkase from RuthAnn Zimmerman)

Evening Routine

After dinner, the homemaker would clean up the kitchen and dining area. She would then spend some time with her family, reading or doing some other leisure activity.

Cleaning and Keeping a Tidy Home

Aside from meal preparation, homemakers were also responsible for maintaining the home. They learned to make the most out of what they had and were experts at finding ways to save money. 

Cleaning was another major responsibility for homemakers in the 1930s as they did not have access to modern technology like vacuum cleaners or washing machines. 

Women used cloth rags and homemade cleaning solutions such as vinegar mixed with hot water along with elbow grease to wash floors and surfaces clean around their homes each day.

Homemaking in the Great Depression Era

The Depression-era forced homemakers to be frugal and resourceful, making the most out of what they had and finding creative ways to stretch their limited resources. While we may not face the same economic hardships today, we can still learn from the skills and ingenuity of these women. 

By taking a more frugal approach to homemaking, we can reduce waste, save money, and create a more sustainable and fulfilling way of life. The legacy of Depression-era homemaking is a testament to the power of resilience, creativity, and the human spirit in the face of adversity.

woman with child in her garden circa 1930s
Public Domain, Library of Congress, 1935

Finding Happiness at Home: How Women Navigated Household Duties in the 1930s

During the 1930s, women struggled to create a sense of fulfillment within their assigned household duties. Searching for happiness during this time meant finding joy in the small moments and making use of their resources to make the best of their station in life. 

Women managed to cobble together a comfortable home life with gumption, creativity, and resourcefulness. These homemakers redefined what it meant to be a keeper of one’s home.

Their responsibilities also extended beyond the home since they often took part in charity efforts. By cooking meals for those less fortunate or gathering clothes which could then be given away, they contributed to their own communities.

Homemakers would often get together with other women in their neighborhoods for events such as sewing circles or potluck dinners. This allowed them to share tips on homemaking skills such as cooking and cleaning while also providing emotional support during tough times.

Coping Strategies Used by Homemakers in the 1930s

The 1930s was a dramatically different era for many aspects of life, and homemaking is no exception.

Lack of modern technology and the difficulties experienced by many households during this time period prompted women to develop creative coping strategies just to keep their homes functioning on a daily basis. Here are some coping strategies used by homemakers in the 1930s:

Practice Frugal Living

Frugal living was an important aspect of life in the 1930s due to the low incomes most households were living on. This meant minimizing all expenses, including food budgeting and being very resourceful with clothing, furniture, school supplies and other household items.

Women also learned to utilize ingredients already in the pantry, making use of leftovers or preserving food items that would last longer than fresh products.

Grow Their Own Garden

Growing and harvesting one’s own garden was another essential coping strategy adopted by homemakers in 1930s. Not only did it provide much-needed nutrition during a period of food rationing, but it also saved money that would otherwise have been spent at the grocery store.

In addition, gardening provided joy. Families worked together to cultivate gardens full of food items such as fruits and vegetables for consumption throughout the year. Homemakers would often grow their own vegetables in gardens outside their homes or on rooftops if they lived in apartments.

Upcycle Household Items Where Possible

Before new items could be purchased from a store, families often had to find creative ways to upcycle existing belongings into something new and useful.

Homemakers took things like old clothes or furniture items apart and refashioned them into clothing or blankets for warmth in colder months.

They salvaged leftover fabric scraps when re-upholstering pieces of furniture. Even creating home goods such as curtains or tablecloths out of fabric remnants or repurposed material whenever possible

Encouraged DIY Projects Within the Home

DIY projects were yet another way that women helped combat financial struggles while providing family members with useful goods at minimal cost.

Many days were dedicated towards making repairs around the home, instead of outsourcing expensive services only affordable by those who had more financial stability at this point in history.

Homeowners also took matters into their own hands when simple cosmetic updates were required; this included hand painting walls or cutting mats to size when replacing old carpets with functional yet affordable alternatives

Practice Thrifty Shopping Habits

Finally, thrifty shopping habits became commonplace for women looking for ways to save hard-earned money on everyday purchases without sacrificing quality.

Homemakers roamed through markets searching for bargains – many times negotiating directly with sellers until prices dropped enough so that everyone’s budgets could reach agreement!

In My Grandma’s Words:

“Mom belonged to Ladies Aid, a group similar to a women’s club. They traded plants and had meetings about community events.”

Creating Community as a Homemaker in the 1930s

Social gatherings among homemakers were just as important during this time.

To counter their often isolated lifestyles, homemakers created communal networks that fostered social engagement, solidarity, and outreach in their communities. So what was it like being a part of a homemaker’s community in the 1930s?

Start Home Extravaganzas

Home extravaganzas—often featuring live music and food samples from local vendors—were a popular entertainment option among homemakers in the 1930s.

Hosted mainly by married couples, these exciting events invited other newly married couples from the area to come out and make connections with one another over shared interests like cooking and sewing.

Join A Club or Group

Homemaker clubs were grassroots organizations run by women for women that allowed for members to stay socially connected with each other throughout the month.

These clubs typically held regular meetups such as tea gatherings, art classes or knitting circles in hopes of creating an environment where they could encourage one another while taking part in leisurely activities with friends.

Creating Support Networks

Aside from socializing around common activities, support networks were also vital to any community — especially during these difficult times.

Many caring individuals set up mentorship programs throughout the 1930s aimed at providing home assistance, babysitting services and job references. This connected young working mothers together so they could reach out to each other when needed.

Networking Without Social Media

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter obviously were not available back then.

So creative women had to come up with ways to keep their communities informed through means such as writing letters or listening to weekly radio show broadcasts.

They could also check at the local store or women’s group about news happening around them.

Volunteer Together

Non-profit organizations still exist today. In the 1930s there were also several relief efforts headed by resilient citizens who banded together.

These groups collected food donations and money through neighborhood drives or fundraisers to help those in need.

Such contributions played huge roles towards alleviating poverty and fostering a deeper sense of community.

woman at table with shelves of canned food
Public Domain, Library of Congress, 1935

Balancing Work and Family: A Look at Women’s Roles in the 1930s Home

Women’s roles in the home during the 1930s were often a difficult juggling act between maintaining the house, looking after children and older relatives, taking care of finances, and any other duties expected of them. 

With all these demands on women’s time and energy, it was often a challenge to balance house work and family responsibilities during this era.

In My Grandma’s Words:

“Mom did a lot of canning to preserve food. She also dried foods, made cheese, and other things like smierkase to try to stretch food. She never let anything go to waste. We had cows and sheep (mainly orphaned lambs), pigs, and chickens. We also had apple trees on both sides of our lane.”

Food Preservation

One skill all homemakers from the 1930s needed was food preservation.

With limited options for buying fresh produce, homemakers had to rely on preserving techniques such as canning and salting as well as home-grown vegetables in order to provide regular meals for their families throughout the year.

In My Grandma’s Words:

“Mom sewed all the dresses and made underwear out of white feed sacks. She made dish towels out of the course sacks.”

Make and Mend Clothing

With scrap cloths and second-hand clothing, most households relied on sewing skills within their own walls. 

It wasn’t just about making new clothes either; it involved updating last year’s garments or patching up holes in socks too!

Knowing how to make and mend clothing saved money in an era of scarce resources. They would also make clothes from scratch by sewing and repurposing scrap fabric instead of buying new garments.

Cleanliness is Key

Another major responsibility of a 1930s homemaker was keeping on top of housework.

By spending about 30 minutes daily tidying up after meals and wiping down surfaces, these women kept their households clean—an essential part of preventing illnesses from spreading between family members!

Natural Remedies

Finally, many natural remedies were used by homemakers during this time period when commercial medications simply couldn’t be afforded by most people! 

In addition to taking care of the home, a homemaker also had to care for her family’s health. Without the convenience of modern medicine, she relied on home remedies and natural treatments for illnesses. 

Homemakers would use herbs such as lavender or chamomile for calming teas. Honey for healing wounds. Apple cider vinegar for treating skin problems. Garlic cloves for sneezes or hay fever relief. Ginger root slices boiled in water as a decongestant, and turmeric powder mixed into hot milk before bedtime as an anti-inflammatory.

She had to be knowledgeable about nutrition and ensure her family was getting the proper nutrients despite limited food options.

These tips ultimately provided relief from common ailments without forcing families into debt due to medical bills they couldn’t afford!

homemaker and family in rehabilitation housing Boone County, AK 1935

Struggles & Joys of Being a Homemaker in the 1930’s

Another aspect of life as a homemaker in the 1930s was community involvement.

Homemakers would often get together with other women in their neighborhoods for events such as sewing circles or potluck dinners. This allowed them to share tips on homemaking skills, such as cooking and cleaning, while also providing emotional support during tough times.

Women also found ways to connect with each other through homemaking, sharing recipes, and tips for keeping a home running smoothly.

Life may have been simpler than today’s fast-paced world, but there was still plenty of good times around kitchen tables across America!

Despite all these challenges faced by homemakers during this era, many found joy in creating warm homes where they could raise happy families.

The struggle for homemakers in the 1930s was a hard reality. With the Great Depression hitting the United States and bringing about a decade of hardship, those in roles as homemakers had to make cuts and sacrifices on many aspects of their lives that were once taken for granted, such as food, transportation, and clothing needs. 

The joys of being a homemaker during these trying times came from being able to provide for their family and cope through finding new ways of budgeting, tending to the household needs with fewer resources available, and being able to remain a close-knit family unit despite harsh economic circumstances.

Limited Access to Resources

One of the biggest challenges faced by homemakers in the 1930s was limited access to resources.

Many items that are considered basic necessities today were not readily available in large quantities or at affordable prices. This meant that homemakers had to get creative with the materials they had on hand and make do with what was available.

General store, circa 1930s
Public Domain, Library of Congress, 1936

Final Thoughts on Homemaking in the 1930s Era

Life as a homemaker in the 1930s required patience, creativity and dedication but provided many rewards despite its challenges!

Homemaking plays a vital role in society, and we can still learn from the lessons of the past to appreciate the importance of taking care of our homes and families today.

The Great Depression was a difficult time for many families, with harrowing measures taken to make ends meet. 

Homemaking as More Than Decor

In some cases, this meant homemaking became an essential activity for survival. Making do with limited resources and traditional methods of preparation, many women found unique ways to both preserve and prepare food that would sustain their families through the worst of times. 

Without the ability to purchase pre-made foods from stores and the need to create nutritious meals with what little was on hand, homemaking during the Great Depression was a complex task requiring skillful management. 

While a challenging period for many, this era provided insight into the resourcefulness and ingenuity of generations before us.

Budgeting at Home

Many families were forced to live on a tight budget, and homemakers had to find ways to stretch every dollar. They had to be adept at cooking and sewing, as these were essential skills for keeping their families fed and clothed.

Despite the challenges, many homemakers found joy in their work. They took pride in creating a warm and welcoming environment for their families, and they enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing their efforts pay off. 

The homemakers of the Depression era had a level of skill and resourcefulness that unfortunately many of us have lost. 

In a world where convenience and consumerism reign supreme, it’s easy to forget the importance of frugal homemaking and to make the most out of what we have.

In conclusion, the history of homemaking during the 1930s is a testament to the strength of women during a time of great economic hardship. 

Despite the challenges they faced, these women managed to keep their families fed, clean, and comfortable. They were the backbone of American households during the Depression era, and their legacy continues to inspire us today.

Looking back on the history of homemaking in the 1930s, we can see the incredible resourcefulness of the women who kept American households running during one of the most challenging times in our country’s history. 

I hope you enjoyed this stroll down the path of yesteryear! If you did, be sure to check out the next post in this Homemaking History series, Life As a Homemaker in the 1940s.

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