Mass Observation 80th Anniversary conference

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

Description of Activity

‘Maid-of-all-work and hostess combined’: Housework, status and agency in the day reports of Respondent 82

Aided by the housebuilding boom, the notion of the professional housewife emerged in the interwar years. Mass Observation diaries, reports and surveys serve as correctives to idealised discourses of efficiency, labour-saving and the kitchen found in magazines, exhibition catalogues, domestic advice manuals and advertisements. One of the most fascinating eyewitness accounts in the MOA can be found in the day surveys of 38-year old Respondent 82 from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, written in 1937-8. She was a member of the ‘new rich’, originally from a working-class family but having achieved new respectability through her residence in a new semi-detached house with five rooms and a bathroom and a good-sized garden in respectable suburbia. In contrast, her husband had fallen down the social scale, coming from a solidly middle-class background and trained as an engineer but reduced to working as a much less prestigious bus driver after the war.

This paper discusses the ways in which Respondent 82’s reports reveal anxieties about her ‘new rich’ status, her husband’s ‘new poor’ family and her neighbours’ respectability, played out through the minutiae of housework. Running her house without servants or casual help, her reports capture the drudgery and frustrations of her domestic work. However, they also reveal how she shaped her housework routines around her own needs and interests to give her time for activities that were a source of pleasure, satisfaction and self-improvement. Thus the interrogation of a single respondent’s reports of everyday life reveals bigger themes about gendered domestic practices, social status and agency that encapsulate the interwar suburban experience of homeownership and class mobility.
Period11 Jul 2017
Event typeConference
LocationBrighton, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Mass Observation
  • domestic design
  • domesticity
  • kitchen
  • domestic advice
  • housework
  • home
  • housing