OLD NEWS: The 1920s brought two kinds of power to women in America

Editor’s note: “Old News” is an occasional series looking at some of Long Beach’s quirky and interesting (and, in this case, sexist) historical stories and headlines.

Who needs work, am I right, ladies?

Well, you don’t have to do hardly anything but give the heave-ho to your team of housekeepers now that your friend electricity has been harnessed.

A story in the Aug. 4, 1920 Daily Telegram brought news of the miracle of electric gadgetry to the overworked, or rather overstaffed, housewife.

“Goodbye Bridget, Hannah and Lena!” read the enthusiastic story that was accompanied by a stack of ads for appliance sellers, electrical contractors and lamp shops.

That trio of women you’re saying goodbye to is your team of housekeepers that you can toss out of your house thanks to modern conveniences. No cook Bridget will be needed now that your kitchen is electrified.

“At breakfast time, think of the joy of sitting at your table with an electric percolator making your coffee, a toaster stove frying your bacon and eggs or pancakes and a turnover toaster making your toast,” the story suggests dreamily. “Even the efficient Bridget is in the way, for now she has no work to do. Electricity has taken her place.”

And stick a fork in cleaning woman Lena, too, along with her broom and feather duster because now you have a vacuum cleaner and electric washer to do all the work with ease in a fraction of the time.

“And milady wants to spend the day visiting, yet dinner has to be ready at 6?” continues the article. Well, your electric range with its handy timer and thermostat will do all the work while you chat merrily with your friends, which doesn’t include your evening cook Hannah, who milady has presumably dispatched into the Dickensian night.

And there’s more. “Think of milady’s comfort,” the story urges. “A small iron in her bedroom always ready to press a shirtwaist or a skirt at the push of a button. Or an electric curling iron ready to heat to curl milady’s hair.”

Soon enough, the story urged the reader to lobby for hydroelectric power plants to be built in the Sierras to help facilitate this Utopian life for the assumed breadwinner’s spouse.

Two weeks after the article appeared, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote, and the balance of power in the American household shifted perceptibly.

But dinner was still expected to be on the table at 6. Didn’t matter how it got there.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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