Ukrainian Mothers in Photos of the Early Twentieth Century

The image of a mother in the Ukrainian tradition is multifaceted and ambiguous. We suggest you look at what Ukrainian mothers were like at the beginning of the 20th century and learn more about the role of mothers in traditional culture.

By National Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"

The project is based on archival photographs of the Ivan Honchar Museum and on the materials of Oksana Kis's monograph.

Mother with a baby by Unknown authorNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"

Motherhood was the core, an essential element of the existing stereotype of femininity in traditional Ukrainian society, which in fact completely determined the unconditional orientation of a woman's personality to perform the reproductive function and social role of the mother. Successful motherhood was considered socially prestigious.

Therefore, the attitude to motherhood in its motivation could not be compared with any other (for example, the attitude to marriage, to a separate household, etc.). Among Ukrainians, as in many nations, motherhood also had a socio-cultural value - it was considered a moral and social duty of a woman before God and before people.

From the very birth of a girl, her future maternal functions were coded in a ritual-magical way, and then consolidated in the process of socialization through games, toys, fairy tales, involvement in the care of younger children and more.

🎶 Make pause on this page for a few seconds to listen to the lullaby.

Folk types of the Vita-Lytovs'ka village. (1908/1917) by Unknown authorNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"

The desire to have children stimulated the realities of peasant life: the economy of a small peasant family has always been acutely in need
working hands.

The mother actually plays the maternal role during pregnancy, because, according to popular belief, her behavior at this time, she lays the foundations of physical and personal traits of the unborn child.

In fact, culture places on the woman the full responsibility for the full value of the fetus. During pregnancy, she must strictly adhere to special rules of conduct.

🎶 Make pause on this page for a few seconds to listen to the lullaby.

Mother with children. Kopachiv village, Kyiv region. (1914) by Unknown authorNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"

The proportion of time a woman spends during the day in direct contact with a child is relatively small.

According to ethnographic materials, a few days after birth, the child ceased to be the main object of attention of the mother, most of whose time was absorbed in other responsibilities, which depended on the welfare of the whole family.

In the warm season, the woman had to spend a lot of time outside the house, cultivating the garden or working in the fields.

🎶 Make pause on this page for a few seconds to listen to the lullaby.

Photo by Unknown authorNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"

Almost all researchers of family life note that if there are no people in the family who can take care of the baby, the mother must take the child with her if necessary to leave home for a long time (for mowing or harvesting), using a special linen cradle.

Caring for babies is often entrusted to older children who have become nannies at the age of 4-5 (or grandmothers), ie those family members who could not physically fully participate in economic and production activities.

🎶 Make pause on this page for a few seconds to listen to the lullaby.

Photo (1923) by Unknown authorNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"

An analysis of the shape and content of the lullabies led researchers to conclude: "Many of these songs are apparently composed not by the mother herself, but by girls who are usually instructed to lull their little sisters and brothers."

Lullabies helped a woman to partially relieve emotional tension, performing a special anti-frustration function: they gave the mother the opportunity to "speak out" - to verbalize their negative impulses, to sublimate them in the song.

🎶 Make pause on this page for a few seconds to listen to the lullaby.

Bukovinian family (1905) by Unknown authorNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"

For Ukrainians, the Mother as a cultural and spiritual value occupies one of the highest levels in the hierarchy of socio-cultural and personal values. In the popular consciousness, her image is surrounded by a halo of holiness, works about the mother are full of the most tender feelings for her.

Apparently, the facts refute the idyll-romantic notion of motherhood that has become widespread in Ukrainian ethnography. An unbiased study of motherhood as an ethnocultural phenomenon, a social institution and a special female experience, devoid of inappropriate emotions and pathos, reveals the versatility and ambiguity of the mother-child relationship.

🎶 Make pause on this page for a few seconds to listen to the lullaby.

Credits: Story

Text: Monograph by O. Kis (Woman in Traditional Ukrainian Culture) (second half of the XIX - beginning of the XX century).

Photo: Historical and ethnographic album of I. Honchar "Ukraine and Ukrainians", Ivan Honchar Museum Archives Department.

Lullabies: Polyphony Project.

Project: Julia Novoseltseva

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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