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Friday, March 2, 2018

Making it Work: Women & Personal Care in the 1940s

by guest blogger, Renee Clark

In the late 1940s, one would imagine women had access to many of the conveniences for personal care that we have today, right? One glance at the popular rolled hairstyles that women did at home, without the use of a maid, makes one assume things had come a long way since the Regency and Victorian periods.

That’s what I thought too, until I sat down to fact check for my historical novel, Beneath the Bellemont Sky, which takes place on a Wyoming farm in 1946-47. Radios were common in nearly every household by then and we were on the cusp of many people owning a TV. Hairspray seems like a given, right?

It wasn’t. The technology we’ve come to associate with aerosol sprays we use now was perfected for the use of insecticides during World War II, and using it on the sticky solutions that set hair styles didn’t become widespread until the 1950s. When the main character of Beneath the Bellemont Sky, Vera, fixes her hair for a fall festival, she has to rely on curlers and good luck for keeping her hair in place. Being thrust into the work place during World War II and beauty supply shortages, women’s hairstyles during the 1940s were utilitarian, and as the decade wore on, soft, brushed out curls became the go-to styles.

Setting up the perfect hairstyle wasn’t the only thing that took much more thought than we give it today. While writing the second section of the book, I assumed that it would be just slightly more complicated than it is in modern times for Eleanore, one of Vera’s friends, to find out that she was pregnant. After all, the forties weren’t that long ago! A few hours of research later, I realized it was much more complicated than even a trip to the doctor. Did you know that the at-home pregnancy tests we use today weren’t even developed until the 1970s? In the book, Eleanore has to rely on knowing her body as she suspects her condition. At that time, one of the only known ways to test if a woman was pregnant was to inject a sample of her hormones into a mouse and wait for a few days to see if it went into “heat.” The tests were long and expensive, and not something Eleanore would likely have access to or even choose to do.

We tend to think of the Roaring Twenties as the decade that “freed” women. Gone were the corsets and restrictive clothing—so it’s a bit surprising to look back and see that advances in personal care like hairspray and home pregnancy tests are fairly modern inventions!

You can find out more about Raneé S. Clark and her new book, Beneath the Bellemont Sky at

Find her on social media:"


“A Thin Blue Line: The History of the Pregnancy Test Kit,” National Institutes of Health, Office of History,

Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History by Victoria Sherrow, pages 183-184


Heather Mitchell said...

I must say, the name of this blog is amazing! Absolutely caught my attention, I'm loving it! I did want to see if you had heard of this new book I just found, The Secret Life of Mrs. London? It was an amazing tribute to Charmian London (wife of famed writer Jack London). What an inspiring story with a gripping love triangle. I loved it! Found it here,

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