Towards the end of last year, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a museum that has been on my bucket-list for a long time. The museum in question is the Museum of English Rural Life or ‘The MERL’ based at the University of Reading. The MERL is ‘Twitter-famous’ for its Twitter campaign using photographs from its photographic collection to promote the museum with the most famous being the ‘Absolute Unit’ of a large sheep which blew up over twitter in early 2018. The MERL has a vast collection and archive of items relating to life in the English countryside that span decades and centuries. A more detailed discussion and review of the MERL will be coming up in the blog over the next couple of months.
The kitsch red text and bright turquoise background of the cover of Dear, Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce piqued my interest from my local libraries ‘Recent Reads’ table. * The doubly beautiful end papers of a stylized bird holding an envelope in it’s beak drew me further in to read the first few pages** and instantly I knew that I would love reading this book as it covers several of my favourite historical topics at once; women’s magazines, women’s roles in World War Two and the struggle women faced to get themselves recognized in jobs in the early to mid-twentieth century.
Happy New Year and New Decade! I have had a relatively quiet Christmas and New Year filled with lots of good food, good friends and excellent books, period dramas and films! Though traditonally in Ireland Christmas isn’t over until Nollaig ma mBan or ‘Little Women’s Christmas’ (quite apt seeing as yet another adaptation of Little Women was released on Boxing Day) were traditionally the women of the household had the day off whilst the husbands attempted (emphasis on attempted) to do the housework for one day whilst their wives went out on a jaunt with friends.
January 6th is also traditionally the Feast of the Epiphany which is observed across the Christian world including Ireland although January 6th is more often associated with Nolliag na mBan. This is also a time when many people also traditionally take down their Christmas decorations and put them away for next Christmas and New Year.
Traditionally, Nollaig na mBan was a time for women to down dusters, mangles and irons to take up a glass of sherry or a pint of bitter in the ‘male domain’ of the traditional Irish pub. It was one of the only times of the year that they could truely be themselves and enjoy the company of their friends and female relatives without the beck and call of children, husband and home.
How many women observed this traditional (or even where allowed to by husbands!) is unknown but with stories passed on from one generation to another one gets the sense that Nollaig na mBan if it was celebrated was relished by all women who could celebrate it. So time to get your glad rags on and celebrate 1920s style in 2020 for Nollaig na mBan 2020!
However, I don’t think you need just one day to celebrate the achievements of extraordinary and ordinary Irish women from past, present and future. Everyday should be a celebration of the wonderful women in your lives or the women have influenced you albeit your mother, grandmother, best friend or female co-worker all of these women have had an impact on your life whether you recognize it or not.
I certainly am thankful for the wonderful contribution to my life that all my female family members have made; as if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be the historian I am now nor would I be the person I am professionally if it wasn’t for their encouragement! Stay tuned for more blog posts throughout 2020 on Irish (and other) women, Irish dress (and other! sense a theme here!?), history, blogging, culture, travel and working in museums. Happy New Year!
Photographs: Dublin Civic Centre, My Irish Jewellery, The Irish Times.
With sadness the world learned about the demise of the world’s oldest travel company; Thomas Cook after a last minute bid to secure the company’s future failed on Sunday. Stories of people trapped abroad and airline staff learning they had lost their jobs whilst in the air have littered the news over the past few days. As an historian the first thing that came to my mind was what is going to happen to the Thomas Cook Archive?
Otti Berger, photographed by Lucia Moholy, 1927, design-is-fine.org
2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus; the seminal art school that would change how we perceive and interpret art forever. The Bauhaus is seen as one of the most important influences on how art, design, architecture and arts education was perceived, developed and created in the twentieth century and twenty-first century. The Bauhaus embraced both crafts and fine art to make a complete piece of art. However, as pioneering as the Bauhaus was they were not as pioneering in their attitudes towards women students with many being forced into the weaving workshop. Although, one such female student became enthralled with weaving and went onto become one of the twentieth centuries most famous textile artists; Otti Berger.