Paper Dolls, Potholders, and Pies by
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Prompted By Hobbies

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My brothers had real hobbies when we were kids. They built model ships from kits and airplanes with balsa wood and glue. They collected marbles to play with their friends and baseball cards to trade. They played pick up games of baseball. In contrast, I cut out clothes for paper dolls, wove potholders, and baked following recipes in Baking Fun and Facts for Teens. My hobbies growing up in the 1950s were passive, solitary, and highly domestic.

Looking back at my hobbies as a young girl, I realize how passive and home-bound they were.

Paper dolls were from the pre-Barbie era. I spent hours cutting out their outfits and attaching them to the dolls with tiny tabs that bent over the edges of each doll. I guess you could say I was developing my fine motor skills, but other than that, what a time-wasting hobby that was.

At least weaving potholders on a small, square loom with stretchy colored bands created something useful. The problem was, once I had gifted tons of these to my mother and grandmothers, what could I do with the excess stockpile? I tried selling them door-to-door with limited success. Obviously, only households without girls who also had this hobby would buy them, and no one wanted more than two.

When I was clearing out a kitchen cabinet to prepare for a small remodel several years ago, I discovered this:

Baking Fun and Facts for Teens featuring chapters entitled …
• Baking days are fun
• The whole crowd loves cookies
• Pies to make you proud

Published in the 1950s by Wesson Oil, this was apparently my bible for domesticity written for pre-teen girls of that era. The cookbook promises: “…The knack of making good things makes you somebody special … Remember, practice makes perfect — and helps you win showers of praise.”

Well, this hobby explains a lot. Even in my radical college days, protesting the war in Viet Nam went hand-in-hand with baking my husband-to-be German Chocolate cakes from scratch. Despite living through the bra-burning days of feminism and reading Ms. Magazine faithfully, a recipe for domestic living had been drilled into my head by my childhood hobbies. It went something like this:

• Combine marriage with having children at young age. Stir until brain is thoroughly blended.
• Mix well with changing all diapers and washing clothes frequently.
• Heat oven to 350 degrees to prepare and serve a family dinner every evening.
• Continue to whip all responsibility for management of household and children, even when working outside the home, until you are well beaten.
• Never sift through these ingredients, as it may cause recipe to boil over.

Looking back at my hobbies as a young girl, I realize how passive and home-bound they were. They were preparing me for a life that quickly became obsolete.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real, join my Facebook community, and visit my website.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. OMG Laurie, love the “recipe for domestic living”! And did we really think those potholders were attractive?

    And now you’re spilled the beans and we know why Fred married you – it was for those German chocolate cakes!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your remarks are sarcastic, but ring true for me too (though not so much the cooking part, though I did cook every night for years, even while working a full day at some office), but I, too, enjoyed paper dolls and weaving pot holders on a loom, before getting my Barbie dolls in 1959. I entered college in 1970, at the height of the sexual revolution, but I was bred to be a wife and domestic partner. That’s what I knew. Perhaps is was the Midwest, Jewish, nice girl thing.

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    Toy popularity is a pretty revealing mirror of what a society considers “proper” behavior.

  4. Marian says:

    Oh, wow, Laurie, you’ve perfectly captured that time. I had paper dolls when I was pretty little, but thankfully not that baking book! It’s interesting how boys had “real” hobbies and we didn’t. I rebelled against the “home-ec” type activities and thankfully, IMHO, wasn’t very good at them. By the time I was in my early college days, the women’s movement was in full swing. It’s telling that I, and many of my friends and classmates, didn’t marry until we were into our 30s. I certainly didn’t want to be working and “stuck” with all the domestic expectations.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Sad but true, Marian. I hated Home Ec and would have been happier actually making stuff in Shop. My hobbies were definitely grooming me for a future roll in life. So grateful the women’s movement came along when it did and opened my eyes.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    What a fantastic, insightful and devastating recipe! Wow. We used to play with paper dolls, made slightly more creative by drawing the model and the clothes ourselves, and I recognized the pot holder loom product right away too. Great pictures and quotes. We earned girl scout badges in sewing and embroidery. Sheesh! Times have changed.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    I love your “recipe for domestic living,” Laurie! Brilliantly written and dripping in irony. Interestingly, there is a new book out in (semi)defense of all the home ec courses girls were forced into back then. That said, I think your last paragraph perfectly captures what girls’ hobbies were supposed to be and their current obsolence. Now, if women could only get equal pay….

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Amen, John. While things are getting better, mothers really took a hit during the pandemic and some may never recover the jobs they left because they had to be home to supervise and school their children.

  7. Suzy says:

    Laurie, I love this story so much! Haven’t seen that wicked sense of humor in your writing before. Your recipe for domestic living is brilliantly written! And I have to say the picture of the potholder (which I think is beautiful, contrary to Dana’s comment) brought back such strong memories. I loved to weave those potholders, and wish I still had some of the ones I made. They got so well used they eventually fell apart, but that was because they were so useful.

  8. Well, let’s not forget that boys were also being coerced into prototypical roles — through hobbies, yes, but also in school! While we got to learn how to sew and cook in Home Ec, they were “forced” into Shop. Imagine if things had been different and gender had played no role. What a wonderful world this would be! (NO WARS!?!)

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I think things are so much more gender fluid in schools these days. Judging from my grandkids’ experiences, not only can a kid follow their interests these days, but lots of kids see gender as a spectrum of choices. It’s a new world out there. These kids really care about the environment and I suspect would be far less prone to get into wars. Of course, I’m seeing life from my own bubble, and I suspect there is another half of our country that sees things differently.

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