In 1941, LIFE magazine decided to document the lives of one of the biggest single demographics in the U.S.: the 30 million housewives who did most of the washing, made beds, cooked meals and nursed almost all the babies of the nation, with little help, no wages and no other jobs.
The magazine chose Jane Amberg from Kanakee, Illinois as its subject, a “modern, young, middle-class housewife.” Around 1927, she went on a blind date with Gilbert Amberg. Three years later they were married, when Jane was 21.
LIFE documented the jobs Jane performed to make sure their household ran smoothly. It represented the responsibilities of millions of other American women at the time: seamstress, chauffeur, laundress, chambermaid, cook, dishwasher, waitress and nurse. In Jane’s case, a maid came in occasionally to vacuum the floor and wash the windows, at $0.35 per hour.
Through all of this, Jane had to be her husband’s “best girl” outside the home. Once per week, the couple went to dinner, the movies or visited friends. They also entertained at home. All this would soon change. Just over two months after the article was published, the Japanese navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. America entered World War II.