Accommodating 'Mrs. Three-in-One': homemaking, home entertaining and domestic advice literature in post-war Britain

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Abstract

This article analyses the effects of the ‘servant problem’, meaning the contraction of the domestic service industry in the twentieth century, as represented in domestic advice literature (etiquette, homemaking and home decoration books). Before World War II, domestic advisors assumed that readers employed staff, while by the 1970s no such assumption could be made. Managing a home unassisted, especially when entertaining guests in the role American etiquette expert Emily Post termed ‘Mrs. Three‐in‐One’ (hostess, cook and waitress at once), formed an enduring topic for British and North American domestic advice writers between 1920 and 1970. Rather than reapportioning parts of the homemaker’s labour to other family members, the solutions offered by domestic advisors revolved around reshaping domestic space and its uses in order to facilitate the simultaneous performance of multiple tasks. Multipurpose objects were promoted to act as ‘bridges’ between distinct domestic regions, while multifunctional spaces and open‐plan interiors collapsed distinctions between such regions. Thus changes in the roles of women within society and the family are shown in this analysis of domestic advice literature to affect the design and layout of the home, and domestic advice books are seen to have promoted ultimately conservative solutions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)723-754
Number of pages32
JournalWomen's History Review
Volume16
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2007

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