Selling More Than Soup
by Jessica Kolstad, HIST-328: Cold War America, SP 2007
by Jessica Kolstad, HIST-328: Cold War America, SP 2007
“Occupation: housewife had hardened into a mystique, unquestioned and permitting no questions, shaping the very reality it distorted” and throughout the Cold War in the United States, this concept of the housewife intrigued the renowned author Stephen H. Whitfield in his book The Culture of the Cold War, in which he examined the American culture of the internal United States family. Whitfield described the domestic family through ideals of “Americanism,” portraying “men [as] men and women [as] housewives.” Men had the role of going to work while women had the role of staying home and taking care of the children and house. Through the mass propaganda of the Cold War culture, the “American way of life” was embodied in the press, television, and, especially, through magazines. One important source of this new outlook on life was through McCall’s magazine. Through images and articles from the Campbell’s Soup ads in McCall’s magazine, Whitfield’s thesis on Americanism, pertaining to the “housewives’” and homemakers way of living, came to life and illustrated his idea on the way children, husbands, and families as a whole should behave, act and live.
McCall’s magazine was a women’s publication starting in the late 1920’s depicting the movement of women’s options to the domestic life and how important women were in the home. Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, critiqued the McCall’s magazine throughout her book criticizing them for the images and femininity the magazine encouraged throughout war time. She presented a consistently negative opinion towards these articles and images spread through the magazine. She said that “the advertisers influence was less than subtle” through the magazine. The large amount of ads for soaps that made the wife youthful again, the detergent that made the husband’s clothes cleaner and the advertising plea that promised the best way to bring happiness to the table was through a good meal was ever present and well-known during this time period.
Mealtime in Cold War culture was essential to the overall happiness of the family, and through Campbell’s Soup, the happiness of the family was accomplished. The Campbell’s Soup ads, used every month in the McCall’s magazine, demonstrated the importance of a “homey” meal for the well-being of the husband and children, and accurately paralleled Whitfield’s beliefs in The Culture of the Cold War.
Children also played an important role in the “happiness” factor within the housewife’s life shown through the Campbell’s Soup advertisements. The child was the center of attention throughout most of the ads, placing them as the focal point for buying the soup. In an ad from the October 1945, the McCall’s Magazine Campbell’s advertisement, a mother is wearing a dress and apron with a perfect hairstyle and a smile on her face. She was featured cooking over a stove, with a line stating “What shall I give the children for lunch?” This was a prime example of how the media viewed women as the housewife whose main job was to provide happiness and meals to her family. By looking at the ad, mothers know exactly what to feed their children and how to keep them healthy and their stomachs full. The ad in the McCall’s magazine also places emphasis on every label stating that the soup is “a meal in itself” because it was so easy to make for the children. Its homemade feel and hearty meats and vegetables also added to the idea of it being a full meal. Another ad from one of the 1950’s edition of the McCall’s magazine shows a youngster sitting at a dining table, shouting out to his mother “MORE, MOMMY!,” holding up an empty bowl of soup. This also places an emphasis on how important the role of the mother was to her children by providing them with a healthy meal. “Healthy children of all ages love Campbell’s Vegetable Soup. It’s delicious…and so good for them,” was stated underneath the image of the little boy, who loved to eat his vegetable soup and stated that the mother enjoyed this, too.
In another ad by Campbell’s Soup entitled “School Days are Soup Days,” the mother played such a vital role as the caregiver for the child to become physically ready to study and play. Because the soup is not too heavy on the stomach, it makes a perfect lunch time meal. This shows that the mother is doing her best to meet all her children’s needs to perform their best. The ad tells mothers that the meal is substantially important for the child to grow and replenish his or her energy while away at school. Mothers were the caregivers, the cleaners, the cook and the housewife. Campbell’s Soup ads placed the housewife as the center of the well-being of the family, caring for the children after a long day at school and especially the husband after a long days work because she was the one to stay home all day and manage the household.
Whitfield placed a special emphasis on the male as the head of the family through his quote “men [as] men and women [as] housewives.” Men were perceived as the one in the family to deal with all the issues outside of the home; they dealt with the expenses and bringing money into the family. It was a man’s job. Betty Friedan stated that “they wanted the men to make the major decisions” within their housewife lives so they could concern themselves with their children and husband. Since the man was working all day, it was the job of the wife to ensure him a comfortable return to the domestic life, and Campbell’s Soup ensured that happy husband. In an advertisement from McCall’s in October 1945, entitled “Wouldn’t I be silly to make it myself?,” the wife was seen cooking over a hot stove in her apron, with a smile on her face, dreaming of how easy Campbell’s soup was to make for her husband, unlike that of her mother in the older days. The ad went on to speak of the wife’s mother and how she had to roll her noodles, and cook the chicken, showing how much it took for the wife’s father to be pleased. Since the wife now had Campbell’s Soup, she did not have to go through all that trouble her mother went through, and with heating up a nice bowl of soup, the husband complimented her by saying “Gosh darling, this is really swell!” and “what better music can a wife hear than that?”
Since Campbell’s Soup seemingly had all the solutions to solve the “what shall I feed him?” mealtime dilemma, the next advertisement shows that it has “all the answers” a housewife could imagine ensuring the happiness of her husband. The Campbell’s advertisement shows how the soup will solve what to “give him for dinner.” In an instant she says, “I know! I’ll start him off with Campbell’s Vegetable Soup. He always says it tastes even better than my own – and I agree!” This shows the role of the male as the dominant figure, the one to please. To please him, she agrees with him that her own cooking cannot exceed what is stored in a Campbell’s Soup can. That same advertisement goes on to explain what to feed the children for lunch, and how to make those leftovers palatable for the dinner that evening with the family.
Family was key in Campbell’s Soup’s all around appeal because through dinner, the “togetherness” of the family was accomplished. Dinner was a time to join together after the children got off school and their father returned home from work. In an ad by Campbell’s from a late 1950’s McCall’s magazine, the wife was seen putting a boutonnière on the grocer because he introduced her to a new soup that her family was sure to love. “[Her] only dream was to be [a] perfect [wife] and [mother]” to her family according to Betty Friedan. Another article pictured a graph with a month of lunch menus to feed the family ensuring that having soup in their diet everyday would make them happy and keep them healthy. Fulfillment in being a housewife was at the very core of female American culture and “there was no point…in comparing these visions with reality, since they were the public truth…”
Being the housewife and mother was important in the times after World War II. She was portrayed as “healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, and her home.” When an American girl was asked what she wanted, she stated “to get married, have four children and live in a nice house in a nice suburb” which is what “every other American girl wanted.” The life of a housewife revolved around her children and family which was the “American way of life” through which women attained their happiness according to Friedan. Through the Campbell’s Soup advertisements in McCall’s magazines, housewives could bring happiness to their own lives by bringing happiness to their children and husbands and families as a whole, achieving the “togetherness” of the Cold War family.