Ain’t No Party Like My Nana’s Tea Party

I decided to interview my grandma (age 73). She was born in 1939 in Chicago, IL, and she spent her most of her childhood there. During our interview, she recollected that for a time, she did not have a television. During this time, her parents would allow her and her brothers to go to the movies (as there were several near her home). “We would go to Saturday matinees and there were always a couple of cartoons along with the main feature.  Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, and Donald Duck were our favorites,” she said, specifically.

goodman01_OldElmerFudd-BugsBunny

She told me about the day that her father brought home a television. “What is a television?” she remembered her and her brother saying. It was not a thing that most of her friends had, and so it was quite a new concept for her. The television was small with a black and white screen, and would often display a test pattern, as there just weren’t as many shows to watch. Maggie, in the “We Didn’t Have Any Hannah Montanas”: Girlhood, Popular Culture and Mass Media in the 1940’s and 1950’s article, mentioned a similar thing, saying that “it was very limited as to what you could watch on TV…like, there was one channel…they only broadcast maybe, like, six hours a day” (119).

“One of our favorites was the Horace Heidt Talent Hour.  We loved it.  The whole family watched it together,” my grandma told me. The television served as a family time, but less of a thing she did with friends. Instead of watching TV, they would spend time outdoors, playing board games, or listening to numerous radio programs, including The Cinnamon Bear, Green Hornet, Metropolitan Opera and Phillip Marlowe. Her favorite was a show called The Shadow, which she listened to most often with her brother, Douglas.

Horace Heidt

Horace Heidt

shadow-iconWhen asked about advertisement on the television, my grandma replied that “there was not a lot of advertising on the television then—not like today.” She could not remember whether or not her mother made purchases based on what was advertised on the television, but she did recall her mother listening to the soap operas while she did house work on the radio instead. Shows such Days of our Lives, Stella Dallas and the Arthur Godfrey Show made an appearance in her household. My grandma stated, however, “I don’t remember them much because I was not interested, nor was I interested in advertising.”

When she became a teenager, however, she noticed more about advertising, and the fact that “the advertisements on TV were not about feminine products”. They took a different form, and were more about masculine products. You certainly would not see an ad for tampons or anything of the sort on the television when she was growing up. Again, in “We Didn’t Have Any Hannah Montanas”: Girlhood, Popular Culture and Mass Media in the 1940’s and 1950’s, “a majority of women interviewed could not think of any media content that spoke to them as girls” (120).Ladies_Home_Journal_-_June_1953.62104757_large

At around this same time, my grandma remembers magazines being almost as prominent of a media source as the television. “My mother always got the Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping; Life Magazine, Saturday Evening Post and Colliers. Seventeen and a magazine about movies and movie stars was also a popular magazine,” my grandma told me. In these magazines, it seemed that there was more advertising geared towards a feminine audience (such as clothing and other household items). This made sense, as a lot of  the “women’s magazines and adverts used to address women as simpering housewives whose dream was to impress their authoritative” (Gauntlett, 54). This is obviously a horrendous stereotype, but was a very prominent one, however unfortunate. My grandma thought her mother must have purchased products due to the ads in the magazines (not necessarily for the reason above), and remembers doing so herself on occasion. “I did purchase shampoo and conditioner based on some of the ads” she said.

I continued to ask her about her role models in the media, trying to figure out how many were actually women. She told me, “the media icons I looked up to were Betty Freidan, Gloria Steinman (Ms. Magazine), Betty Furness (who was on TV with General Electric Theater) and many males, who were more dominant in the media, such as Walter Cronkite, John Daly, and surprise, many variety shows such as the Milton Berle Show, Perry Como Show, Sid Caesar (I admired Imogene Coco), Jackie Gleason Show, and the Red Skelton Show.” Although there are some women in the mix, it seems that men were most definitely the frontrunners of the world of media. My grandma did bring up that while this was true, she noticed when women broke the tradition and became important figures on television.  “Men were the dominant figures in television but I remember Kate Smith who sang with the (I believe) Paul Whiteman orchestra.  She always ended her show singing “God Bless America.”  Also, when I was in high school I looked up to any woman who had the skills to be on television.  Some were:  Kitty Carlisle, Loretta Young (former movie star), Betty Furness, and Helen Gurley Brown (in a minor way).  I admired these women because they were breaking the barrier to the men being the dominant faces in the media.  I especially admired Gloria Steinman because she was a feminist and I admired her approach to the cause.  I subscribed to MS for many years,” she told me.

Gloria Steinman

Gloria Steinman

Finally, when I asked her about what person stood out to her as a true role model when she was growing up, she answered with “my mother was my role model in every way.” This reminded me again of the “We Didn’t Have Any Hannah Montanas”: Girlhood, Popular Culture and Mass Media in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Throughout the interviews, it was found that “most participants rejected the idea that media characters or personalities, instead identifying real people as having influenced them” (124). I thought it was especially inspiring and touching to hear my grandma speak of her mother as her role model rather than someone on television. Perhaps the lack of exposure to the media had a hand in that, or maybe it was just the strong family values apparent at the time, which I admire. Whatever the reason, my grandma told me, “she [her mother] always dressed so nicely (even on a limited income).  She presented herself to the world with her hair clean and brushed, lipstick on, friendly, knowledgeable and with gracious manners.  She did not lie, and taught me about life with her example.  She never said anything mean about her friends; she was devoted to her children, an excellent cook, and made a home for us.  She did not smoke, rarely had a drink, kept informed on issues affecting the world and our locality, treasured her father, sisters and brother.  She taught me loyalty, honesty, fidelity, and how to have fun.”

Throughout the interview with my grandma, I learned much about the values of the time that she grew up in, as well as of the media that was available at the time. It may not seem that media had an enormous effect on her, but she noticed the things about it that really mattered, and helped her become her own woman. She finished our interview by saying to me, “being an observant child and teenager/young adult, I was always interested in women who managed to enter the political arena, pursue higher education, and blaze a trail in the work force.  To see women becoming doctors, lawyers, engineers, CEOs, etc.  in my lifetime has been rewarding.  We women can do anything.  It is hard to combine family and work, but many have proved it can be done successfully. I did it! I hope my family views it as successful.”

I know that I do.

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One thought on “Ain’t No Party Like My Nana’s Tea Party

  1. I really love this interview, Noelle — and it seems crucial that your grandmother was older during the feminist movement, as thus able to appreciate what someone like Gloria Steinham (and Ms.) meant, whereas most of the other interviewees were still younger, and less cognizant of feminist figures.

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