Annie Meehan is the inspiration behind the Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition. Living in St Margaret’s in North County Dublin with her husband and son, she was not the typical housewife. In her addition to her domestic duties, Annie also owned and ran the local village shop. While it was not unusual for women in rural Ireland to help out on the farm, it was less common for married women to work outside the home. Furthermore, was she not a ‘young wife’ in the 1960s: by the time that decade arrived, she had been married for nearly twenty years. So what connection does she have to the theme of Modern Wife, Modern Life?
Annie was my grandmother, and some of her personal belongings are still in the attic of my parents’ house. Last summer, while browsing through some old papers, I came across a copy of The Young Wife, a marriage manual. It surprised me that Annie had held on to it all of her life. She passed away when I was eight but I have a firm memory of her as a strong, independent woman. My grandfather died relatively young and she became head of the household.
In the past year, I have repeatedly returned to The Young Wife, reading it cover-to-cover. The pamphlet transformed from a forgotten object in an attic to a primary source for the historian. It was fortuitous that I discovered it when I did, as I’m now working on a new project that explores the everyday lives of Irishwomen (with a focus on the 1960s). Reading through women’s magazines — the main source for my research, and the focus of this exhibition — I came to realise that much of the information provided in the pages of these publications was similar to that offered in manuals such as The Young Wife. The major difference was the inclusion of advertisements showing the latest technologies. Consequently, I began to read the magazines as the new marriage manuals.
This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Annie Meehan.