National Print Museum (1 July – 30 Aug 2015)

The National Print Museum in Dublin was the first venue to host Modern Wife, Modern Life. The exhibition was opened on 1 July by Senator Jillian van Turnhout whose mother features in the ‘Advice for Newly Married Wives’ section.

Modern Wife, Modern Life is a touring exhibition. For details of other venues, please click here.

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.

Senator van Turnhout’s Speech

Opening her speech, Senator Jillian van Turnhout explained,

This is such an interesting concept for me and a unique way of documenting a period of Irish history where woman’s lives were almost exclusively restricted to the private domain, where “traditional values” prevailed, women were legally obliged to leave their public sector employment upon marriage, were prohibited from sitting on a jury and for whom many were too young to know or remember the one and only female Minister (Countess Markievicz 1919-1922).

She also commented,

It did get me thinking about whether this stereotyping of 1960s women as domestic goddesses or wannabe goddesses is any more offensive than the contemporary media obsession about how women of all ages look and perform.

I had a look through the shelves in Easons yesterday evening to get a flavour of the messages Irish women are receiving from magazines in 2015:

“Fifty, fit and flirty”, “How to shift that stubborn baby weight”, “Science validates correlation between hair length and relationship length”, “bikini ready in 7 days”, and enough instructive material that I could re-write the Karma Sutra!!!

Have we really moved on or has the focussed just shifted from the kitchen to the bedroom and incessant talk of weight loss and the quest for eternal youth?!!

You can read the Senator’s speech in full here.

The exhibition closed at the National Print Museum on 30 August.

Visitor feedback on Modern Wife, Modern Life at the National Print Museum

This slideshow requires JavaScript.