Lifestyle Options for the Rich Bostonians in 1930s

Lifestyle Options for the Rich Bostonians in 1930s


As I write the cozy mystery series, The Hadley Sisters Mysteries, I ask myself what would the two sisters be doing if they hadn’t gotten themselves into solving crimes. After all, the lifestyle of a Boston Brahmin in the 1930s is certainly not the same as the lifestyle of a workaholic writer of the 2020s. So, I set out to explore what their other options were.

Homemaking: Any decent Boston Brahmin of that era had a cook, a maid and a butler. Depending on the size of the household, they might have had fewer or more, but certainly some. For years, the Hadley household had two daughters and a widowed father who had an important position as a Harvard professor. This meant he wasn’t going to come home and cook. Thus, a cook was needed. The house was a large, three-story townhouse with a detached garage behind the property. The land was minimal. Cars needed constant maintenance back then. The professor had neither the time nor the inclination to take care of his auto between teaching, correcting essays and running the psychology department. He also had many social engagements to take care of. Hence, the organizer and man of all talents, the butler. The maid appeared later, to help the girls learn enough housecleaning to know how to request it.

Buying clothes: Yes, ready-to-wear clothes were popular. And copying the movie stars’ hair and dress were all the rage. But why buy a dress off the rack, when you can simply go to a dressmaker, pick the style and fabric and have a one-of-a-kind outfit, if you don’t mind waiting two weeks? The sisters always looked well dressed.

Hair dressers: The 1930s were a time of the platinum blonde. Young ladies did it in hair salons and often walked out with violent headaches, swollen eyelids and blisters on their foreheads. At home hair bleaching was more dangerous, since the exact amounts of each chemical was mandatory. Kate and Betty were content with their own hair colors, chestnut brown for Kate and golden blonde for Betty. They kept their hair coiffed in the latest style at the salons, without trying to look like Carole Lombard.

Grocery shopping: Cook planned all the meals and the butler, James, did most of the shopping, since he had access to the car. Amazingly, many people did not drive in the 1930s. In Boston, most people took the T (subway system) or walked. Betty was stretching her wings by learning to drive.

Education: Both Betty and Kate attended a finishing school after high school. It was academically and culturally oriented, but not a college. Despite the fact that their father was a professor at Harvard, he was not sure it was worth the money to send his children to a women’s college when the family money would attract suitable suitors. And marriage was the primary goal of rich Bostonian women.

Working in a shop: No Boston Brahmin would be willing to work in a shop. A young lady’s responsibility was to find a good husband. Most shops catered to middle class shoppers, mostly women. How could a rich woman find a husband there? Besides, with the multiple charitable organizations, which were considered desirable for such young ladies to look attractive, the sisters would not be able to get the time off for all that other, non-paying work. Of course, going into shops and buying items was quite acceptable.

Secretarial work: This was a time where many secretaries were still male. The arguments against working are the same as the arguments against working in a shop.

What the two sisters had left was working for charitable organizations, ie, their auction to raise money to finish paying off the new church organ, doing much reading, which they do, anyhow, or getting very creative. Luckily, their curiosity and native intelligence made the decision for them.