Think of a 1950s mother and what do you think of? Apron on, cooking or baking, hair curled, looking pretty? That’s the image that jumps into my mind. Basically Betty Draper from Mad Men. In the 1950s, all mums stayed at home and looked after their children while the men went out to work, right?
I was fascinated to discover this week that my gran was a working mum in the 1950s. When my uncle was eight and my mum was four, she went back to her job as a primary school teacher in Midlothian. I love that she was being independent, and in a time when most people believed women should stay at home to look after the children, she was challenging this belief. My mum describes her as “a happy rebel and a wonderful teacher” – how fantastic that she didn’t just do the norm and I wonder how many children benefitted from her teaching them in those years that she could have been at home.
More surprising still, I assumed that my gran must have taught at my mum and uncle’s school, meaning childcare wasn’t an issue, but no, she went back to work before my mum started school. She arranged for her parents to come south from Wick to Midlothian to look after my mum. Isn’t that brilliant? Back in 1950, she was facing the same issues and dilemmas (and guilt, I have no doubt) that mums today face. She would have had a conversation with her parents, asking them to come down from Wick in the north of Scotland, to stay with them and look after their granddaughter, to allow her to return to work. And they agreed! How very forward-thinking and modern! I’m told that once my mum started school, they returned to Wick, and since my granddad was the headteacher at my mum and uncle’s school, he took them to school and brought them home each day.
The number of working mums in the UK has tripled since 1951. I’m so proud that my gran, Rena Robertson, was one of the few who worked in the Fifties.