Home, family and society: women of the Irish landed class, 1860-1914. A Munster case study

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O'Riordan, Maeve
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University College Cork
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The thesis analyses the roles and experiences of female members of the Irish landed class (wives, sisters and daughters of gentry and aristocratic landlords with estates over 1,000 acres) using primary personal material generated by twelve sample families over an important period of decline for the class, and growing rights for women. Notably, it analyses the experiences of relatively unknown married and unmarried women, something previously untried in Irish historiography. It demonstrates that women’s roles were more significant than has been assumed in the existing literature, and leads to a more rounded understanding of the entire class. Four chapters focus on themes which emerge from the sources used and which deal with their roles both inside and outside the home. These chapters argue that: Married and unmarried women were more closely bound to the priorities of their class than their sex, and prioritised male-centred values of family and estate. Male and female duties on the property overlapped, as marriage relationships were more equal than the legislation of the time would suggest. London was the cultural centre for this class. Due to close familial links with Britain (60% of sample daughters married English men) their self-perception was British or English, as well as Irish. With the self-confidence of their class, these women enjoyed cultural and political activities and movements outside the home (sport, travel, fashion, art, writing, philanthropy, (anti-)suffrage, and politics). Far from being pawns in arranged marriages, women were deeply conscious of their marriage decisions and chose socially, financially and personally compatible husbands; they also looked for sexual satisfaction. Childbirth sometimes caused lasting health problems, but pregnancy did not confine wealthy women to an invalid state. In opposition to the stereotypical distant aristocratic mother, these women breastfed their children, and were involved mothers. However, motherhood was not permitted to impinge on the more pressing role of wife
History , Women , Country house
O'Riordan, M. 2014. Home, family and society: women of the Irish landed class, 1860-1914. A Munster case study. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.