Pleasure-Mad, or, A Brief History of HOUSEWIFE FINDS TIME

by Harry Siegel

Shortly after Alice Munro’s death earlier this year, Jeet Heer resurfaced an old headline patting the future Nobel laureate on the head: 

“Housewife Finds Time To Write Short Stories.”

Clip from Vancouver Sun article, 1961, about Alice Munro. "Least Praised Good Writer": Housewife Finds Time To Write Short Stories, by Moira Farrow
Image via Twitter

Trying to track down the full article from 1961 in the Vancouver Sun, or possibly the North Vancouver Citizen—which isn’t available on or any other digital archive I searched—turned up four decades’ worth of “Housewife Finds Time” headlines and stories, not counting material on the women’s pages of papers, starting in 1934 with an article that stands out mainly for its lede:

“Not all good writers are men.”

After that, the piece details the work of a woman who, “though a devoted mother and busy housewife, finds time for many duties in the conference connected with the Woman’s Missionary Society work.”

Oval photo of Mrs. M.T. Plyler, describing her work as the author of "Methodism and Her Women"

An ad, also from 1934, with a mysterious acronym:

Mrs. B.U.S.Y. Housewife, illustrated by a businesslike-looking cartoon lady, "finds Leisure Time, Joy and Happiness When Her Kitchen is Equipped with an Electric or Gas Range"

Three years later, in June of 1937, the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia, picking up on two different Associated Press stories, ran an un-bylined story about the two married women in Georgia who’d recently won Pulitzers for their first novels, and what readers should—and should not—take from their examples. 

The frame: “While you are looking over the careers of these two accomplished women to see how it is that a housewife can find time to write a prize-winning novel you might also get some points on what to do and what not to do when you achieve fame and fortune for your writing.” 

The story opens up with Caroline Miller, who’d won the award in 1934 for Lamb In His Bosom, about a young woman coming of age in the rural antebellum South, and in 1937 had “just been granted a divorce from her husband of 16 years who told a court that the couple got along well until his wife got pleasure-mad after writing the book.”

She retorted in that divorce hearing that he “complained incessantly and became nagging and unbearable… insanely jealous of her, her book, her success…”

Three months later, a separate article about Miller’s second marriage, to a florist and antique dealer (“Pulitzer Prize Winner Is Wed”), mentioned in passing of her first marriage that “the Millers’ courtship began when Mrs. Miller was a pupil of Miller in high school.” (Gross!) And that the exes would split custody of their three children, including twin boys Nip and Tuck. (Weird!)

Just as the Millers were splitting up, the Free Lance-Star article notes, Margaret Mitchell was receiving the Pulitzer for her debut, also about the old South: Gone With the Wind

But Mitchell, unlike Miller, “intends to keep her husband and continue life just as though riches had not come to her,” with the pair even remaining in the same apartment they’d been in before she hit the big time.

The Free Lance-Star’s mash-up cut Mitchell’s line from the full wire story, “I don’t care for spending money like a drunken Indian,” but does include her new goal: “I want to be fat and amiable. You see, I got down to 97 pounds last fall and I’m back to 110 now and I want to weigh 117 or so.”

A few months later, while Mitchell may still have been putting on those pounds, the first “housewife finds time” headline appeared in 1938: “Busy Housewife Finds Time to Write $10,000 Prize Novel.” 

“Busy Housewife Finds Time to Write $10,000 Prize Novel,” while "rearing four children, and doing her own housework, including the washing.”

While the story is about the author—“fresh-faced, gray-haired, and 49, simply dressed in sports clothes,” “doing her own housework, including the washing” and finding time, also, to bake cookies for four teens (one of them the “six-foot” Jack, 17)—it didn’t mention that she had dropped out of med school when she was told that women couldn’t be doctors, as per her 1983 Times obituary.  She’d gone on to write more than 80 novels about doctors over the next 45 years. 

1939 ad break: Can a busy housewife find time to give her skin proper care, Mrs. Moore?

A richly-illustrated ad featuring illustrations of two lovely women, Mrs. C. Henry Mellon, Jr., in furs, and Mrs. James W. Moore, in a smart tailleur, who "takes advantage of the Friday food bargains." Both use Pond's Vanishing Cream!

1945: 30,000 words a week?! Or, “a time when I thought I’d run out of plots.”

"Mother, Busy as Housewife, Finds Time to Write 30,000 Words Every Week," flabbergastingly

1947: Right next to “Chokes Wife to Death After They Quarrel,” a busy housewife finds time to paint pictures.

Mrs. Norman Machamer, pictured with her family, admiring her latest painting, "Promise of Spring"
Mrs. Norman Machamer, pictured with her family, admiring her latest painting, "Promise of Spring"

1949: “Marriage, Family Fail” to keep this busy housewife from her "favorite hobby," which she's evidently pursuing in the kitchen.

Pictured seated on a kitchen stool with palette and paintbrush before a small painting perched on the counter, Mrs. W.M. Fredricks "can keep track of dinner cooking at the same time."

1950: To the tune of a song that wouldn’t be written for another decade, or be sung until nearly two decades after that.  

An Artist in Idle Moments, Mrs. Paul Arvidson's Work Wins Praise; Plans to Teach; the busy housewife pictured at her drawing board, at work on a portrait

1953: “...slender, shapely and red-haired.”

Busy Housewife Finds Time To Build Nine-Room House: Mrs. Shirley Beddell Crabtree was thrilled with her Mother's day present last year. "Just what I needed," she said. "A concrete mixer!"

1954: Busy housewives get their own newspaper column—a one-off bylined by a man.

1954: So much weirdness here! A Connecticut mother of four, married to an insurance executive, natch, editing her sister’s novel about “the experiences of a pathetic New York girl who has parasitic tendencies but later mends her ways.” The writer, working edits over mail, “based the novel on her experiences as a New York secretary” before decamping for Honolulu where she “took a maid’s job so that she would be a ‘lady of leisure with plenty of time on her hands to write’” before learning that—spoiler alert—“there is much more to a maid’s job than meets the eye.” That ended, though, after the family read a feature about her in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and “did not like the publicity received by their ‘maid.’”

"Public reaction to a transoceanic-shaped novel recently completed by its author in Hawaii, is anxiously awaited by a Westfield resident and her sister [a busy housewife]."

1954 ad break, again for a public utility: “Even a busy wife finds time to get a glorious backyard tan when she runs her household by telephone.”

1956: “...a most unusual hobby”

"Busy Housewife Finds Time To Publish Adams Weekly Newspaper"

1960: “...anything that’s handy as a tool.”

"Busy Housewife Still Finds Time To Enjoy Her Hobby: Metal Work"

1965, Not even a half-century after women got the vote:

"Busy Housewife Finds Time For Active Role In Politics"

1968 finds the busy housewife still posing with her three younger children, plus one of her more recent sculptures:

"This Busy Housewife Finds Time To Sculpt And Paint"

In 1969 this busy housewife in Milwaukee sold stories and poetry to newspapers and magazines. Newsworthy!

"Farmer's Busy Wife Finds Time To Write Stories"

And then, the Busy Housewives simply disappeared. 

Got less busy, I guess?