CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Suds and Selfhood: Marketing the Modern Woman in the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's

Ariel Tichnor

Division: Humanities

Dept/Program: History

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Sarah Igo

Date of this Version: 22 May 2006

This document has been peer reviewed.



When the consumer culture grew out of America’s mass market economy beginning in the 1920’s, advertisements have played a pivotal role in reflecting both the needs of industry to sell products and why consumers covet particular products. With the birth of this consumer culture came the entrance of women into the public sphere. Yet instead of joining men who held powerful positions in businesses, women became the primary consumers in the new economy with the job of buying up the mass influx of goods industries churned out and, thought to make up over eighty-percent of consumers, the main target of marketers. 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s Ivory Soap advertisements produced by Procter and Gamble, one successful industry during the first decades of the new consumer culture, tracked the social realities that American women faced as society changed with the fluxing economy. The ads reflected how industry needed women to perform different roles when the luxury economy was introduced in the 1920’s, the Great Depression marred the American landscape in the 1930’s, and World War Two drafted men overseas and women to their husband’s vacant jobs. Although industries needed women to play an ever-increasing part in the public realm of business, the Ivory ads also revealed that American society, including male-dominated industries and the masses of female consumers, still believed that women should pursue the traditional feminine ideal of a white domestic housewife who finds fulfillment solely by tending to her looks, husband, and children. While these Ivory Soap advertisements have long since been out of print, the effects of the expectations that these ads illuminated continue to linger in American society to this day.


Women's History

Suggested Citation

Tichnor, Ariel, "Suds and Selfhood: Marketing the Modern Woman in the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's" 22 May 2006. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 26 May 2006

This document has been peer reviewed.




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