“so a word to the wise’: reassessing the role of the upper-class Irish father in nineteenth-century childrearing’

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This week Judy Bolger writes about a father´s involvement, through written advice, in the upbringing of his children.

‘So a word to the wise – Your mother says asses’ milk – or Breast milk given on a spoon’ wrote John D’Alton to his wife Catherine in 1819.[1] Though spending much of his family’s early years away from home, John’s surviving letters demonstrate that he was still very much engaged with his children’s feeding habits and their daily lives in Summerville, Dublin during the early nineteenth century.[2] Through these various references about his children, an alternative representation of the father is reconstructed. Much scholarly attention toward the period has reinforced the severity of the public and private divide amongst women and men.[3] However, such a sweeping generalisation about the gender norms of the period may not be as clear-cut as we have understood. In a nuanced manner, these letters not only showcased John’s engagement with his children’s rearing, but also his advice and interest in tasks that have hitherto been deemed outside his gender’s concern. Therefore, the extracts from the letters blur the lines between the traditional roles within the nineteenth-century upper-class Irish family.

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