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""Good looks don’t boil the pot": Irish-Newfoundland women as fish(-producing) wives"

by Keough, Willeen (2012)


This article explores the historical understanding of maritime womanhood in Newfoundland by examining women in fishing families along the southern Avalon Peninsula from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. It does not talk about fishwives in any popular sense of the word, for these women did not market fish; rather, they produced salt fish for market. And while middle-class observers may have perceived them as coarse and bold, within their own families and fishing communities they were seen as essential partners who contributed equally to family economies. Within a sexual division of labor that assigned vital and complementary tasks to both men and women, Newfoundland fish(-producing) wives carried out hard physical labor at public sites of production. This contributed significantly to the construction of “woman” as essential worker, which in turn had broader repercussions for their status and authority within fishing communities. The participation of fish(-producing) wives changed significantly from the 1950s onward, as the fishery moved from household production to a modernized, and discursively masculinized, industry. Yet the iconic image of the fish(-producing) wife in traditional household production remains undisrupted in the early twenty-first century.


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History of Women and Work, Women and Work

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