Paperwork: Some thoughts on marriage and wives who work … from 1936

Working wives are a menace to society.

Well, I assume that got your attention. But hold steady. Let me clarify.

First, I should put quotes around that bold statement. To make it clear those are not my thoughts.

The full quote reads: “Working wives are a menace to society, but postponed marriages are an even greater danger.”

Indeed, this dilemma was outlined in an article I came across in an Illinois weekly newspaper published in the summer of 1936. In other words, these thoughts are 85 years old. Which makes them an interesting part of our history.

(And, I had to read an article under a headline that reads: “Are working wives menace to society?”)

The article focused on a survey by the Northwestern National Life Insurance company dealing with that very question.

They queried pastors of 166 churches in 160 American cities and found most of them advised against lengthy engagements, even if the wife must work for a time to help get the home established.

More to the point, two out of every three pastors felt married happiness and stability were doubtful if the wife works.

They backed up their belief with these arguments:

“Children must be postponed or live like orphans.”

“The man’s self-respect inevitably suffers.”

“The arrival of a baby boosts expenses and stops the wife’s earnings, lowering living standards and putting a heavy strain on marital ties.”

The article reports 106 of the 166 ministers agree the number of postponed marriages was one of the gravest social problems of the day.

An Ohio pastor declared: “This has been a major factor in a moral breakdown on a large scale.”

The pastors were quick to give advice. Such as do not postpone marriage if the woman is over 26 and certainly no longer than 18 months.

Many pastors actually suggested holding off a wedding until the husband could fully support the household.

Some pastors noted how the Great Depression had prompted many parents to help young couples. Not a good idea, according to a St. Paul minister, who said: “In many cases parents are injuring the ambition of their children by being too willing to assist them.”

But then a Florida pastor, born in Scotland, said the dowry concept had merit.

“In America a girl depends on her face to marry her. It is unfair that the man should contribute a professional training which has cost him much effort and money, while the woman contributes nothing — except her face.”

Whoa. I should stop here and remind you I do not endorse these ideas.

But I am fascinated by how we — that’s a collective “we” — used to be. We are all products of our time and evolving cultures.

Although, I do see bits and pieces of these beliefs today. It’s still not easy for women in the workplace.

And many couples still struggle with balancing the checkbook with when to marry and have children.

That 1936 news article embeds a belief that a woman’s place is in the home (often the kitchen).

Such attitudes have changed or at least improved for women, but has the workload?

Wives and moms are still responsible for the bulk of child care and housework, according to Catalyst — “a global nonprofit supported by many of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women.” reports:

1. Despite fathers spending more time caring for children than in years past — an average of eight hours a week in 2016 — mothers spent an average of 14 hours weekly on childcare.

2. Similarly, moms reported spending 18 hours a week on household chores, compared to 10 hours a week for dads.

3. Both parents are employed full-time in almost half (46%) of households that include a mother and father.

4. The traditional family is no longer the norm. Families where the father is the sole breadwinner make up only about a quarter of families (27%) with children under 18.

So, are working wives a menace to society?

“Obviously not,” says this guy, retired with a wife still working. And it’s not just about added income to the household. I am proud.

I applaud more her accomplishments, contributions and passion for her work, her community, her friends and especially our family.

The kind of things that actually build a better society.

LONNY CAIN is the retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa and was a reporter for The Herald-News in the 1970s. Email to or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.