This isn’t too much to do with my art practice, but it’s been something I’ve been thinking about. I’ve written and researched a great deal about the male relatives on my dad’s side of the family due to their eccentric characters and connections to the esoteric. After a death in my partner’s family I started thinking a lot about the women on my mum’s side. My mum’s matriarchal line have had to be very strong and resilient going back many generations due to the fact that they all lost their husbands at a young age and were left to support their families and bring up the children on their own. Often other women in the family were that most shameful of things – spinsters – so households were entirely female led and supported. My mum’s family are all from Forfar, near Dundee in eastern Scotland. When my Great Grandfather died I believe my Great Grandmother ended up working in the Forfar jute mill which was a huge employer for the town.
When I hear some extolling the virtues of the ‘traditional family’ where the women stay home, uneducated, to care for the children I wonder what world they are living in. This has never been a practical model, bread-winning men have always died leaving women to support their families, and in the past they have usually fallen into poverty at some level due to having little in the way of vocational skills.
I wear three rings on my left ring finger; my wedding ring (in the centre), my grandmother’s ring and my great grandmother’s ring. On the left is me as a little ginger with my granny Margaret. On the right is my granny as a girl, one of her brothers (David) and my great grandmother Majorie Cowie (nee Falconer).
Comparing the photo of Majorie with her sisters before her marriage and then after her husbands death it’s pretty obvious how much less well-off she is. Her clothing and that of the kids is worn and patched even though it must be their ‘best’, her hair isn’t styled and the only jewelry she has is her ring.
I’ve found it difficult to find out information about the women in my family due to the fact that women were very rarely recorded as being of any worth except as mothers to the next generation of sons. In respect to my mum’s family this is particularly frustrating as it was the women who held the families together.