Remembering a Time when Our Mothers Changed Our Pants
Author: Laura Beth Olssen
I live in rural Minnesota, among the corn fields and cow pastures, where I dream about a time back in the 1950s when backyard clotheslines were full of freshly washed cloth diapers and rubber pants drying in the Sun.
Not much is known about this loving grandma and her baby granddaughter Pam.
The pictures are taken by the woman’s daughter who calls her “Mama.”
“Pam just loves it when Mama holds her.” She comments on the back of one of the photos.
The photos are taken in 1952 and they lived in the South, probably Texas, judging by the the other photos that are in the lot I bought.
The daughter, (the mother of the baby girl) named Pam, uses Southern phrases like, “Mama gets so tickled when Pam smiles at her.”
This is a photo of the grandma (“Mama”) her granddaughter Pam, and the girls aunt who is the sister of Pam’s mother.
This is playful, candid moment caught on film as the baby pinches the nose of her aunt.
Frankly, I just love looking at these candid moments of American family life more than a half century ago. It was my world, the world I was born into in the 1950s and it’s hard to wrap my mind abound the fact that I am over 60 and so are these photographs.
Today is September 13, and here in Minnesota, the leaves are already turning, a crisp cool wind is blowing, and the expected high is about 65.
Summer is closing like a book, and it is unbelievably depressing.
Why is the close of Summer depressing?
Because here in Minnesota we are very familiar with the monster called winter that is bearing down on us like a runaway freight train.
Long stretches of minus 30 degrees below zero and mountains upon mountains of snow are normal for this part of the upper Midwest. Last Groundhog’s Day, February 2, it was 35 below zero where I live, while the high in Phoenix, AZ. was 86. (It’s always Summer in Arizona.)
Summers Are Like Beautiful Dreams
When Summer comes to an end in Minnesota, it is like waking up from a beautiful dream and then being thrown into a horrible nightmare of a brutal Minnesota winter. I have lived in other parts of the U.S. that get snow and cold weather, but nothing, and I mean nothing compares to Minnesota.
Minnesota lakes (all 10,000 of them) freeze over so solid and thick, that Minnesotans build entire communities on the frozen lakes for a Minnesota obsession known as “ice fishing.” I have seen huge heavy trucks parked on the frozen lakes for months on end: That, is how long and cold Minnesota winters are.
So yes, we all collectively cry when Summer fades into winter.
This Kenny and Debbie, brother and sister celebrating Easter in 1954 with their family.
This little girl, who’s name is unknown, is dressing up in different dresses for Easter in 1959. She seems to want to show off her various pretty dresses to the camera. (Probably her mom taking the pictures.)
Who are these pretty young ladies in Longview, Texas in 1952?
Their names and life stories are lost to us in the ether of time; known perhaps only to a few close family decedents of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Did they have surviving children and grandchildren?
We will never know.
Did their husbands cherish and love them?
Or take them for granted, as so many husbands are oft to do?
Again, we will never know.
What we do know is that youth and beauty are like beautiful, fresh, fragrant flowers; delighting us with their beauty and smell today, and then tomorrow they wither and die. It is the nature of all things.
I have blogged about this before, and I will again and again because I believe it is signpost to something much bigger than just “fashion” or aesthetics.
When Women Wore Dresses
More the most part of the American 20th century, the slang phrase, “chasing skirts” was shorthand for men pursuing women for dating (courting) and or marriage. The slang was common because dresses and skirts were synonymous with women” 99% of all women wore skirts and dresses.
Women wore them at social functions
They wore them at backyard BBQs
Women wore dresses and skirts EVERYDAY
Why Did Women Stop Wearing Dresses?
In my opinion, a fundamental, seismic shift in our society happened. I do not believe that it was “natural” or a product of societal evolution. For more than two centuries in American society, women wore dresses and skirts: wearing pants was considered vulgar and manly, something that proper women just did not do.
Burning Bras/Burning Skirts
Bras may have been the most conspicuous article of women’s clothing that was being burned in the streets by foot soldiers of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 60s and early 70s, but in essence skirts and dresses were burned too.
After the late 70s and early 80s, the only time you saw a woman in a dress or skirt was either at Church or a proper social function which required a more “formal” attire.
The 1950s was the last decade in America when women dressed like women and men dressed like men. After the “cultural revolution” of the 1960s, there was nothing but wreckage and destruction left in it’s wake, and women stopped wearing skirts and dresses. I believe, that is when America contracted a terminal illness and our nation is now in its death throes. RIP America.
Not much is known about Darlene, a cute little girl who lived with her family in Memphis, Tennessee in 1954. Some of her photos were included in a lot sale of estate photos that I bought.
Her Birthday Party
Darlene Loves Her Kitty
Other Photos of Darlene in 1954
Memphis in 1954
Of course these photos don’t just show a little girl and her family in 1954 but the city of Memphis, Tennessee. In those days, in the early 1950s, before the insanity of “wokeness” consumed the US in the 2020s, Memphis was a safe, sane, nice place to raise a family. No street gangs, no drive-by shootings, no gang warfare fought in the streets, just a nice wholesome Southern city. But no more.
There is often a heated and contentious debate in the US among academics, historians and everyday folk about whether the US was, is, or was intended to be, a “Christian Nation.” The truth of the matter is a bit grey and complicated.
The Founding Fathers who were rebels and traitors to the English Crown in 1776 where for the most part, products of a secular, humanist 18th-century “Enlightenment” movement in Western Europe that was rooted in empiricism, skepticism, and science. The were about 90% “Deists” and agnostics and overall hostile to what many Christians called, “reveled Biblical Truth.”
However, by the 1940s and 1950s, a very different America emerged from the one that was founded by rebellion against the lawful and rightful authority of King George III. The America of the 1950s was obedient to the seated government, eschewed rebellion and revolution, and embraced Church-going, “Bible-thumping” Christianity and Catholicism.
May 7, 1949
This photo taken outside of a Protestant church on a Sunday morning in America (location unknown) is a good snapshot of who we were back in the 40s and 50s. It is a moment in time that captures the racial, class and religious demographics of the US in 1949.
Jutposed against the America of 2021 the photograph revieals much about America.
First, there is no morbid obesity among the church congregation. This was a time before the advent of “fast food” and “high fruticose corn syrup” being added to everything from soda to to cereal. Americans were thinner and healthier in 1949 than they are today.
Second, America was 92% White; composed primarily of Western/Northern European and English founding stock. These were the days before large-scale, massive waves of non-White, non-Western, non-Christian immigrants started flooding into the US permanently changing and subverting it’s racial and religious demographics. This photo has no Jews, no Muslims, no Africans, no Arabs, no Persians, no Indians, no Asians: Just Irish, Germans, Swedes, English, Scots, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, and Italians.
Third, according to studies and surveys done in 1950 through the early 1960s, church attendance and Christian affiliation was the highest ever in America. Some 90% of Americans surveyed said that they were Christians of either a Protestant, Catholic, or Mormon sect. An astonishing amount, a clear majority, some 63% said they attended church services every Sunday.
Yes, in the 1950s and early 1960s, America was most certainly a Christian nation. And it is no surprise that in the year 1954, “One nation under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance.
I just bought another 1950s baby album of a baby and his family named Ronald Sotir. I did some research on him and he died in 2015 at the age of 58: cause of death unknown. In all likelihood, the baby album with photos of him as a baby in the late 1950s was part of an estate sale after he died in 2015.
This is one of the ways I collect all of these old antique photos is from estate stales, garage sales, and online auctions. It never ceases to amaze and sadden me that so many extended families with grandchildren and great-grandchildren have no interest in keeping these wonderful photographic memories of a time and people who have now passed from this Earth.
In fact, not much is known about him or his family except that he was born in 1957 and was loved by a loving family as the many photos from 1957 and 1958 demonstrate.
One of the things that I do know about baby Ronald is that his mom and dad were in the upper, upper middle-class in 1957. Perhaps even slightly wealthy. Included in this baby book is a copy of a round trip plane ticket from Miami to Cincinnati to see his grandma. The ticket cost $866 in 1957 and in today’s money, adjusted for inflation, that same plane ticket would cost you $8,172 in 2021.
So what was his life like? I have no idea. And I’m not sure of what he died of in 2015 at the age of 58. But the photos tell a story of a beloved baby in the care of loving parents with enough money to provide for all of his wants and needs.
Curiously, he was born in Hialeah, Florida in 1957 and died in Hialeah, Florida in 2015, having never lived anywhere else. The only record of any of his travels are the trip to Ohio/Kentucky to see his grandmother and other family members when he was just a few months old.
After this plane trip to see Grandma in 1957, there are a few more photos of him from 1958 when he is about a year old in his home of Hialeah, Florida. But beyond that, nothing else is known about him or his life, except that he died in his hometown in 2015 at the age of 58.