Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. James Darsey

Second Advisor

Dr. Nathan Atkinson

Third Advisor

Dr. George Pullman

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Catherine H. Palczewski


World War II women are commonly understood to have come closer to equality than any previous generation. Their mass entry into the workforce is remembered as a united front to support the troops while simultaneously claiming ground to demonstrate their abilities as workers. However, scholarship which emphasizes the collaboration between the government and advertisers to create propaganda that persuaded women to enter the workforce and thus serve as the "domestic front" of the war begins to question the prevailing notion of wartime employment as strides towards equality. This project begins with the question: why did post-war women seemingly willingly abandon these jobs and move to the suburbs?

I argue the construct of the post-war housewife, which positions women as willing to abandon careers for the suburban kitchen, is a social imaginary which responds to and uses social anxieties to constrain women’s gender performance and silence gender anxieties. I use the context of the time, as well as rhetorical analysis of mediated artifacts of representations of housewife, to argue this social imaginary silences women’s post-war lived experience and replaces it in public discourse with the multimodal image of Fifties housewife. A visual rhetorical analysis of post-war advertisements which portray the housewife reveals the work of the social imaginary using social anxieties concerning gender roles as well as Cold War fears to define woman’s place. Examining the way Hollywood uses housewife as a frame for its female stars uncovers how circulated use of the imaginary of housewife perpetuates the imaginary by seeming to evidence its claims to representation. However, an analysis of televised representations of the housewife imaginary reveals the fabric of the imaginary fraying. Television humor illuminates the illusion of the imaginary of housewife’s claims to representativeness, and therefore creates a public space in which women can contest the imaginary by exposing women’s discontent with the role of housewife. I conclude with a discussion of the ways this social imaginary of housewife continues to define women’s lives in political debate seventy years after it began to define and constrain post-war women’s gender performance.