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Leisure in the Home



Whereas woman's role in the domestic sphere or home may be seen as limiting her leisure activity in the early years, towards the mid 20th century the home became the center of leisure activities. In their 1990 book, Useful Pleasures, Donald Wetherell and Irene Kmet argue that over the course of the 20th century, the home increasingly became the centre of leisure activity. Social reformers contributed to this process by encouraging wholesome forms of leisure in the home, such as listening to and performing music, reading and gardening. It was believed that if families performed social activities together it would increase cohesion and discipline and it would help to develop the minds and morals of children. By socializing in the home with their parents or their friends under the supervision of their parents, children were less likely to seek the less wholesome form of entertainment available on the street. 

Woman washing and listening to radio, Calgary area, Alberta. [1922]Changes in the nature of the home also contributed to it being the site of leisure. Gradually the home went from being a primitive and uncomfortable site where men and women performed arduous tasks, to being a site of comfort and rest. Modern conveniences reduced the arduous nature of work in the home. Also, technologies in leisure activity such as the radio and the television were geared for the home. In particular, when radios were introduced in the mid-1920s it was believed that they would preserve the family farm by decreasing people's sense of isolation; according to Wetherell and Kmet in Useful Things they were advertised as "the new heart of the home."  Women were known to keep the radio on all day as they performed their household chores because it provided entertainment and a sense of companionship. Therefore, these technologies increased women's leisure opportunities by being available in the home; however, as a result, they also fixed her position in the home by encouraging her to stay at home, not get out and become involved in public activities.

Gender played a large role in leisure activity in 20th century Alberta. Women's organizations worked to alleviate the isolation of their gender by introducing more activities geared towards women and their involvement in the public sphere. However, they kept these activities within the bounds of feminine respectability and, as a result, women remained from many activities that were dominated by men. The introduction of leisure activities within the home also increased the participation of women, but they also often reinforced women's traditional role in the domestic sphere.



  • Wetherell, Donald and Irene Kmet. Useful Pleasures: The Shaping of Leisure in Alberta 1896-1945. Edmonton and Regina: Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism/Canadian Plains Research Center, 1990.



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