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  • Published: 5 March 2015
  • ISBN: 9780241958056
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 400

Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes

The Story of Women in the 1950s

The 1950s - a time before the Pill, when divorce spelled scandal and two-piece swimsuits caused mass alarm

Turn the page back to the mid-twentieth century, and discover a world peopled by women with radiant smiles, clean pinafores and gleaming coiffures; a promised land of batch-baking, maraschino cherries and brightly hued plastic. A world where the darker side of the decade encompasses rampant prostitution, a notorious murder, and the threat of nuclear disaster.

In Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes Virginia Nicholson reconstructs the real 1950s, through the eyes of the women who lived it. Step back in time to where our grandmothers scrubbed their doorsteps, cared for their families, lived, laughed, loved and struggled.

This is their story.

  • Published: 5 March 2015
  • ISBN: 9780241958056
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 400

About the author

Virginia Nicholson

Virginia Nicholson was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. After studying at Cambridge University she lived in France and Italy and then worked as a documentary researcher for BBC Television. Her first book, Charleston - A Bloomsbury House and Garden (written in collaboration with her father, Quentin Bell), was an account of the Sussex home of her grandmother, the painter Vanessa Bell.
Books published by Penguin include Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939 and Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived without Men After the First World War. She is married and has three children.

Also by Virginia Nicholson

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Praise for Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes

Virginia Nicholson gets us closer than we have ever been before to the complicated day-to-day reality of women's lives during that still controversial decade, the 1950s

David Kynaston

Nicholson handles her material with confidence, sympathy and, ultimately, optimism that for most women things have improved, so that the abiding emotion is not gloom but, in my case, admiration for my mother's generation and gratitude that it was so much better for ours

Daily Telegraph

Nicholson uses vivid contemporary sources and oral testimony to show the constraints under which so many women lived. Like David Kynaston's Family Britain . . . Nicholson has the same knack of seamlessly piecing gripping individual stories into a panorama of ordinary life

Sunday Times

An important and humane book of female social history . . . In this work, Nicholson musters voices to profound and deeply political effect. Much of the material in this book will be familiar to women over 55: we were born into this world. For younger women, though, Nicholson's book should be necessary reading, to remind them how far we have travelled.

Melanie Reid, The Times

An uplifting and heartwarming read


Nicholson spells out the contradictions of this era so well: a new world dressed in old clothes

Indendent on Sunday

Remarkable. To today's young, it'll sound like life on another planet

Daily Mail

The achievements of the women in this book haunt us and move us to admiration


Insightful social history. Mixing research with a wealth of anecdote, Nicholson brings history to vivid and touching life

Mail on Sunday

Poignantly illustrates how the women of the 1950s yearned for the innovative technology of the era to liberate them from repetitive drudgery

Victoria Coren Mitchell, Observer

Indefatigably researched, moving and perceptive, Nicholson handles her wide-ranging material with sympathy, humour and a lightness of touch. Her enviable gift for interpretation and storytelling is balanced by first-hand accounts of those women of the 1950s, their youth so relatively recent, who have trusted her with the intimate details of their lives


There is certainly warmth in [Virginia Nicholson's] curiosity as she delves into the stories of her mother's generation . . . Nicholson's judgements are rightly and often amusingly sharp . . . Her skill as an interviewer leaves her subjects revealing long-kept secrets and her flair as a writer makes us care about these young women and what happens to them

Lara Feigel, Observer

Richly detailed. We hear from women working as air hostesses, housewives, biscuit packers, prostitutes, academics, models, secretaries and Buttlin's Redcoats. We discover how women felt entering beatuty contests, having to give up work on marriage, being defined by their husband's jobs, becomming unmarried mothers, enduring racism, marching against nuclear weapons and desiring other women. Nicholson's own commentary, in turns compassionate and wry, holds everything together


A fascinating look at the lives of ordinary women in 1950s Britain

Sunday Times

Meticulously researched

Big Issue in the North

A ground-breaking book, richly nuanced with titbits of information, insight and understanding

Daily Mail (on 'Singled Out')

Remarkably perceptive and well-researched . . . Virginia Nicholson has produced another extraordinarily interesting work, sensitive, intelligent and well-written

Sunday Telegraph (on 'Singled Out')

An inspiring book, lovingly researched, well-written and humane . . . the period is beautifully caught

Economist (on 'Singled Out')

The popular image is of a world where women wore little frilled pinafores with immaculately coiffed hair and happy smiles as they dusted, swept and baked . . . But Nicholson's book reveals a much darker side of life

Telegraph, Best Non-Fiction Books of 2015

Gripping, constantly surprising: a page-turner. We hear at first hand the life stories of women from different walks of life, from factory workers to debs. Each story draws you right in and it's always a wrench to move on

Country Life

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