Life in the 1950s

What do you think of when someone mentions the 1950s? Elvis? Dick Clark? Poodle skirts?

Life back then was a lot more than the famous personalities and latest fads. In my book, In the thrill of the night, I recall some of the common experiences of children and families that didn’t always make the history books. Experiences such as

•  going out to play without an adult hovering in the background,

•  playing sports without a coach demonstrating the proper way to kick a field goal,

•  and best of all, inventing your own games.

I know it’s hard to believe for some, but there really were a lot of things to do before video games and the internet.

What do you remember about the 1950s? What do you cherish about those days? What do you wish you could forget?

Write me and share some of your adventures and memories. The best will be posted so others can read them.




Life in the 1950s — 1 Comment

  1. I grew up in post-war government housing in Glasgow, Scotland – big
    blocks of flats. I turned 8 in 1960.

    The coal man delivered coal by horse and cart, lugged coal up the
    stairs to dump it in the coal bunker – a sort of closet outside the
    front door. (My brother was a coal licker – it was something known
    then, people thought it was maybe some dietary deficiency that made
    kids do it. Mum would go to get a scuttle of coal, and he’d be in the
    coal bunker, licking coal.)

    The ragman also made his rounds with a horse and cart, and we kids
    would run and ask our mothers for rags for the ragman, because he’d
    give you a balloon in return.

    The piano teacher came to our house and so did “the Insurance Man.” We
    had to feed the meter to keep electricity flowing. There was a coal
    fire in the living room – the only heating in the house. Ice formed on
    the insides of the windows, and we still kept the small window open
    for fresh air. Babies were put outside in prams for their naps to get
    fresh air, even in cold weather.

    We were free to go out and play, and played in different apartments
    and outside nearby. We’d play in the big weedy court formed by the
    three sides of the apartment block. It was for drying clothes mostly.
    The fourth side of the court was the midden – an area where all the
    bins (trash cans) were stored in covered concrete bunkers. We’d play
    jumping the middens. You had to be brave to jump from the midden roof
    to the dividing wall, then easy jump over to the next midden roof.
    We’d play pole tag between the washing lines in the court, and with
    dandelions we’d play “Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped
    OFF!” – flipping the dandelion flower head off with a thumb. Also of
    course we’d tell the time by blowing the seed- head clock. We had lots
    of games that kids don’t’ play now, too, Glasgow street games. Girls’
    circle games. Doublers with two rubber balls up against the wall, with
    a lot of rhymes. (I recently got a pair of rubber balls to show my
    daughter – but so far I haven’t found a smooth concrete wall to bounce
    them off.)

    At primary school we learned the basics, got free milk, vaccinations,
    various check-ups. We did “Music and Movement” via a radio program
    provided by the BBC. We had singing and art and science – and French
    in fifth grade. Also religion which was a mandatory part of school
    curriculum in the UK, at that time anyway, Britain being an officially
    Christian country. I liked the bible stories and the visiting minister
    was young and cheerful. We were all white, a monoculture. (I remember
    in secondary school there was one Jewish girl whose parents opted out
    and she left when we had our religious instruction period.)

    Boys and girls played in separate asphalt playgrounds. Girls learned
    knitting and sewing from the age of around 7. Boys got “handicrafts.”
    I’m not sure what they did exactly. I hated knitting and sewing with a

    At home, I turned the wringer (mangle) for my mother who would wash
    clothes and sheets in the sink. In summer, Mum kept milk cool by
    draping bottles with a dishtowel and standing them in a pan of water
    in the cupboard. We had to go to the neighbor to make a phone call, or
    watch a TV show.

    I remember the arrival of fridge, washing machine and TV, and the
    changes as the decade turned over into the “you never had it so good”
    sixties. For me, they really were pretty good, thanks to our
    government housing and education. I passed the qualifying exam at 11
    with good enough marks to go to a senior secondary (in England they
    were called grammar schools). I don’t know what my education would
    have been like had I been sent to the secondary modern, where kids
    spent three years before leaving at 15 to work in unskilled jobs. But
    the school I went to was rigorous and very academic. Scotland always
    has had a reputation for excellence in education. I was the first in
    my family to go to college – so when people here talk about how awful
    government is – I think back to my own experiences in the U.K. and
    have a very, very different feeling about all that. But – times
    change, the post-war flush of benefits I think has waned now, and I
    guess it wasn’t sustainable. Too bad.

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