Tupperware Parties: Suburban Women's Plastic Path to Empowerment

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tags: economic history, 1960s, 1950s, womens history, suburban history

If you peeked into a suburban living room in the 1950s, you might see a group of women in funny hats playing party games, tossing lightweight plastic bowls back and forth and chatting about their lives as they passed around an order form for Tupperware. 

Well stocked with punch and cookies, the daytime parties were well mannered affairs. But Tupperware parties were more than they might seem. Although they engaged in lighthearted socializing at living rooms, Tupperware party organizers were running thriving, woman-owned businesses. And the women who participated in them weren’t just stocking their homes: they were experimenting with cutting-edge technology that helped food stay fresh for longer. During the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of women started their own home businesses selling Tupperware, breaking gender stereotypes even as they reinforced them. 

The Tupperware Home Parties of the 1950s and 1960s were the only way to purchase a line of polyethylene plastic storage containers that were the brainchild of Earl Tupper, a Massachusetts businessman who figured out a way to turn an industrial byproduct into an improvement on plastic he called Poly-T. Tupper introduced Tupperware after World War II. But at first, nobody understood what they were or how to use them. It would take an ambitious woman—and an army of amateur salespeople—to sell the innovative containers to America.

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