II-61584.1 | Mrs. Irwin's girls, Montreal, QC, 1881

Mrs. Irwin's girls, Montreal, QC, 1881
Notman & Sandham
1881, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
15 x 10 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  female (19035) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

Middle-class Maritimers slowly changed their ideas about girlhood over the course of the 19th century. Early on, girls were regarded as physically delicate and brought up to be submissive to their parents. As young wives, they were expected to obey their husbands. Neatly dressed and well-behaved little girls were greatly admired by adults. At a Sunday school picnic in Halifax in 1868, a reporter commented that the girls, with their bows and arrows, always struck "the heart no matter at what they aimed." By 1900, however, many girls had new opportunities for schooling, sports and careers.

Acadian Recorder (Halifax), 29 August 1868.

Barbara Kaye Greenleaf, Children Through the Ages: A History of Childhood (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1978).

  • What

    Although it looks like these girls are comfortably at home in a living room, the photograph was taken in a studio. The decorated studio backdrop would have been chosen by many of those having their photographs taken at the Notman and Sandham studio.

  • Where

    Although they were Montrealers, Mrs. Irwin's girls are an accurate representation of many middle class Canadian girls. Clothing styles hardly differed, whether in Montreal, Fredericton or Charlottetown.

  • When

    In the 18th century, girls' clothing was modeled on adult clothing. By the late 19th century, clothing for middle-class girls allowed greater mobility than clothing for adult women. Note the shorter skirt on the eldest girl and the unstructured dresses.

  • Who

    Most middle-class families had a portrait of their children taken in a photographer's studio.