The minute I read about Dr. Ciara Meehan’s Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition currently running in the National Print Museum, I couldn’t wait to visit.
Meehan describes her exhibition as exploring “the ‘ideal wife’ turned ‘modern wife’ in 1960s Ireland.”
Born in 1965, I was curious.
While Meehan largely focuses on “the representation of Irish housewives in the pages of Woman’s Way, Woman’s View and Woman’s Choice magazines,” many objects from 1960s Irish homes, loaned to Meehan from members of the public, are also on display.
One of these items, a copy of Maura Laverty’s Full and Plenty cookbook, pictured on the National Print Museum’s Facebook page, is actually what caught my eye and alerted me to the exhibition.
My mother-in-law Kitty Heffernan has a well- thumbed and well-stained copy sitting on her kitchen shelf in Tramore. Kitty is 81 years of age and a fantastic cook, still running around after her family in an ‘Irish mammy’ sort of way. Her infamous quiche lorraine, comes from page 460 of Laverty’s iconic cook book.
As I thought a bit more about Kitty, I realised that in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, she wasn’t what would have been perceived as a traditional Irish housewife. When her youngest son, my husband Colm turned 8, she returned to work outside the home. She became secretary for Lord Waterford of Curraghmore, where she happily remained for thirty years. Her late husband Bill also bucked the trend, frequently preparing dinner for his wife and five sons.
Arriving at the exhibition for a curated tour with Dr. Meehan, I had no idea how close it would make me feel to my own late mother.
The hairstyle of the woman on the 1968 cover of Woman’s Way reminded me of her hairstyle. The photograph of a ‘typical’ 1960s kitchen brought memories flooding back. The formica topped kitchen table in Glenbrook Park, Rathfarnham and the silver pressure cooker saucepan with the red lid.
My mother Mary Quinn, died on 24th April 1971, twenty days after my sixth birthday but I’m lucky to have very clear memories of her.
Meehan’s exhibit of a china tea set, a wedding gift from the 1960s, reminded me that I still have my parents’ set sitting in my attic. I think now it’s time to take it down, and savour the memories, instead of leaving it there gathering dust.
The 1968 copy of Woman’s Way, also reminded me of how my step-mother used swap magazines with our next door neighbour Ann. Woman’s Way was my favourite and I always read it. As a teenager I dreamed of having a short story published in it…not that I ever wrote one!
Another intriguing item that I was drawn to, was a 1967 letter to a Miss Cunniffe, signed by Assistant Manager Mr. John Durrant, explaining to her that her position in Guardian Assurance Company would ‘be terminated automatically by [her] marriage.’
I attended Modern Wife, Modern Life with my friend Gemma, and the same Mr. Durrant had employed both of us in Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance Company in 1982, this is where we met and became friends. Thankfully life for a woman in Ireland had changed by this time, and there was no threat of our employment being terminated if we married.
I’d really recommend Modern Wife, Modern Life: an Exhibition of Women’s Magazines from 1960s Ireland. It runs in the National Print Museum until 30 August 2015, and a curated tour with Dr. Ciara Meehan enhances the experience.
(Thank you to Dr. Ciara Meehan for permission to re-print images from her exhibition.)