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Turlock ‘Housewives’: 1942 and Now
Turlock housewives arranging flowers
LEFT: Turlock housewife arranges flowers in front room of her home (Russell Lee, May 1942); RIGHT: Dr. Sunita Saini places a Poinsettia plant in the dining room of her home on Sunday (FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal).

The year was 1942 and America was in the midst of World War II. As millions of (mostly) men went off to fight, the women and families left behind did their part for the war effort by planting “victory gardens” and holding scrap metal drives. It was during this tumultuous time that Russell Werner Lee came to Turlock to take photos of housewives and other members of the community for the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. 

Turlock housewives going to school
LEFT: Turlock housewife sends her son off to school (Russell Lee, May 1942); RIGHT: Gina Silveira Parker sends her son Caleb off to school on his scooter. The Dennis Earl Elementary 6th grader often rides his scooter or bike to school. While Gina works full time, she is able to be there before her children leave for school (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

The Turlock photos were part of a collection that formed an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944.

Turlock housewives gardening
LEFT: Turlock housewife helps her son with his garden (Russell Lee, May 1942); RIGHT: Rachel Varner shows her 3-year-old daughter Roan how to harvest a prickly pear from a cactus in their yard using sticks on Monday. Rachel said she uses the pears to make jelly and jam. The Varners also grow tomatoes, almonds, walnuts and citrus. They used to have corn, peppers, potatoes and beets, but “it wasn’t worth the effort” to grow those anymore (FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal).

Journal multimedia manager Frankie Tovar recently came across these photos in the Library of Congress Archives and thought it would be interesting to recreate the snapshots of everyday life in Turlock today.

Turlock housewives grocery shopping
LEFT: Turlock housewife shops for groceries. The fact that she no longer uses her automobile on shopping tours doesn't prevent her from comparing values in various stores (Russell Lee, May 1942); RIGHT: Candy Padilla looks for a good deal on berries at the Save Mart on Geer Road on Monday. Padilla is the mother of four children, but leaves them at home while shopping “for her sanity” (FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal).

The photos the Journal chose to recreate were titled “Turlock housewife” and then the activity seen. After a little research, the Journal believes the woman shown shopping for groceries was Mrs. Hefley and the woman shown sending her son off to school, arranging flowers, gardening and having a backyard barbecue were Mrs. Juanita Youngquist.

Turlock housewives barbecue
LEFT: Turlock husband and wife get ready for dinner in their backyard (Russell Lee, May 1942); RIGHT: Stephanie and Manny Beltran prepare a backyard barbecue on Monday, just before a rainstorm hits. Stephanie said mealtime is always family time in their home and they eat outside as often as weather permits (FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal).

We found five different Turlock “housewives” to recreate the scenes. While daily life is definitely different today — most women don’t wear dresses to work in the garden or go grocery shopping — we found that Turlock moms still find time to send their children off to school with a smile and encouraging word, mealtimes are considered sacred family time in many homes and finding a good price on fresh produce continues to be important for household budgets.

Thank you to all the housewives who allowed us access to your daily lives!