The following booklet belonged to my grandmother. It sort of surprises me that she owned a copy: she wasn’t the typical stay-at-home wife. Rather, she owned and ran the local shop in her rural community. In many ways, it served as a centre of activity. Locals stopped by not just to pick up their groceries, but also to catch up on the day’s news. At the back of the shop, people played cards or rings and she would cut up cake for them. Occasionally, that spot played host to political meetings. And when her husband — my grandfather — died relatively young, she also took on the responsibility of a small farm, which he had run alongside his main business as a saddler. She was a strong, independent woman.

My grandparents
My grandparents
(Not to be reproduced)

How she came to have this booklet, which was part of a ‘Homely’ series, I don’t know. Perhaps she bought it for herself, or maybe it was a gift. I also find it fascinating that she retained it. I’d be very interested in finding out more about the series, which also included The Young Husband. Was it typical for newly married couples to acquire such literature?

This particular booklet is the 3rd edition, published in 1938. It was printed in Ireland, but translated from German so I’m intrigued about the origins of the content. It was available from the Irish Messenger Office for the price of two pence. It includes sections on house-keeping, parents-in-law and sacrifice, as well as this gem:

Your husband comes first in the house. His will should prevail. Therefore you belong to him more than to your parents (p. 23). 

However, the content is largely focussed on the expectations, not of the husband or even of future children, but rather of God and the church:

You are beginning a new life which you have entered through sacred doors. It was not a mere ceremony which took place before God’s altar. God’s hands were extended over you in blessing for the holy task which lies before you (p. 3)

And, in the context of the recent debate Ireland has had on abortion, here’s a section called ‘A Murderess’

When the mother’s life is endangered by the birth of the child, the life that is coming may not be destroyed. Even the doctor may not do this. He may do all that is possible to save the mother’s life except anything that would directly destroy the life of the child … Woe to the mother who is a murderess! (p. 26).


Updated, 4 November 2013:

Because of the interest that this post generated, I posted the link on Reddit recently.  Sadly, the discussion over there descended into accusations of Catholic Bashing and suggestions that there might be an agenda.  To be clear: this article was a personal piece.  It was prompted by the fact that I found the pamphlet among my grandmother’s belongings and was quite surprised because she did not conform to the role prescribed for women in the booklet.

The booklet is also an interesting source for social history, offering an insight into perceptions of women and expectations of their role as wives at a particular time in Ireland.  Since writing this post, I have incorporated the booklet into my academic research for a new project I’m working on that explores the lives of ordinary women in twentieth century Ireland.

I cannot speak for any of those who chose to comment on the thread, but I would like to emphasise the following, which I have posted on Reddit.  I’ve found myself questioning the benefit of Reddit as a forum to discuss history recently, and this has confirmed my personal conclusion that an account there is really of no benefit.  In the event that deleting my account results in any links I posted and threads resulting from them also disappearing, I think it is important, therefore, that I record my response below:

If you re-read my article, you’ll see that I do, in fact, to quote directly from the piece that I wrote, say ‘It was printed in Ireland, but translated from German so I’m intrigued about the origins of the content’. Nor do I at any time state that the advice given was unique to Ireland. I might add that I chose to use the leader ‘and other advice for the Young Wife in Catholic Ireland’ because the booklet was widely circulated in Catholic Ireland.

What the post does actually say is a: my grandmother did not conform to the role advised for women, b: that the content emphasises the role of the wife in a Catholic context.

While I appreciate that everyone is entitled to their own opinion — the study of history is, after all, based on critical engagement — there is no evidence in my article to support your insinuation that the purpose of this link was to start a “‘Catholic Ireland’ bashing” thread.

The individual who made the claim subsequently clarified that their observations were made more in light of the comments from other users.  Nonetheless, the whole discussion only serves to confirm to me that Reddit is not the place for me — at least not when it comes to talking history.


Read the pamphlet in full:


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