Notorious Women

Nineteenth century society recognised two types of women – the weak “Angel of the House” in need of protection and support and the woman of dissolute character. This view of women impacted upon the lives of women in Waterford in many different ways and often dictated how women were treated.

Songs of Innocence
Today we live in a society that strives towards gender equality. However, the society we live in today is a product of our past and this exhibition is an exploration of the impact of nineteenth century views of women and raises the question of how these views may still impact on the lives of women in Waterford today.

The nineteenth century was a time of great change and these changes often generated both demands for further change and for life to stay the same.

At a time when greater industrialisation meant that more and more women were working away from home in factories, the domestic role of women became increasingly idealised. In 1854 The Angel in the House a poem by Coventry Patmore was published extolling the virtues of a woman devoted to her husband and meek in all things.

Man must be pleased; but him to please is women’s pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
She casts her best, she flings herself.
How often flings for nought, and yokes
Her heart of an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes
Another, not from her but him;
While she, too gentle even to force
His penitence by kind replies,
Waits by, expecting his remorse,
With pardon in her pitying eyes;
And if he once, by shame oppress’d,
A comfortable word confers,
She leans and weeps against his breast.
And seems to think the sin was hers;
Or any eye to see her charms,
At any time she’s still his wife,
Dearly devoted to his arms;
She loves with love that cannot tire;
And when, ah woe, she loves alone,
Through passionate duty love springs higher,
As grass grows taller round a stone
Interestingly, today books such as The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle are re-visiting the idea that Man must be pleased; but him to please is Woman’s pleasure. Unidentified-Family Unidentified Family. Image Courtesy of Waterford County Museum

Related images

Michael Whelan of Dungarvan