In the days of our grandparents, the woman stayed at home while the man went out to work – if he was lucky enough to be in work. Even if he had his own farm, he would seek seasonal work to supplement his income. This might entail flax-pulling or potato picking on another man’s farm.
The woman had plenty of work to occupy her on the farm or in the house. As soon as she got married all the running of the household fell upon her.
Marriage customs were different then too. The groom came to the house to take her to the chapel on the morning of the wedding. Usually they would walk but if they were lucky enough to have a pony and trap, then that’s how they went. The bridesmaid and best man went too but the parents stayed at home! All the neighbours would be at the chapel to see them getting married and to wish them good luck. The couple would then return to the bride’s house where her parents would have a fine meal ready for them all. Then the celebrations would begin.
There wasn’t a lot of money spent on wedding presents, which were all small and practical. Many were home made. Table cloths, crockery and other items for the house were the most usual presents. The bride’s mother usually gave bed sheets and blankets.
There was no such thing as a honeymoon for the young couple. Indeed they were lucky if they had a house of their own to move into. Most moved in at first with their in-laws. There was very little privacy for anyone with often, grand-parents living in the house too!
When there was a baby ‘expected’ there was very little in the way of post- or ante-natal care. The baby would be born at home with the mother given a few spoonfuls of caster oil for her pains. A local woman, reputed to be skilled in the job, would help to deliver the child.
One elderly lady, looking back, asked rhetorically of her doctor, how the women survived at all.
‘Many didn’t!’ he answered.
‘The graveyards are full of women who died in childbirth.’