Modern Wife, Modern Life one year on.

Four Exhibition Locations

(L to R): National Print Museum, dlr LexIcon, Wexford Town Library, Westport Library. 

Just over one year ago, Modern Wife, Modern Life: an Exhibition of Women’s Magazines from 1960s Ireland opened at the National Print Museum in Dublin (1 July – 30 August 2015). Since then, it has gone on to visit dlr LexIcon in Dún Laoghaire, Wexford Town Library, and Westport Library in Mayo. Leaving Ireland this summer, the exhibition travels next to the UK. Keep an eye on this website for details of venues and dates.

While the exhibition was on display at the various locations, I organised a series of related events. I gave curator’s tours at the National Print Museum and, in conjunction with the excellent Press Cafe, we held a 1960s cake afternoon. At dlr LexIcon, I was joined by author Lorna Sixsmith and we discussed expectations of marriage in 1960s Ireland; you can find the podcast here. And I spoke on International Women’s Day at Wexford Town Library about feminist themes in the magazines.

The exhibition, which looks at expectations of women as seen through the lens of magazines from 1960s Ireland, has proved popular, attracting individual visitors, women’s groups, and school / university groups from around Ireland and beyond.

How times have changed! Not sure I’ll be taking any of the advice – loved the quizzes though, learnt a thing or two!

~ Victoria from London

A wonderfully engaging exhibit. A unique insight into an earlier Ireland.

~ Sharon from Dublin

Very funny! Enjoyed it.

~ Myra from Sligo

Brilliant exhibition. Definitely belongs in a museum though!

~ Ian from Wicklow

 Very interesting exhibition!

~ Paola from Italy

So glad this time has passed!

~ Dianne from Richmond, USA

 

The exhibition also received a lot of media coverage, including pieces in the Irish TimesIrish ExaminerIrish IndependentThe Farmers’ Journal and TheJournal.ie.

A special word of thanks is due to all at the National Print Museum – especially Carla Marrinan – for giving me the opportunity to display the exhibition, for their advice and guidance, and for financially supporting the endeavour. Thanks are also due to those people who supported a crowd-funding campaign and to my employer, the University of Hertfordshire, for further funding that helped make the exhibition possible. I extend my appreciation to the National Library of Ireland and Aine Toner at Woman’s Way for permission to reproduce images from the women’s magazines on display. The original exhibition of magazines at the Print Museum was supplemented with everyday objects crowd-sourced from members of the public – to everyone who loaned me items, thank you! A particular word of thanks is due to David Kenny who kept the project ticking over in my absence while I was busy during teaching term in the UK.

 

Next Stop: Wexford Town Library

Modern Wife, Modern Life continues its tour of Ireland in 2016. After closing at dlr LexIcon on 15 January, the exhibition will open in Wexford Town Library on 22 February.

Photo: Wexford Library. Credit: Wexford Hub.

The Exhibition

Manuals on how to be a good wife had been widely available in Ireland at the start of the twentieth century, but with the emergence of new technologies, the advice extended to newly married women and housewives began to change in the 1960s. The concept of being an ‘ideal wife’ became closely bound up with being a ‘modern wife’. This is best identified in the pages of women’s magazines — Woman’s Way, Woman’s View and Woman’s Choice — which came to replace the traditional manual as a source for guidance. The message, driven by the advertisers, was clear: a ‘good wife’ was not just beautifully presented, but also used all the latest ‘modern’ devices. Her home – especially the kitchen – was an extension of her appearance and reputation. ‘Modern life’ and ‘modern wife’ became blended into the one ideal.

The exhibition, curated by Ciara Meehan, covers several themes: the growth of women’s magazines; advice for newly-married wives; beauty and presentation; the Housewife of the Year competition; new technologies and the home; women behind the wheel; and wives who work.

In addition to the magazines, a series of objects — many of which are loan from the Irish public — are also on display.

Modern Wife, Modern Life is generously supported by the National Print Museum, by the University of Hertfordshire, and by those individuals who supported a crowd-funding campaign.

Location

Wexford Town Library, Mallin St., Wexford, Ireland.

Library Opening Hours

Wexford Town Library opening hours

Christmas Opening Hours

Happy Christmas from all at the Modern Wife exhibition!

 

Thinking of visiting the exhibition at dlr LexIcon this Christmas?  Check their opening hours first!

Monday 21 December – Open
Tuesday 22 December – Open
Wednesday 23 December – Open
Thursday 24 December to Monday 28 December – Closed
Tuesday 29 December to Thursday 31 December – Open
Friday 1 January – Closed
Saturday 2 January – Open
Monday 4 January – Open

Thank you to those who visited the exhibition during 2015.

Marian Keyes, Senior Executive Librarian at dlr LexIcon, introducing Ciara Meehan and Lorna Sixsmith

Podcast: Ciara Meehan & Lorna Sixsmith on 1960s Marriage

Marian Keyes, Senior Executive Librarian at dlr LexIcon, introducing Ciara Meehan and Lorna Sixsmith. Credit: Michael Liffey / Real Smart Media.

dlr LexIcon hosted a special event in association with the Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition on 31 October 2015.

Ciara Meehan, historian and Modern Wife, Modern Life curator, and Lorna Sixsmith, author of the recently published How to Be a Perfect Farm Wife, discussed expectations of marriage in 1960s Ireland.

You can now listen back to a podcast of that conversation.

This podcast was recorded by Real Smart Media, and was generously funded by the History Group, School of Humanities at the University of Hertfordshire.

Modern Wife, Modern Life: an Exhibition of Women’s Magazines is on display on the 5th floor (wheelchair accessible) of dlr LexIcon until 15 January 2016.

Buy a copy of Lorna Sixsmith’s Would You Marry a Farmer? or How to be a Perfect Farm Wife here.

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Review: Lorna Sixsmith’s How to be a Perfect Farm Wife

As an historian and the curator of the Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition, my research focusses on women’s magazines (Woman’s Way, Woman’s Choice and Woman’s View) published in 1960s Ireland. I’ve read them for what they reveal about expectations of women – particularly housewives – during a decade of transformation. The message for the housewife is clear: in addition to being a dutiful wife, caring mother, parsimonious with the household budget and well turned out in her appearance, the good wife was also expected to have all the latest mod cons.  These included a fridge, electric cooker, washing machine –– even a dishwasher! Essentially, ideal wife and modern wife became blended into the one ideal.

But on closer inspection, how representative or accurate was this image of the real 1960s housewife? What about the women living in those parts of rural Ireland that the electrification project had yet to reach? For these women, the absence of piped water or electricity meant that mod cons could be nothing more than aspirational items. Rural Ireland and farm wives rarely appeared in the magazines, with the notable exception of the praise that was heaped on them for the entrepreneurial spirit they showed in earning ‘pin money’ by selling eggs.

As I’m interested in getting a broader sense of how everyday life was experienced by women of different generations and of all backgrounds, I was really keen to read Lorna Sixsmith’s latest book, How to be a Perfect Farm Wife. I was delighted when Lorna invited me to make my blog one of the stops on her book tour.

I met Lorna earlier this year when I took my 1960s women road show to Portlaoise where she shared some really interesting insights into life on a farm, and we recently reflected on 1960s marriage during an ‘in conversation’ event at dlr LexIcon. Her book builds on the wonderful stories I’ve heard her share, and as I read it on a long train journey a few weekends ago, I found myself laughing out loud, getting a little teary eyed – the story about the Aberdeen Angus bull calf nearly broke me! – and reflecting on the position of women in rural society.

How to be a Perfect Farm Wife does not claim to be a rigorous historical analysis of Irish farmers’ wives, but Lorna clearly has a strong sense of the lines of continuity and change across the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. Drawing on her own experiences, she writes with authority. Her observations are given further legitimacy by the use of newspaper extracts – mostly personal advertisements – which are scattered throughout the book. They offer revealing glimpses into a system of values that often guided the forging of a relationship.

As I read the book I couldn’t help but think of the magazines I research and their urban outlook. If they were to be believed, farmwives did all the same things as urban housewives but also collected eggs from their hens. Lorna’s book reveals the truth and shows just how demanding the average working day was for the farmwife. I was particularly struck by a remark from one of her interviewees: ‘we didn’t have time to think about morning sickness; we just got on with it’ (p. 25). All of the challenges facing women in their daily lives were further complicated by the necessity of keeping the farm running.

One element of the book that really caused me to pause for reflection actually has very little to do with the farm wife herself. The writing of women’s history in Ireland has tended to focus largely on revolutionary or political women. More recent scholarship has begun to examine the experience of everyday life, but the spinster has been largely neglected. By offering guidance on negotiating the relationship not just with the mother-in-law but also spinster sisters, Lorna sheds light on these overlooked women who existed in a greater quantity than women’s magazines would have us believe. (Magazines were filled with advice on attracting a husband and being a good wife, and left little space to address the lifestyle of those who could not or would not marry). Lorna’s book, though not tackling the subject of spinsterhood in depth, thus makes an important contribution to our knowledge of the position of women in society.

'The Young Wife' (1938) marriage manual
The Young Wife marriage manual (3rd edition, 1938).

Filled with such tips as ‘how to prepare a chicken for the table’ and ‘how to use traditional cleaning materials’, as well as a wonderful collection of classic recipes, How to be a Perfect Farm Wife reminded me a lot of the marriage manuals that newlyweds either bought for themselves or received as presents in the first half of the twentieth-century. They fell out of fashion by the middle of the century, but a cursory glance at Amazon suggests that more humorous takes on the traditional manual are making a come-back. I would suggest, however, that Lorna Sixsmith’s book has an advantage over many of its rivals. How to be a Perfect Farm Wife is not simply a delightful page-turner, nor is it only for those from a farming background. Despite the tongue-in-cheek title and chapter headings that suggest a light-hearted read, the book is eminently informative and revealing about the position of women in Irish society. As such, it should appeal to anyone with an interest in social history.

~ Ciara Meehan

htbapfm_cover

 

For details of earlier stops on the How to be a Perfect Farm Wife blog tour and for details of upcoming reviews, visit Lorna’s website here. The next review will be posted on 19 November by Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.

Advertisement for 'In Conversation' event at dlr LexIcon, Dún Laoghaire. Curator Ciara Meehan (bottom) and Lorna Sixsmith (top), author of How to be a Perfect Farm Wife, discussed 1960s marriage at dlr LexIcon on 31 October.

In Conversation: Ciara Meehan & Lorna Sixsmith on 1960s Marriage

dlr LexIcon is hosting a special event in association with the Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition, which is now on display on the fifth floor of the library until 14 November.

Join  Ciara Meehan, historian and Modern Wife, Modern Life curator, and Lorna Sixsmith, author of the recently published How to Be a Perfect Farm Wife, as they discuss expectations of marriage in 1960s Ireland.

This free event takes place at 3pm in the Studio, dlr LexIcon on Saturday, 31 October.

For details about other events at dlr LexIcon, download their What’s On (October – December) guide here.