Anna Parnell Travel Grant Awardee Report: Maeve O’Riordan

Anna Parnell Travel Grant 2015 Awardee Report: Joint Winner Dr. Maeve O’Riordan

Conference trip to Boston


The Women’s History Association of Ireland Anna Parnell Travel Prize contributed towards my visit to Boston to present at the Nineteenth Century Studies Association (NCSA) conference in Boston, in March 2015. This year, the prestigious interdisciplinary international conference was based on the theme of ‘Material Culture’.  My paper, entitled; ‘The material culture of British supra-national elite weddings during the ‘twilight’ years of the Irish ascendancy, 1874 – 1914’ was presented on the first day of the three day conference. The paper focused on female dress, gifts, writing and ephemera, and highlighted the importance of analysing the female experience in order to develop an understanding of the wider class. One key finding of the paper was that the trappings and rituals of the newly popular white wedding could romanticise matches between men of the old aristocracy and women with the new wealth of gentrified industry at the close of the nineteenth century. It was possible for such partners and their families to be distracted from the transferred sums of money, and to reassure themselves that these marriages were not examples of ‘gilded prostitution’, but rather the demonstration of romantic love. The paper forms a bridge between my PhD research, which analysed the roles and experiences of women of the Irish landed class, to my next project which will be the first to analyse the female experience in cross-channel elite marriages. My research was well received and I was selected as the winner of the Nineteenth Century Studies Association Scheuerle-Zatlin International Travel Award for the best international speaker.

The conference was interdisciplinary and a number of literature, fashion, music, and drama scholars, as well as historians and art historians, presented allowing for valuable interchanges. One particularly interesting paper was by Lisa Robertson (University of Warwick), who discussed ‘Material Ideologies and Domestic Architecture in Nineteenth-Century London’. Robertson used architectural designs and novels to analyse the experiences of young unmarried female professionals in purpose built accommodation at the close of the nineteenth century in London, and also explored the need for control, and cost-cutting, which influenced the design of tenement buildings for the poor. Mia Ritzenberg (University of California, Berkeley) and Heidi Brevik-Zander (University of California, Riverside) both explored the role and use of fashion for women during the nineteenth century. The former examined the possibly ill-named ‘”active” corset’ advertised to women who wished to take up the new sport of bicycling in 1885, and Brevik-Zender examined how dresses were made and remade by women by drawing on Guy de Maupassant’s novel The Necklace.

The very efficient organisers of the conference arranged for a trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Here, delegates had the benefit of a guided tour through the permanent exhibition, and the presence of a number of Art History experts among our number. Free time allowed us to view an exhibition of First World War century military recruitment posters including, Savile Lumley, Daddy what did you do during the war (1915)

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?; by Savile Lumley (d.1950); commisioned by The British Parliamentary Recruiting Committee; U.K.; 1915. Source:

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?;
by Savile Lumley (d.1950); commisioned by The British Parliamentary Recruiting Committee;
U.K.; 1915. Source:

and the American Richard Fayerweather Babcock, Join the Navy- the Service for Fighting Men (1917), which illuminated expected male gender roles at the time.Join the Navy: The Service for Fighting Men. Source:

The conference took place in the historical OMNI Parker Hotel, the longest running hotel in the USA, where Malcolm X once worked. The hotel was in the heart of the city, and very close to the Irish Famine Memorial, which was constantly attracting the numerous walking tours who passed through the city. The snow had not yet melted from the city, and indeed more fell during my stay, but the opportunity of presenting at an American Interdisciplinary conference was invaluable.

Many thanks to the WHAI for their support.

Dr. Maeve O’Riordan is an Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of History, Maynooth University.