Mothers, Wives and Changing Lives aims to illustrate the ways in which Wales’s unique history and national identity have been informed by a specifically female contribution. While it has been claimed in the past that ‘Welsh women are culturally invisible’, this book argues otherwise: ‘Women were able to gain strength and power in patriarchal systems, especially in spheres predefined for them by that patriarchal culture […] their power in turn informed, influenced, transformed and reproduced the cultures in which they were embedded’.
This research illustrates how, in their creation and transmission of cultural capital within the domestic home and community, women played a necessary role in determining the nature of Wales’s political and professional outputs. Through their investment in educational and religious institutions, as well as within the family itself, women enabled cultural participation amongst children and fostered amongst those in the community a collective self-image of ‘Welshness’, characterised by an inherited sense of aspiration and respectability.
The data collected is informed by the interviews of forty people, six of these being described in more depth. While their memories are coloured by very different economic and social situations, the interviewees are all first-language Welsh and come from north, mid and west Wales (‘Y Fro Gymraeg’ or ‘The Welsh Language Area’). A table outlining participants’ details is provided in the appendix. This proves useful in that readers can remind themselves of a particular interviewee’s background when they are quoted directly in the text. For further reading, there is also a substantial bibliography to refer to.
The interpretation of data in this book is consistently reinforced by theories of social science. I got a sense of where this research fits within the scope of existing scholarship about social history in general, as well as that of Wales specifically. The wider historical context of the period primarily discussed, 1940 to 1970, is outlined for the reader at the beginning of the text. The analysis avoids generalisation as well as exaggeration. Individuals interviewed are recognised as having uniquely constructed social biographies which, when looked at comparatively in this text, contribute to an authentic portrayal of a heterogeneous, rich and complex experience of society in mid-twentieth-century rural Wales.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Dr Sally Baker is Researcher at the School of Social Sciences, Bangor University. Dr B.J. Brown is Reader in healthcare communication, De Montford University.
The role of women in the recent history of Wales is an area that has received scant attention from social scientists and historians. This book will therefore seek to fill that gap by drawing upon the family stories told about women's roles in education, the chapel and the family to address some of the important gaps in the knowledge base.