Åland people are proud of their seamen’s wives, who have become something of a symbol for women on the island.
– They almost have the status of icons, says Hanna Hagmark-Cooper, who has written a dissertation on seamen’s wives on Åland and who is now the manager of the maritime museum in Mariehamn.
There are many seamen’s families on the Åland islands. Almost every fifth man of working age on Åland works at sea, which means that there are many women who live with seamen. In Hanna Hagmark-Cooper’s paper seamen’s wives are described as strong and independent women, accustomed to making their own decisions and managing homes, children and jobs without a partner at their sides.
– Seamen’s wives are credited with a number of characteristics and are identified through their husband’s profession in a way that no other women are. To a certain extent this picture is true, and the characteristics of seamen’s wives are often used to describe Åland women in general.
The dissertation, entitled “Women in Maritime Communities”, was written at the British university of Hull in 2003 and consists of interviews and questionnaire responses from 75 women born between 1912 and 1969. Their perception of life as seamen’s wives is to some extent a generation issue. Older women were most worried about their husbands’ long periods of absence, and the social network in their home community was extremely important.
– Seamen’s wives spent much more time with each other in the past and often met through Seamen’s mission associations or the shipping companies. It was also easier to travel with their husbands since women did not have jobs to the same extent as they do today, says Hanna Hagmark-Cooper.
“One long honeymoon”
For modern seamen’s’ wives, too, everyday life consists of adapting to their husbands’ profession. The dissertation describes a lifecycle of four phases: separation, being alone, reunion and life together.
– A large part of the time is consumed in adapting to the men’s absence, and then readjusting prior to their homecoming.
But this cycle is not necessarily seen as negative. Many women appreciate being alone at home and having time to themselves. One of the women in the paper described her marriage as one long honeymoon, in which she had many opportunities to long for her partner.