The hidden side of Cornish emigration revealed
One of the untold stories of 19th century emigration from Cornwall is that of the thousands of wives ‘left behind’ by men leaving to work overseas. Known as ‘married widows’, these women singlehandedly managed family and homes, maintaining their husbands’ interests and ties with their homeland. They are the unsung heroines of many Cornish families, and their experiences were likely shared by wives ‘left behind’ in other parts of Britain.
The Married Widows of Cornwall brings together neglected evidence from the census, poor law records, newspapers and court cases, as well as family histories and letters, to explore the lives of these ordinary, but remarkable, women. From describing the resources they drew upon in the absence of their husbands, to the challenges they presented for the authorities, Lesley Trotter shows the wives not simply as the passive victims of emigration but active participants and influential voices in family strategies. However, from a time when married women had few rights or opportunities, poignant individual stories also highlight the risks and vulnerability of being a ‘married widow’.