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1950s Depictions of Attraction

Beauty and the Bank: Depictions of Attraction in 1950s Romance Comics

By Haley Cush (2024)

In the early 1950’s, nonfictional marriage counseling books preached the need for men to offer “security” and women to offer “sexual satisfaction” in a successful relationship.[1] Similarly, romance comics, such as Ace Magazine’s Love At First Sight series, used short stories to present economic status and appearance as essential for attraction between a hero and heroine.[2] In this report, I present my data on plot elements in the Love At First Sight comics line. I then contrast these findings with contemporary, nonfiction marriage advice books. I find that in both Love At First Sight and 1940 and 50s relationship advice books, one view of attraction and what makes attraction last is depicted; relationships in which women are fiscally submissive, although not passive, to their partners; unambitious in terms of upward mobility; and valued for their physical characteristics.


Love At First Sight and Nonfictional Sources

In the late 1940s, a new genre rapidly gained popularity in the comic world: romance comics.[3]  One such comic line was Love At First Sight published by Ace Comics from 1949 to 1956.[4] Each edition contains four fictional stories about a different couple dynamic and an advice column catered to a female audience. The intended audience is made clear through the inclusion of gendered language. For instance, the advice of the 20th volume reads “people will say of you, we must have her.”[5] Her is directed towards the audience receiving the advice, which demonstrates the publication’s expectation of female readers. To translate the breadth of material into concise insights, I collected data from fourteen Love At First Sight editions across seven years, about one-third of the series. From this sample, I tracked several plot elements including: the importance of finances, occupations of the hero and heroine, wealth gaps within the couples, and explicit descriptions of the drivers of attraction between men and women.[6] I found that wealth gaps, female employment, and physical attraction were common plot devices across the comic line.

As Love At First Sight featured fictional portrayals of the ideal relationship, the nonfiction industry of the 1940s and 1950s offered an abundance of martial advice. Such books also targeted women as relationship problems were often deemed women’s problems.[7] Two prominent marriage advice books of the period were How To Win and Hold A Husband by Dorothy Dix and Preparing for Marriage: a guide to marital and sexual adjustment by Clifford R. Adams. Of all the relevant books published during this period, I selected these two for their overall popularity and differing perspectives. Elizabeth M. Gilmer, better known by her pen name Dorothy Dix, began writing advice columns for women in 1885.[8] Her advice column was read by millions of people worldwide and focused primarily on practical relationship advice for young readers from personal observations.[9] On the other hand, Adams served as the head of Marriage Counseling Service in the School of Education at Pennsylvania State University.[10] This academic background lends a more research-based approach to his relationship recommendations, including research polls and statistical analysis. Despite the distinctions in author background and style, the books shared core takeaways. I found that Dix and Adams agree that women should rely on their husbands financially but refrain from marrying for money. Both authors also agree that a woman’s attractiveness is paramount to the success of a relationship.

Although relationships can exist between parties of any gender identity and expression, the sources I am working with only portray and assume heterosexual relationships. Thus, to analyze the sources most accurately, my analysis follows these assumptions. Any references made to couples reference male-female relationships.


Financial Dominance and Submission

Throughout my study on the Love At First Sight series, the most recurring plot device was the use of wealth gaps between the protagonists, which appeared in 71.4% of the comic sample. Furthermore, in cases where a gap existed, the hero was wealthier than the heroine 82.5% of the time.[11]

Such gaps portray the hero as fiscally dominant, the breadwinner, cementing a position of authority within the relationship. Since the hero often earns substantially more money than his bride and is her bridge into a higher social tier, the heroine is rendered fiscally submissive, reliant on her partner’s paycheck to upkeep her new lifestyle. While there are stories in which there is a gap and the heroine is wealthier, this structure is present in only seven short stories within my sample. Further, in five of these seven, the heroine is only wealthy because she inherited money from her father.[12] The inclusion of these heiresses supports the notion that the ideal fictional woman in the 1950s is fiscally submissive because, similar to the male-dominated wealth gap relationships, fiscal power is still being supplied by a man. These heiresses are provided for by the financial acumen of their late fathers, suggesting that financial prowess or ambition is a strictly male trait despite the money being in a woman’s name. Overall, the prevalence of wealth gaps in my data suggests the ideal Love At First Sight pairing consists of fiscally dominant men and submissive female counterparts.

In a chapter titled “How to Choose A Good Husband,” Dix suggests women prioritize men with “the ability to make a living.”[13] In telling readers to find providers, Dix implies that women of the period needed to be provided for by a breadwinner, which she equates with a husband or man. This is aligned with the Love At First Sight portrayal of women as financially reliant on the men in their lives. Moreover, Adams claims that “a wife’s outside job always creates problems.”[14] In other words, to Adams, it is a negative for a wife to hold a job outside of the home or earn her own income. By casting the working wife as a problem, Adams expresses that it should be the man who is the breadwinner and that wives should be fiscally submissive to their husbands.  His view that women should take a secondary role in finances by working in the home aligns with Dix’s sentiment that husbands should be providers and with the Love At First Sight series’ portrayal of the heroes as such providers.


Working Women

Despite the prevalence of wealthy heroes and the resulting fiscally submissive portrayal of wives and fiancées, I found that Love At First Sight stories emphasized the portrayal of working, single women. Only 14.3% of heroines were not employed, while the remainder held jobs including retail worker, model, nurse, and more.[15] The most popular job for a Love At First Sight heroine was “secretary,” present in 17.9% of stories, followed by “waitress,” present in 10.7%.[16] In line with my conclusions about wealth gaps, the most popular job for Heroes was “heir,” present in 21.4% of stories, and “businessman,” in 12.5%.[17]


While the relative occupations of heroes and heroines support my prior conclusion about male dominance in the financial sphere of the relationship, a more complex image emerges. The heroines may end up in submissive positions, but they are not simply waiting to be taken care of by a wealthy man. They are originally in the workforce, providing for themselves. Further, the heroines of Love At First Sight are aware and engaged with the social systems around them and capable of navigating them without a man. Beth works to save her aunt’s restaurant, Kara works on her grandparent’s farm, and Kitty is attentive to her bills.[18] Such motivations portray a degree of independence and self-sufficiency in ideal single women. Her man may ultimately take command of such worries, but she is not an oblivious damsel. The regularity of working women in the Love At First Sight series promotes the notion that desirable women should be active, although ultimately submissive, participants in financial life.

The notion that the ideal 1940-50s woman should be mindful of money persists in Dix and Adams’ works. Adams suggests that both partners are active in finances through proficiency in “money management,” setting budgets and avoiding large purchases without consulting their spouse.[19] The lack of gendered verbiage regarding whose responsibility it is to set this budget leaves open the interpretation that men and women should assume this role. In other words, Adams suggests a healthy relationship is one where both parties take an active role in finances. Similarly, Dix advises that a young woman “should earn her own living before she is married,” because holding a job “teaches her the value of money.”[20] Essentially, Dix views working as a means to learn financial management skills, ultimately equipping women to be active in household finances. Thus, just as in the Love At First Sight series, both nonfiction works promote the idea that the ideal woman should not be fiscally passive or unaware, highlighting the continuity between the comics and advisory books.


Financial Attraction

Finally, I tracked explicit language used to describe the basis of the hero’s attraction to the heroine and vice-versa. Despite financial-based tropes, such as rags-to-riches or secret millionaire, in 42.9% of the stories surveyed and mention of financial status in an additional 44.6%, none of the stories I surveyed explicitly state wealth as a reason the heroine is attracted to the hero.[21]

The omission of protagonists being attracted to money suggests that the prioritization of wealth in a relationship is taboo in the fictional world of Love At First Sight. In the few comics in which the heroine is falsely accused, always due to a misunderstanding, of being preoccupied with money, she is quickly labeled a “gold digger” or “gold prospector.”[22] Such slights on the heroine’s character, despite their falsehood, portray the desire for money or upward mobility as undesirable in a woman. Rather, in Love At First Sight the ideal fictional girlfriend, fiancée, or bride is not financially ambitious, she’ll take her man as he is.

The derogatory use of gold digger also finds its way into Dix’s book. Bluntly, Dix implores women “don’t marry for money” and, if that is not clear enough, “don’t be a gold digger.”[23] Her warnings against women seeking out wealthier partners directly align with the lack of explicit attraction to wealth in Love At First Sight. Across both fiction and non-fiction, there is a clear warning against the prioritization of wealth for women seeking an ideal and lasting partner. Adams is not as direct as Dix but suggests to readers that if a poor girl marries a wealthy man, it is “not the kind of mate she needs.”[24] In other words, Adams claims that people should marry close to their socio-economic status rather than wealth maximizing. While this advice does align with Dix’s warnings against marrying for money and the absence of money-based attraction in Love At First Sight, Adams takes a step further. His use of “needs” implies that marrying within your status offers a practicality or security that cannot be otherwise secured. Therefore, if a poor girl wishes for a lasting marriage, Adams believes that she must suspend ambitions of wealth acquisition through marriage. Ultimately, the Love At First Sight comics’ aversion to depicting protagonists as attracted to wealth aligns with Dix’s warnings against gold-digging and Adams’ suggestion of inter-class marriage, demonstrating cohesion in the belief that single women of the 1950s should be financially unambitious when finding a spouse.


Physical Attraction

While explicit language regarding attraction based on financial status is avoided, I found frequent language that suggested physical appearance as the basis for attraction. In 75% of stories, it was stated that the hero found the heroine desirable because of her appearance.[25] However, the heroine only expresses her physical attraction to the hero in 28.6% of stories. [26]

The high rate of heroines that are explicitly described as “glamour girl,” “pretty,” “beautiful,” or other physicality-based compliments throughout the Love At First Sight series suggests that physical desirability in women is relevant to a Happily Ever After.[27] Moreover, these women are portrayed as concerned with their appearance, brushing their hair and applying cosmetics. [28] Thus, desirability is equated with cultivating one’s image, and not being complacent with organic good looks. Meanwhile, the lack of men described as “handsome” suggests that physical attractiveness in men was not deemed necessary to portray attraction or result in a lasting fictional romance.[29]

Remaining consistent with Love At First Sight, Dix and Adam also emphasize the importance of female attractiveness consistently throughout their books. Dix offers her readers Ten Commandments for attracting a husband, the first? “Be Pretty.”[30] She elaborates on what attractiveness means by suggesting women learn to do makeup and at a minimum are clean and well-groomed.[31] By making physical attractiveness her first tip for attracting a husband, Dix upholds the notion that a woman’s appearance plays a major role in the success of her relationships. Just as Love At First Sight heroines’ attractiveness led to their Happily Ever Afters, Dix tells her readers their looks can secure marriage, the ideal outcome for many of her readers.  She doubles down on this claim by suggesting a wife can “siren-proof” her husband by simply “dress[ing] herself up.”[32] Thus, Dix is suggesting that a woman’s looks can not only attract a husband but keep him which further aligns her advice with the portrayal of a happy relationship in Love At First Sight. Unlike with previous points, Adams is just as direct as Dix, stating that to make a man marriage minded a girl need only “make herself physically appealing.”[33] Once again, the onus is placed on women to style themselves to men’s liking for a chance at a relationship. Adams supports this advice with a poll of Penn State students, in which the men ranked “sex appeal” as one of the qualities they “most wanted in their future mates.”[34] This insight from Love At First Sight contemporaries directly supports the comic line’s continual emphasis on the looks of its heroines. If young men of the period valued the appearance of their future brides heavily, it follows that a female-facing romance magazine of the period would reflect that emphasis.

Finally, neither nonfiction author comments on the physicality of the ideal man. Dix focuses on character traits like “humor” and “congeniality” as essential for a good husband.[35] Likewise, Adams’ poll finds that female Penn State students prioritized “dependability” and “honesty” in their future partners.[36] Akin to my Love At First Sight data, these authors demonstrate a disproportionate emphasis on the appearance of women in a relationship. While a woman being perceived as attractive is deemed necessary, a man being attractive is so unessential it’s not even worthy of mention. This emphasis equates the attractiveness of a woman with her prospects for a happy marriage across fictional and nonfictional depictions, suggesting that the value of a woman in the 1950s and her appearance are correlated.



Across the Love At First Sight comic line, representations of attraction mirror the advice of contemporaneous non-fiction authors. The continuity across genres paints a clear, but rigid, image of the ideal 1950s woman financially and physically.

An expansion on my findings would be to incorporate historical context from the post-World War Two era with my analysis of fictional and nonfictional works. Specifically, I am interested in whether the increased divorce rates in post-World War Two America due to “hasty war marriages” correlate with the consistent pro-marriage messaging across fictional and non-fictional works.[37] Though I lack the evidence to prove such a connection now, I think the edition of historical context to my data could offer insights into the state of marriage as an institution during the 1950s as well as comment on societal constructs of gender roles within domestic life.



[1] Clifford R. Adams, Preparing for Marriage: a guide to marital and sexual adjustment (New York: Dutton, 1951), 92.

[2] Love At First Sight (New York City, NY: Ace Magazines, 1949-1952)., Love At First Sight (New York City, NY: Ace Magazines, 1953-1956).

[3] Peyton Brunet and Blair Davis, Comic Book Women: characters,
creators, and culture in the Golden Age
, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2022), 225-250.

[4] David Saunders, “A.A Wyn.” Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists, Updated 2014, https://www.pulpartists.com/Wyn.html.

[5]  Love At First Sight, March 1953.

[6] See Appendix 1 and Appendix 2

[7] Kristin Celello, Making Marriage Work: A history of marriage and divorce in the 20th century United States (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 10.

[8] Lee Wilson, “”Mother Confessor to Millions”: the life and work of Dorothy Dix,” Border States, no. 14 (Annual 2003) : 19, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A253447117/ITOF?u=duke_perkins&sid=summon&xid=9184d69a

[9]  Dorothy Dix, Dorothy Dix: for thirty years counsellor extraordinary to millions the world over (Philadelphia, PA: The Public Ledger, 1935), 1-10.

[10] Adams, Preparing for Marriage, 1.

[11] See Appendix 2

[12] See Appendix 2

[13] Dorothy Dix, How To Win and Hold a Husband. (New York: Arno Press, 1939), 43-44.

[14] Adams, Preparing for Marriage, 150.

[15] See Appendix 2

[16] See Appendix 2

[17] See Appendix 2

[18] “Out To Show Me Up,” Love At First Sight, April 1950; “Deceit Kisses,” Love At First Sight, April 1954; “Happy-go-Lucky Lover,” Love At First Sight, March 1953.

[19] Adams, Preparing for Marriage,159.

[20] Dix, How To Win and Hold a Husband, 21.

[21] See Appendix 2

[22] “Tell Tale Kisses,” Love At First Sight, March 1953; “Bound By Her Promise,” Love At First Sight, June 1956.

[23] Dix, How To Win and Hold a Husband, 44, 85.

[24] Adams, Preparing for Marriage, 29.

[25] See Appendix 1 and 2

[26] See Appendix 1 and 2

[27] “Love not in the Script,” Love At First Sight, December 1953; “Reckless for Once,” Love At First Sight, April 1955.

[28] Ibid.

[29] “Afraid He’d Find Out,” Love At First Sight, December 1953; “Memory Haunted,” Love At First Sight, October 1955.

[30] Dix, How To Win and Hold a Husband, 76.

[31] Ibid., 77.

[32] Ibid., 149.

[33] Ibid., 81.

[34] Adams, Preparing for Marriage, 84.

[35] Dix, How To Win and Hold a Husband, 42-50.

[36]Adams, Preparing for Marriage, 84.

[37] Eliza K. Pavalko, and Glen H. Elder, “World War II and Divorce: A Life-Course Perspective,” American Journal of Sociology 95, no. 5 (March, 1990): 1214. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2780515.



Appendix 1

Excel Data Key

Name → Name of Story

Year → Year Story was published

Month → Month Story was published

Relevance_Fin→1=Finances not mentioned, 2= mentioned as a descriptor but not crucial to plot, 3= mentioned and a key part of the plot (rags to riches, money problems etc.)

Hero_Description→ is the Hero described as “poor,” “wealthy,” “millionaire,” “born into money,” etc.

Heroine_Description→ is the Heroine described as “poor,” “wealthy,” “millionaire,” “born into money,” etc.

Gap → Is there a wealth gap between the Hero and Heroine?

Gap_Dist → Who is Wealthier?

Hero_Occup→ What is the Hero’s Job

Heroine_ Occup→ What is the Heroine’s Job

Gap_Final → If there is a Gap, does it close by the end of the Story?

Hero_F_Attract → Is financial status mentioned as a reason for attraction/a preferred quality in the hero?

Heroine_F_Attract → Is financial status mentioned as a reason for attraction/a preferred quality in the heroine?

Hero_P_Attract → Is physical appearance mentioned as a reason for attraction/a preferred quality in the hero?

Heroine_P_Attract→ Is physical appearance mentioned as a reason for attraction/a preferred quality in the heroine?


Appendix 2

Raw Data Set



Love At First Sight. April 1950- March 1952. New York City, NY: Ace Magazines. https://comicbookplus.com/?cid=1108

April 1950

“I Mustn’t Love You”

“Scandal Heiress”

“Out to Show Me Up”

“To Hide My Past”

November 1950

“Her Double Life”

“Dollar-Sign Girl”

“Headed For Heartbreak”

“He was a Love Skeptic”

July 1951

“Unfair Kisses”

“The Other Girl in His Life”

“He Was Temptation”

“Stand-In For Love”

November 1951

“Life-of-the-Party Girl”

“That Man Upstairs”

“She Spelled Trouble”

“Boomerang Date”

March 1952

“Competition For Melissa”

“Rebound Kisses”

“Husband by Inheritance”

“The Dangerous Kind”

November 1952

“Scandal Followed Her”

“Because I Petted”


“A Cheater’s Kisses”

Love At First Sight. March 1953- November 1956. New York City, NY: Ace Magazines. Leona Bowman Carpenter Collection of English and American Literature. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Duke University. Durham, NC.

March 1953

“Tell-tale Kisses”

“My Man- and My Sister”

“Happy-go-Lucky Lover”

“Pick-Up Date”

December 1953

“Love Not in the Script”

“Afraid He’d Find Out”

“Heart Bandit”

“When Only One Loves”

April 1954

“Deceit Kisses”

“The Blonde in His Future”

“One Fiancé Too Many”

“Not Honest with Him”

February 1954

“Beautiful Conniver”

“We Met Too Late”

“Nobody’s Sweetheart”

“Dime-a-Dance Girl”

April 1955

“Reckless For Once”

“Men Prefer Them Dumb”

“Dangerous to Cross Her”

“Out to Show Me Up”

October 1955

“Fair-Weather Fiancé”


“They Called Me Troublemaker”

“Under Her Thumb”

June 1956

“A Year for Crying”

“My Kind of Man”

“Love Masquerade”

“Bound By Her Promise”

November 1956

“Half-Hearted Fiancé”

“Suddenly There Was Love”

“So He’d Forget Her”

“Not Free to Love”

Adams, Clifford R. Preparing for Marriage: a guide to marital and sexual adjustment. New York: Dutton, 1951.

Brunet, Peyton, and Blair Davis. “Romance Comics.” In Comic Book Women: characters,
creators, and culture in the Golden Age
, 225-50. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2022

Celello, Kristin. Making Marriage Work: A history of marriage and divorce in the 20th century United States. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Dix, Dorothy [Gilmer, Elizabeth M]. Dorothy Dix: for thirty years counsellor extraordinary to millions the world over. Philadelphia, PA: The Public Ledger, 1935.

Dix, Dorothy [Gilmer, Elizabeth M]. How To Win and Hold a Husband. New York: Arno Press, 1939.

Pavalko, Eliza K., and Glen H. Elder. “World War II and Divorce: A Life-Course Perspective.” American Journal of Sociology 95, no. 5 (March, 1990): 1213–34. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2780515.

Saunders, David. “A.A Wyn.” Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists. Updated 2014. https://www.pulpartists.com/Wyn.html

Wilson, Lee. “‘Mother Confessor to Millions’: the life and work of Dorothy Dix.” Border States, no. 14 (Annual 2003): 19. Gale General OneFile (accessed April 12, 2024). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A253447117/ITOF?u=duke_perkins&sid=summon&xid=9184d69a.


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