Birth, Death, and Control of Women: Female Networks in Ireland, 18501950

AHA Session 13
North American Conference on British Studies 1
Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Chicago Ballroom F (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Christina Brophy, Triton College
Leeann Lane, Mater Dei Institute, Dublin City University

Session Abstract

In late nineteenth and early twentieth century Ireland, a strengthened and centralizing Catholic Church played an increasingly intrusive role in women’s lives.  Post-famine consolidation of priestly power was aided by the fragmentation of the rural laboring class and the rise of strong farmers who championed both religious reform and Victorian aesthetics.  Many women found themselves at odds with priests, secular authorities, and even family when laboring to maintain control over their bodies and reproductive choices, and in ritualizing birth and death. 

Panelists in this session will examine women’s experiences and the role of female networks in resisting and reinforcing new strictures.  Dr. Cara Delay of the College of Charleston will explore pregnancy and childbirth rituals, Dr. Elaine Farrell of Queen’s University Belfast will investigate women accused of concealing birth and infanticide, and Dr. Christina Brophy of Triton College will discuss sharp-tongued mná caointe (in English, “keening women”) with the goal of illuminating the complicated communities, alliances, self-expression, and agency of primarily poor rural and working-class urban women of this era.  Dr. Leeann Lane of Mater Dei Institute, Dublin City University will provide comment.  Historians who specialize in nineteenth and twentieth century European history, the history of women, and/or social history will find this session especially compelling.

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