There's always someone around to offer marital advice, but historically, words of wisdom to wives have a tendency to be daft and maddening. Still, that's not to say variations on these ideas can't be found in advice columns and books today. Want to keep and please your man? Here are seven tips from the early and mid-20th century. It's about to get real.
1. Don't Talk.
Oh, did Mavis from next door insult your prize-winning squash? Did little Timmy get sent home for starting fires again? Does that shooting pain in your left arm just keeps getting more intense? Keep it to yourself! Your man works all day and the last thing he needs to hear about is how yours went. Refer to the first four commandments on "How to be a Good Wife" that Edward Podolsky gives in his 1943 book, Sex Today in Wedded Life:
Don't bother your husband with petty troubles and complaints when he comes home from work. Be a good listener. Let him tell you his troubles; yours will seem trivial in comparison. Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego (which gets bruised plenty in business). Morale is a woman's business. Let him relax before dinner. Discuss family problems after the inner man has been satisfied.
In his 1951 book Sex Satisfaction and Happy Marriage, Reverend Alfred Henry Tyrer has more to add to that—do not ask for things. This is called "nagging":
I verily believe that the happiness of homes is destroyed more frequently by the habit of nagging than by any other one. A man may stand that sort of thing (nagging) for a long time, but the chances are against his standing it permanently. If he needs peace to make life bearable, he will have to look for it elsewhere than in his own house. And it is quite likely that he will look.
Unless your husband wants you to talk. Then don't you dare disappoint him. Says Reverend Tyrer:
If [the husband] is intellectually inclined, and from time to time seeks to explain little things to her so that she may have at least a bare knowledge of what it is that interests him, and, without the slightest comment, she takes up again the fashion magazine she laid down when he commenced to speak, we may be pretty sure that there is going to be a 'rift in the lute' sooner or later in that house.
2. Bad cooking will drive your man to seedy saloons.
My god, woman, this turkey tastes like wet toilet paper stuffed inside a burnt basketball! Have you no pride? Oh, you had a late volunteer shift at the hospital and then went straight to Timmy's intervention? No excuses! Heed Reverend Tyrer!
A social service meeting, an afternoon tea, a matinee, a whatnot, is no excuse for there being no dinner ready when a husband comes home from a hard day's work. Housekeeping accomplishments and cooking ability are, of course, positive essentials in any true home, and every wife should take a reasonable pride in her skill. Happiness does not flourish in an atmosphere of dyspepsia.
Or listen to the even more plain-spoken Dr. William Josephus Robinson from his 1922 book Married Life and Happiness:
Bad cooking is responsible for dyspepsia, dyspepsia is responsible for grouchiness and irritability, grouchiness and irritability lead to quarrels and squabbles. And bad cooking, which is the usual thing in the average American home, has been responsible as much as any other factor for driving the husband to the saloon, and to other places. And when she does cook, she should cook, and not be, as somebody said, a mere can opener.
If you didn't want your husband to become a syphilitic alcoholic, you should have learned to make the damn pot roast properly.
3. Be the Hot Steak, Not the Cheap Pork.
Speaking of cooking, Reverend Tyrer has a metaphor for you.
Picture a woman preparing a fine meal for her husband.
She remembered his choice of meat and was careful to get an extra-fine cut … her best cutlery and dishes and finest linen are all in evidence, and a little colorful decoration has been tastefully displayed … and as he comes into the house she greets him with a smile of welcome and a touch of manifest love.
Now, say that linen was a bed sheet, the colorful little decoration was fuzzy handcuffs, and you had the privilege of being that extra fine cut of meat. What does all that equal? A husband who doesn't cheat on you!
But say that same wife "is constantly setting him down to indigestible meals, cold and unappetizing, with nothing properly cooked, set out on a kitchen table with a dirty cloth, she need not be surprised if her husband frequently telephones from the office that business will prevent him from being home for dinner."
All because you weren't properly cooked when he was hungry!
4. Don't be a Sexual Vampire or a Frigid Franny.
Of course, as Dr. Robinson warns, it is possible to be over-cooked. Then you become a "sexual vampire" and you will drive your husband to his grave, feasting on his life force.
Just as the vampire sucks the blood of its victims in their sleep while they are alive, so does the woman vampire suck the life and exhaust the vitality of her male partner—or "victim." It is to be borne in mind that it is particularly older girls—girls between thirty and fifty—who are apt to be unreasonable in their demands when they get married; but no age is exempt; sexual vampires may be found among girls of twenty as well as among women of sixty and over.
The opposite of that, of course, is to be frigid. That means you take no particular pleasure from sexual acts with your husband. Oh, "we should talk it out openly and honestly," you say? Maybe see a doctor, a therapist?
Terrible idea. What do you think that will do to your husband's ego? Listen to Dr. Robinson and save your marriage!
Now, if you are one of those frigid or sexually anesthetic women, don't be in a hurry to inform your husband about it. To the man it makes no difference in the pleasurableness of the act whether you are frigid or not unless he knows that you are frigid. And he won't know unless you tell him, and what he doesn’t know won't hurt him. Heed this advice. It has saved thousands of women from trouble.
5. Pink panties are a must.
And while we're on the subject of you performing convincingly in the boudoir, you better be costumed correctly, too. Dainty pink panties are so important, in fact, that Dr. Robinson wrote about them in at least two books. First, in his 1917 book Woman: Her Sex and Love Life:
This may be considered too delicate or too trifling a subject to discuss in an important sex book. But nothing is too delicate or too trifling that concerns human happiness, and you will believe me if I tell you that nice underwear or dainty lingerie plays a very important role in marital life. … If anything in a woman's toilet should be immaculately fresh and clean it is, I emphasize, her underwear. Silk and lace and delicate batiste should be preferred, if they can be afforded, and attention should be paid to the color. As a rule, a delicate pink is the color that most men prefer.
And again, five years later, in Married Life and Happiness:
That the underwear should be spotlessly clean goes without saying, but every woman should wear the best quality underwear that she can afford. And the color should be preferably pink. And lace and ruffles, I am sorry to say, add to the attractiveness of underwear, and are liked by the average man.
6. Let him have a little fun now and then.
What if your man strays during your marriage? Well, Dr. Robinson is here for you again. He says that ultimately, a wife will react to infidelity as her heart dictates. But he still offers some advice: Get over it.
But in case of an occasional lapse on the part of the husband—there a bit of advice may prove acceptable. And my advice would be: forgive and forget. Or still better—make believe that you know nothing. An occasional lapse from the straight path does not mean that he has ceased to love you. He may love you as much; he may love you a good deal more.
7. Remember your husband is the boss of you.
It is fitting to close with a simple truism from the renowned Eugenicist Prof. B.G. Jefferis, in his Searchlights on Health, The Science of Eugenics:
The Number One Rule. Reverence Your Husband.—He sustains by God's order a position of dignity as head of a family, head of the woman. Any breaking down of this order indicates a mistake in the union, or a digression from duty.
Stop talking, slap on some pink drawers, and start worshipping!
This story was updated in 2019.