mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF catherines & toms

Hardworking Barretts

Whenever I need a complete mental escape but am too lazy to do anything creative, I go hunting for long lost family members over at If I manage to get one shred of new information, I'm snared for hours.

This weekend I got hooked into the Barretts. I added some information to my grandfather Tom Barrett, his mother Ellen Gibbons Barrett, and his uncle John T Barrett.

My conclusion: The Barretts were a hard-working bunch and when they took on a job, they generally stuck with it. The young women in Tom's generation (early 20th century) had jobs and, if they married, didn't do so till their 30s or 40s (at least in the two family branches I was pondering).

Maureen Dezell's book "Irish America" discusses the phenomenon of Irish-American women of my grandfather's generation. There were a lot of single, working women because they outnumbered the men, who were being recruited into the priesthood (or were succumbing to alcoholism). And marriage was often delayed by at least one daughter to take care of aging parents.

And while unmarried females are woefully undervalued in a male-centered society that casts a wary eye on women who seem not to need men, the "maiden lady" -- call her "Aunt Mary" -- has long been a respected, pivotal figure, sometimes even the matriarch, in Irish American families.

In Italian culture, or Greek culture, or many others, single women have very little status... We have this Auntie Mame character -- this strong and admirable person who has status and power and guts and charm. She has clothes, she has a good time, she has a good sense of humor. She tells the nieces and nephews where they ought to go to school, a decision of enormous importance in Irish families. There is much about her to be admired and taken.


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