Decade of Centenaries Digital Art Exhibition: Biographies

Biographies of Women in Ireland 1916-1923

Constance Markievicz (1868-1927)

Constance Markievicz (1868-1927) was an Irish politician, revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and socialist. She was born Constance Georgina Gore Booth in London and raised in Lisadell House, her family’s ancestral home in Sligo. Constance’s parents, Henry and Georgina Gore-Booth were wealthy landowners. She was presented as a debutante to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1887 before studying painting at the Slade School of Art in London (1892)  and then at the famous Academie Julien (1900) where she met Count Casimir Joseph Dunin de Markievicz, a Ukranian aristocrat of Polish descent. They were married in 1900, Constance was 33 and Cassie, as she sometimes called her husband was 28. They eventually returned to Ireland where their daughter Maeve was born at Lissadell in 1901.  Casimir’s son from his first marriage also lived with them.

In Dublin they were involved in a number of cultural organisations. In 1907 Constance helped set up the United Artists Club with artists such as William Butler Yeats, Sarah Purser and Nathaniel Hone. As Constance’s interest in the causes of labour, nationalism and separatism increased, her marriage to Casimir grew apart. Constance left her daughter Maeve in the care of her mother at Lissadell and in 1913 Casimir returned to Ukraine. 

Constance was a suffragette, she and her sister Eva had set up a branch of the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association in Sligo in 1896.  Constance joined the revolutionary Irish women’s organization Inghinidhe Na hEireann and was a founding member of Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann, a nationalist youth movement founded in 1909 and made up of young boys willing to work for the independence of Ireland.  . During the 1913 Lockout when there were mass strikes by workers in Dublin demanding fair treatment, Constance set up and ran soup kitchens for the poor. During the Rising she was a member of the Irish Citizen Army and second in command to Michael Mallin’s ICA detachment at St Stephen’s Green and the College of Surgeons. She actively participated in armed combat.  

The rebels held out for a week before surrendering on the orders of Padraig Pearse. Markievicz shook hands with her troops, kissed her revolver before handing it over and then marched at the top of the troops with Mallin to Dublin Castle. She was one of 77 women arrested after the Rising. Markievicz, along with the other leaders of the Rising, was sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment because of her sex. Her reply was ‘’I do wish you lot had the decency to shoot me’’. She was later transferred to Aylesbury Prison in England and was released from Jail in December 1917. 

In December 1918 Constance became the first woman MP to be elected to the British House of Commons (she stood as a Sinn Fein candidate in the St Patrick Dunns constituency) though she did not take her seat in accordance with her party’s policy of abstentionism.  She was in Holloway Prison, London at the time. She was involved in the first Dáil Éireann in January 1919 and was appointed Minister for Labour and became the first women in Europe to hold a cabinet position.

She was to spend many years on the run or in prison and this continued when she denounced the Treaty and  took the Republican side during the Civil War. She became a member of the Second Dail when she was in prison in 1921 in Mountjoy Jail in Dublin. 

She opposed the Treaty and was defeated in the general election of 1922. She was elected again in 1923 but as a Sinn Féin republican she abstained from taking her seat in the Dáil. She was briefly on hunger strike after being arrested for promoting republicanism in November 1923.  

She attended the first meeting of the newly formed Fianna Fail party, accepting constitutional politics and was elected in the 1927 general election but she became ill and was admitted (at her own insistence) to the public ward of St Patrick Dun’s Hospital where she died on 15 July 1927 surrounded by family and friends. 300,000 people lined the route to Glasnevin Cemetery for her funeral procession and burial. The government refused the use of both City Hall and the Mansion House for her lying-in-state and instead her she lay in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital.

Constance was close to her sister Eva Gore-Booth and to Esther Roper, Eva’s lover and life-long partner. Eva and Esther lived together for over 30 years until Eva’s death at the age of 56 on 30 June 1926, a year before Constance, when she died in Esther’s arms. Eva was buried with Esther and on their grave is written ‘Life that is love is God’.  Eva left a remarkable body of work including plays and poetry and her work deserves to receive more attention.  Constance wrote that one of the ways to remember her sister was to make her work known.

Margaret Skinnider (1893-1971) 

Margaret Skinnider (1893-1971) was a revolutionary feminist and maths teacher who came to Dublin from Scotland at the age of 23 to take part in the Easter Rising.  Margaret Frances Skinnider was born in Coatbridge, near Glasgow on 28 May 1892. Her mother was from Scotland and her father was from Tydavnet, County Monaghan in Ireland where Margaret spent several summer holidays as a child. Margaret qualified as a mathematics teacher and taught in Saint Agne’s School in Lambhill in Glasgow. In Scotland she had been a member of the Gaelic League and the Glasgow branch of Cumann na mBan.  In 1914 she learned how to shoot when she took part in classes with a rifle club set up to train women to defend Great Britain during World War I. 

On a visit to Glasgow as part of her work with the militant nationalist youth organisation Fianna Éireann, Countess Markievicz heard about Margaret Skinnider and invited her to visit her at her home in Dublin at 49 Leinster Road, Rathmines.  Through Markievicz, Skinnider came in contact with James Connolly, a radical socialist and one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. Margaret joined Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army and during the Rising she was in the Stephen’s Green battalion under Commandant Michael Mallin and her friend Countess Markievcz who was second in command.  Margaret had travelled to Ireland to join the struggle on the basis that it promised equal status for women under the new Republican proclamation.  During the Rising she worked as a scout, despatch rider or messenger and when they moved to the Royal College of Surgeons she operated as a sniper. While out on a mission to burn down two buildings she was shot and injured by British troops near Harcourt Street. 

According to the Irish Central Statistics Office:

Skinnider joined Cumann na mBan in Scotland and became active in smuggling detonators and bomb-making equipment, guns and ammunition into Dublin from Glasgow in preparation for 1916. Skinnider knew of the Rising before she came to Dublin –  she had been told the date though not the exact time. She arrived a week before the rebellion and lodged with Countess Marckievicz.  As a sharpshooter she attached herself to the Irish Citizen Army as a Captain so that she could engage in combat.  She spent time in Dublin testing dynamite, along with her friend Madeine Ffrench-Mullen. Skinnider spent the Sunday of the Easter Rising scouting for James Connolly. She was attached to Mallin’s detachment for the St. Stephen’s Green area with upwards of fifteen women including Countess Markievicz.  Some of these women worked on the commissariat, some did  Red Cross work while others worked shoulder to shoulder with the men

After the Rising she wrote her memoir Doing My Bit for Ireland. In the book, she writes about her final moments before she left the College of Surgeons. ‘’As I said goodbye to commandant Mallin I had a feeling I should never see him again. Not that it had entered my head for a moment that he would be executed by the British. I did not dream of their  killing prisoners of war. I felt no such dread concerning the Countess, though our last words together were about her will. I had witnessed it and she had slipped it into the lining of my coat. I was to get it to her family at the earliest possible moment’. 

Because of her injuries sustained during the Rising (she had been shot three times in her arm, side and back), Margaret spent seven weeks recuperating in St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin before returning to Scotland. She was the only woman combatant wounded in action during the Rising. 

 In December 1916 she travelled by boat to New York via Liverpool where she spoke at hundreds of rallies to raise funds and support for the Republican movement and the Irish fight for freedom. She spent 1917 and 1918 touring the US on behalf of Cumann na Ban and was in contact with other Irish women in America including Nora Connolly and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington.

She returned to Scotland where she was involved with Cumann na mBan and then returned to  Ireland and was active in the War of Independence and Civil War taking the anti-treaty side. ‘She was elected a member of  the Executive Cumann na mBan in 1921 as part of the Fairview Branch and was appointed as Director of Training, a position she held until 1923’.

 She was arrested by the new Irish Free State in 1923 and was imprisoned in Mountjoy jail and the North Dublin Union (1922-1923) and subsequently refused a 1916 pension from the government on the grounds that she was a woman. 

According to the book Margaret Skinnider – 1916 Heroine – and the Monaghan Connection by Mackie Rooney:

’The Anglo-Irish treaty was signed on 6 December 1921 much to the dis-illusionment of Margaret Skinnider . . she involved herself whole-heartedly with the anti-Treaty side in the bitter civil war. She was a courier for some of the top-ranking Irish Republican Army (IRA) members during the attack on the Four Courts including Liam Mellows and Cathal Brugha. Following the death of Harry Boland, Skinnider took over his job as quartermaster general of the IRA, the only women to hold such a rank in the organisation. She was arrested in possession of a revolver on Christmas Day 1922 and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail. As the numbers of Republican women in Mountjoy increased, conditions deteriorated and twelve of them, including  Margaret Skinnider, went on hunger strike in protest. The impasse was resolved when the women were transferred to the North Dublin Union internment camp. They had been fasting for twelve days’.

Margaret was released from prison in November 1923.  During the above period, Margaret’s mother Jane Skinnider was killed in the tragic sinking of the SS Rowan which was sailing form Glasgow to Dublin on 8 October 1921. 

Following the founding of the new Irish Free State, Margaret Skinnider stayed in Ireland and remained active on a political level despite the increasing oppression experienced by women at that time.

In 1925 Margaret applied for a pension on ‘account of wounds received in 1916’ and as a member of the Irish Citizen army but she was refused because she was a woman!  She renewed her application in 1934 with the passing of the 1934 Military Service Pensions Act. She applied under the name of Maighréad Ní Scineadóra and thirteen years after her first application she was eventually granted the pension in 1938. Her success in securing the pension was followed by the granting of pensions to many other women.

She worked as a teacher at the King’s Inn Street School in Dublin until her retirement in 1961 and became an active trade unionist with the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation (INTO) campaigning for women’s rights and equal wages for women.  She was elected as a member of the INTO central executive from 1949 to 1961, becoming president of the INTO in 1956. 

’She was in the vanguard of INTO members who sought equality across the aboard in the teaching profession – common basic salary for all primary, vocational  and secondary teachers, irrespective of their sex. . .when a strike began on 20 March 1946, Derrig (then Minister of Education) criticised teachers for challenging the authority of the state . . the strike lasted for seven months . . Margaret Skinnider was one of six women on the nineteen-strong strike committee and her unwavering commitment to the cause added to her growing reputation. ‘

 She became president of the union in 1956 and also served on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions executive council until 1963. She died in 1971 and is buried in the Republican Plot beside Countess Markievicz in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Read Mary Moynihan’s RTÉ Brainstorm article about Margaret Skinnider here.

Helena Molony (1884-1967) 

Helena Molony (1884-1967) was a member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann and the Irish Citizen Army and was stationed at City Hall Garrison during the Rising. In 1903 she was inspired by a speech made by Maud Gonne to join Inghinidhe na hÉireann, Maud Gonne’s nationalist-feminist organisation.  Helena became secretary in 1907 and helped to launch and edit Bean na hÉireann, the group’s monthly women’s newspaper that promoted militancy, separatism and feminism.  Helena was a close friend of Countess Markievicz and was involved with the setting up of the Fianna and in the 1913 Lockout. During this time she became very involved with the labour movement, becoming general secretary of the Irish Women Workers’ Union in 1915 and secretary of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) women’s group. She was an officer in the Irish Citizen Army. During the Rising she was stationed at City Hall garrison after she and a group of men and women under Captain Sean Connolly had attempted unsuccessfully to attack Dublin Castle, the headquarters of British rule in Ireland. After the Rising she was arrested and held in Dublin and in Aylesbury Jail in England until December 1915. It is said that while in prison she attempted to escape by using a spoon to dig a tunnel but the attempt was discovered and as a result female prisoners were no longer allowed to eat with utensils. She played an active role during the War of Independence and the Civil War, taking the anti-treaty side.  After the Rising she continued to work and campaign for women’s rights and worker’s rights. She was a member of the labour movement and President of the Irish Trade Union Congress from 1937 to 1938. She is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.  

The following are excerpts from the Statement of Miss Helena Molony, 226 North Circular Road, Dublin for the Bureau of Military History 1913-1921, document number 391. It states that Helena was Honorary Secretary of Inghini nah Eireann from 1907 to 1914 and was involved in national activities from 1903 to 1921 and was at City Hall, Dublin, during Easter Week 1916.

I joined Inghínídhe na hÉireann in 1903, three years after its foundation. It was my first active interest in Irish politics. The Inghínídhe had. come into being in the year 1900, at the time of the last Royal visit of Queen Victoria. There are many of the foundation members still living, for instance the Misses Meagher, Mrs. Perolz Flanagan, Mrs. Ó Brolaháin, etc., who could tell of the circumstances. which led up to its formation. It came into being as a counterblast to the orgy of flunkeyism which was displayed on that occasion, including the exploitation of the school children – to provide demonstrations of “loyalty” on behalf of the Irish natives.  The leading spirit of anti-British activity was Miss Maud Gonne, who became the first President of Inghinidhe na hEireann. She had been much in the public eye for some years previously, owing to her work for evicted tenants, with the more active spirits of the Land League, and with the Amnesty movement, and in 1898, with the Nation-wide celebrations of the Rebellion of 1798, which in my opinion marked the starting point of the resurgence of real National idealism. So in 1900 she gathered around her some kindred spirits, and decided to have as a counterblast to the numerous children’s parties (under the Union Jack) a monster patriotic Children’s Treat, which was a great success, and in which some 30,000 children took part. The Inghínídhe grew out of that, and formed itself into a permanent Society, of Irishwomen pledged to fight for the complete separation of Ireland from England, and the re-establishment of her ancient culture. 

Helena describes her work giving out anti-recruiting leaflets or hand-bills in the years leading up to the first World War.

‘It was considered dangerous work for the Inghinidhe, and many of our friends disapproved, as it was not thought “becoming”. At that time the military “suffragette” movement had not been heard of and women and girls were still living in a semi-sheltered Victorianism. The hurly-burly of politics, particularly the kind which led to the risk of being involved in street rows, was certainly not thought   “becoming”. However, we managed to avoid any real unpleasantness. Only on one occasion did we come near it. Misses E. O’Farrell and Sighle Grenan and myself were spotted by police. We took to our heels, and. Were chased through Henry Street, Mary Street and right up to the Markets in Capel Street. We got away clear, as we were young and swift, and the police were hampered by long heavy overcoats. On the whole we feared more the soldiers with their canes. We desired above all to avoid any fracas, and we succeeded. This campaign led to a prolonged newspaper controversy which showered us with abuse and called us all sorts of names, and we individually got a constant supply of anonymous letters of the foulest nature. It was not pleasant, but it did raise a volume of opinion and we had our defenders too.

Helena was a supporter of the socialist James Connolly and she assisted in setting up a unit of the Citizen Army for young women, as well as helping out with a ‘co-op’ shop adjoining Liberty Hall and with the newspaper ‘The Worker’s Republic. Here Helena describes a raid on the offices of the newspaper that took place at Liberty Hall in Dublin.

In the early months of 1916 there was a raid on the “Workers’ Republic”. The police came into the shop to seize the paper. Jinny Shanahan and I were there. I always carried a revolver. About 1910 shortly after the Fianna started, Madame had taught me to shoot, and it was the Fianna taught the Volunteers to shoot). Connolly happened to be in the little office between the shop and the printing place. Jinny went in to him while I held up the revolver and said to the police, “You can’t seize the paper”. Then Connolly came out and drew his revolver. The officer said, “We have come to seize the paper”. Connolly said “You Can’t” “But I have my orders”, said the officer. “You drop that”, said Connolly, “or I’ll drop you”. If the officer had persisted Connolly would have fired and I would have fired on the other man. However, they walked out saying they would report back. But they did not come again and we carried on the paper, which came out the following week as usual’’.

On the day of the Easter Rising, April 25 1916, Helena described  marching from Liberty Hall to the GPO and she states that ‘When we walked out that Easter Monday morning we felt in a very real sense that we were walking with Ireland into the sun’.  Helena Molony along with nine other women was involved in the first attack on Dublin Castle, the seat of British rule in Ireland. The unit was led by Sean Connolly and they attempted to breach the gates of Dublin Castle. They were unsuccessful in getting through and their actions resulted in the death of an unarmed policeman Constable James O’Brien who was shot by Connolly. This was the ‘first shot of the Rising’. Connolly and his unit then retreated and took over City Hall. Later that day Connolly was shot as he crossed the road of City Hall and he was attended to by Dr Kathleen Lynn as he died.  Lynn took over the unit until the building was stormed by the British army and they were forced to surrender. 

Helena spent  ‘Easter week imprisoned in a filthy room in Ship Street barracks. After the Rising she was moved to equally squalid conditions at Kilmainham, where she was shaken by the executions: ‘Pearse and Plunkett were shot dead. Connolly was dragged out, unable to stand, and murdered. After that life seemed to come to an end for me.’ Following a spirited if unsuccessful attempt to burrow her way out of Kilmainham with a spoon, Molony became one of only five women to join over 2,500 male internees in England. She continued to cause problems for the authorities at the grim Victorian jail at Aylesbury, using her links with Sylvia Pankhurst’s Workers’ Suffrage Federation to publicise her conditions there. . . . After the revolution she campaigned against the undermining of the principle of equal citizenship enshrined in the Proclamation, opposing the drive to return women to the home. She noted bitterly in 1930 how, despite winning the vote, Irish women retained ‘their inferior status, their lower pay for equal work, their exclusion from juries and certain branches of the civil service, their slum dwellings and crowded, cold and unsanitary schools for their children’. Her radical campaigns won little support from the Labour Party, whose pro-treaty politics she condemned, and a male-dominated trade union movement. ‘Woman is the queen of our hearts and of our homes’, declared one TUC delegate faced by Molony’s motion against the discriminatory Conditions of Employment Bill, ‘and, for God’s sake, let us try to keep her there.’

Helena was elected President of the Irish Trade Union Congress in Ireland in 1937 until 1941 when she retired due to ill health. She died in January 1967 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetary.

Elizabeth O’Farrell (1884-1957)

Elizabeth O’Farrell(1884-1957) joined the women’s organisation Inghinidhe na hEireann in 1906 and Cumann na mBan in 1914. She was assigned to the Irish Citizen Army and stationed in the GPO during the Rising. She worked as s courier both before and during the insurrection dispatching messages around the city and country and was one of only three women, herself, Winifred Carney and Julia Grenan, still remaining in the GPO when the decision was made to evacuate. She was part of the group that burrowed their way to Moore Street on Friday evening when the GPO went up in flames. Despite the danger of continued firing and at great personal risk, she played a pivotal role in the actual surrender and in delivering the surrender notice to all the other garrisons. 

She was notified by the leadership of the Irish insurgents of their intention to surrender and she was asked to carry the white flag of surrender to the British forces. Despite the danger of continued firing and at great personal risk, Elizabeth carried the white flag from 16 Moore Street over to the British forces. She met with General Lowe who demanded a complete surrender from Pearse.  Elizabeth returned to Moore Street to convey that message and was with Pearse when he surrendered unconditionally to General Lowe. She then spent Saturday and Sunday travelling to all rebel positions to pass on the news of the surrender. O’Farrell was briefly held prisoner in Kilmainham, but Lowe had promised her at the time of the surrender that she would not be a prisoner. Lowe was true to his word, and O’Farrell was released on 1 May. 

She was active in Cumann na mBan in the War of Independence and opposed the Treaty. After the Rising Elizabeth trained as a midwife at Holles Street Maternity hospital.  She remained active in republican politics throughout her life and died in 1957. She is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in the same grave as Julia Grenan, her lifelong partner who fought along side her in the GPO.

A famous photograph taken at the moment of surrender shows Pearse surrendering to General Low with three people in the photograph believed to be Elizabeth O’Farrell partially obscured by Pearse, Brigadier-General W.H.M. Lowe and another man (nearest to the camera) believed to be Major de Courcy-Wheeler.  (This man was originally believed to be General Low’s aide-de-camp and son Major John Lowe who later changed his name to John Loder and went on to become a Hollywood actor).  In later versions of the photograph Elizabeth O’Farrell’s image has been erased.

Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh (1883-1958) 

Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh (1883-1958) was a founding member of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin and its first leading actor when it opened in December 1904, playing the lead role in Kathleen Ni Houlihan by William Butler Yeats.  In 1916 she led Cumman na mBan at Jacob’s biscuit factory in the Rising. She was in Glasthule in Dublin when she heard that the Rising had begun. She was ordered to join Ceannt’s battalion as the “manoeuvres” were now going ahead. She failed to locate Ceannt, so she made her way to Thomas McDonagh’s garrison at Jacob’s just as the barricades were going up and she spent the Rising there until the garrison surrendered. After the Rising Máire continued to act and produce working in theatre until her retirement in 1948.  In 1928 she married General Eamonn Price, a veteran of the 1916 Rising. She wrote her recollections of the Rising, recently republished as Memoir: The Splendid Years – The Memoirs of an Abbey Actress and 1916 Rebel, Máire Nic Shuibhlaigh with Edward Kenny, edited by David Kenny. She died in Drogheda, County Louth in 1958.

Grace Evelyn Gifford (1888-1955) 

Grace Evelyn Gifford (1888-1955) was born in Rathmines, County Dublin  to a protestant mother and a Catholic father who worked as a solicitor. Grace had six brothers and five sisters and was  the second youngest of 12 children. She studies at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and works in Dublin as an illustrator and caricaturist.  Grace’s mother and brothers supported the Unionist tradition. Grace along with her sisters Muriel, Nellie and Sydney supported Irish nationalism and became a member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann. Grace’s sister Muriel marries Thomas MacDonagh one of the leaders of the Easter Rising. Grace had planned to marry Joseph Mary Plunkett, a writer and poet and the youngest signatory to the Irish proclamation on Easter Sunday 1916 but the wedding was cancelled due to the Rising. Joseph was one of the original men of the IRB military counsel responsible for planning the Rising. After the Rising Joseph is sentenced to death. Seven hours before his execution he and Grace are married in Kilmainham Jail Chapel on May 4 1916. After the Rising Grace becomes a member of the Sinn Féin executive and she uses her skills as an artist to create illustrations that promote Sinn Féin during the War of Independence. 

She is against the treaty and is arrested after taking part in a Women’s Prisoners Defence League demonstration and brought to Kilmainham Gaol where she is imprisoned for three months.  During her time in prison she drew several painting on the prison walls including one that become known as the Kilmainham Madonna and a copy of this painting can be seen in Kilmainham Gaol today. After the civil war she works as an artist and dies in 1955. She is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.

Dr Kathleen Lynn (1874-1955)

Dr Kathleen Lynn (1874-1955) was a feminist, suffragist, Republican and socialist. She trained as a doctor and became Chief Medical Officer for the Irish Citizen Army, the only organisation to have men and women fight equally side by side in the 1916 Easter Rising. 

She was born in Cong, County Mayo to a wealthy Protestant family. Her father was a Church of Ireland rector. She was related to Countess Markievicz who later became one of her close friends. Kathleen trained as a doctor, a rare achievement for a woman at that time. Her appointment as a surgeon to the Adelaide Hospital was resisted by the other male doctors because she was a woman. 

Kathleen supported the rights of the workers during the 1913 lock-out and worked in the soup kitchens with Countess Markievcz and others.  She became close friends with James Connolly and became Chief Medical Officer for the Irish Citizen Army, the only organisation to have men and women fight equally side by side in the 1916 Easter Rising. She provided first aid training and was involved in smuggling weapons.  She was in City Hall during Easter Week. One of her first acts was to pronounce Sean Connolly, the actor, dead. Trapped by sniper fire, she took command of the post and was jailed for her part. At the time of surrender she was the only officer present. She led the surrender but at first the British military refused to take the surrender form a woman.

Kathleen’s lifelong partner was Madeline ffrench-Mullan, a suffragist, feminist and Republican activist born in Malta. Madeline’s father was a Royal Navy surgeon.  Madeline was a member of Inghinidhe na hEireann and was involved in the soup kitchens during the 1913 lock-out. Madeline attended first aid lectures given by Kathleen and this was where they first met. They lived and worked together for over 30 years until Madeline’s death in 1944. Returning home from Madeline’s funeral, Kathleen wrote in her diary about  “..the loneliness of coming back, with no Madeline to greet me and say what a barren wilderness it had been while I was away.”  Kathleen was arrested after the Rising and released in 1917. She remained active in the Republican movement, campaigning for Constance Markievicz and was one of five women elected to the Dáil in 1923 but did not take her seat in opposition to the treaty. In 1926 she left Sinn Fein in dismay at the party’s refusal to do more for social reform and health care but continued as a member of Rathmines Urban District Council until 1930. 

Kathleen worked as a GP in Rathmines and along with  Madeline and others they founded St Ultan’s Hospital for infants in 1919.  They were appalled at the number of children dying in Dublin from preventable diseases and set up the hospital at Charlemont Street to provide care for sick children from the tenements. The hospital was initially staffed entirely by women and was run successfully despite the opposition they received from a conservative Catholic hierarchy and politician system. The hospital had a Montessori ward and made a significant contribution to the eradication of tuberculosis in Ireland.

However in the oppressive, cruel and conservative society of Ireland where women and the poor were marginalised, the hospital was effectively blacklisted by the Church and State and eventually closed.  From 1916 until her death in 1955 Kathleen recorded her daily life in four volumes of diaries, which are now held at the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland. Kathleen is described as ‘’one of the great Irish humanitarians of the 20th century’’. Smashing Times support the campaign to have the new National Children’s hospital named after Dr Kathleen Lynn for her pioneering work as a doctor in St. Ultan’s Hospital and her support for numerous women and children.

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (1877-1946)

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (1877-1946) was a radical activist, feminist and pacifist. She was born in Kanturk, County Cork. She was originally called Johanna Sheehy and later in life became known as Hanna. She moved to Tipperary when she was three and her father was a mill owner. Hanna then moved to Drumcondra in Dublin at the age of 10 in 1887 when her father was an nationalist MP. Hanna’s uncle Eugene Sheehy was a member of the IRB and was a supporter of women’s rights. He was imprisoned for his beliefs and Hanna visited him as a child in prison. Hanna attended the Dominican convent in Eccles Street and later University College Dublin. 

Hanna obtained a BA from the Royal University of Ireland in 1899 and an MA in 1902. She was one of the first generation of women to graduate from a university and to also teach at university level. She worked as a teacher in Eccles Street and later taught French and German in the Rathmines College of Commerce.

In 1903 Hanna and her husband Frank Skeffington married and joined their names together to highlight the equality of their relationship. Hanna and Frank were feminists, socialists and pacifists.  In 1908 Hanna was a co-founder along with Margaret Cousins, of the militant Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL). Hanna and other members of the IWFL  were  involved in militant actions to promote a woman’s right to vote.  They spent time campaigning and petitioning, then hosting public meetings, rallies and protests. They heckled visiting ministers and boycotted the 1911 census and physically clashed with police at the United Irish League convention in 1912. Hannah’s own father had become an MP in the Irish party however he refused to support votes for women. Hanna was an excellent orator and active campaigner, she took part in campaigns smashing windows and was arrested, serving two jail sentences for promoting women’s suffrage.

There was substantial disagreement amongst women in the nationalist movement over what to put first, nationalism or feminism. Many nationalist women who were also feminists. Many of them ‘’objected to the notion of Irish women attaching themselves to the coattails of Englishwomen in their fight for suffrage when their problems at home in Ireland were of a totally different order. What was the point in calling for ‘votes for Irishwomen’ they reasoned, when, once won, such votes could be used only to elect an alien  Westminster Parliament, whose authority was not recognised by radical Republicans’.   Hanna continued to campaign for women’s suffrage as well as having her first and only child, a son Owen in 1909.  ‘

 In 1912 Frank and Hanna set up their own newspaper the Irish Citizen.  In 1912  she was arrested forsmashing buildings and spent time in Mountjoy Jail. On her release she was sacked from her job as a teacher.  The IWFL had appealed  to politicians for votes for women as part of the campaign for home rule but this was rejected.  The suffragettes responded by carrying out a direct action of breaking windows in government buildings, including the GPO and Custom House. As a result of the stone throwing, Hanna was arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail. Hanna demanded and received political prisoner status. 

Hanna was also a writer, contributing to magazines including Bean na hÉireann. She was involved in the 1913 Lockout and assisted in the soup kitchens along with Countess Markievicz and others.  At this time Hanna was arrested for a second time for the false claim of ‘assaulting a policeman’. She was opposed to the First World War and both Hanna and Frank campaigned against conscription and spoke out against it in the Irish Citizen.   Frank was arrested and jailed for six months in Mountjoy Jail where he went on hunger strike. He was released and escaped to the USA and during this time Hanna took over as sole editor of the Irish Citizen.

Frank returned to Ireland in December 1915. As a pacifist he was prepared to die for his country but not to kill for it.  He wanted to see the men of Ireland no longer hypnotised by the glamour of ‘ the glory of arms’. Neither Frank nor Hanna took part directly in the Rising although Hanna was one of five civilians chosen to make up a new civil government if the Rising continued for any length of time.  She was involved in bringing messages and food to a number of outposts.   During the  Rising Frank , who supported the aims of the Rising but was absolutely against the use of force, was involved in setting up a group to stop the looting. 

On the second day of the Rising, Tuesday 25 April 1916, Frank was in town helping the wounded and trying to stop the looting. He and Hanna met briefly in town before Hanna returned home to be with Owen. Later that evening Frank was making his way home when he was arrested by an army patrol at Portobello Bridge. The next morning he was murdered on April 26 at Portobello Barracks by a firing Squad under the command of Captain J.C. Bowen Colthurst of the Royal Irish Rifles. Hanna campaigned for an enquiry into his murder.  Bowen Colthurst was eventually court-martialled and found guilty of murder but ‘insane’. He was sent to Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum but within 18 months he was found to be ‘cured’ and released. 

Hanna was a nationalist and continued to support Ireland’s independence from British. After the Rising Hanna did all she could to campaign for justice for her husband’s death. She also continued to campaign for women’s rights and equality and to support Ireland’s independence from Great Britain.   After the Rising of 1916, numerous women played a key role in building support for Irish independence. Women were active in raising funds for the families of those imprisoned for their involvement tin the Rising, they worked on publicity and awareness raising both in Ireland and internationally. 

At the end of 1916, Hanna left for a tour of America accompanied by her son Owen. She prepared a leaflet titled ‘British Militarism as I have Known It’ which was banned in Great Britain and Ireland. Hanna travelled in disguise as she had no passport due to her subversive political activities. In the United States she toured to over 250 venues including Carnegie Hall and attracted huge interest, publicity and packed attendances wherever she spoke. Hanna used the tour to publicise what had happened to her husband under British forces and to promote Irish nationalism and feminism.  The tour was a huge success with Hanna meeting the American president Woodrow Wilson as well as being tailed by American secret service agents and British agents.   After the tour Hanna and Owen were forced to travel to England as Hanna was banned by the British authorities from returning to Ireland. In 1917 Hanna stowed away on a steamship that sailed to Dublin. After a week in Ireland she was arrested, held in the Bridewell prison for two days, then deported to Holloway Prison in England where she joined other Irish revolutionary prisoners including Countess Markievciz and Kathleen Clarke. In prison, Hanna went on hunger strike and after two days she was released and returned to Ireland.  When Hanna was in Holloway Prison, Kathleen Clarke, widow of the Irish revolutionary Tom Clarke, one of the signatories to the Irish proclamation said that Hanna was ‘’a highly gifted woman, and one of the straightest I ever met, and I had great admiration for her’. 

In 1918 Hanna joined Sinn Fein.  Two years later in 1920 she contests the local government elections and wins, becoming a member of Dublin Corporation.  With the founding of the Irish Free State Hanna continued to fight for women’s equality particularly as the increasingly church-bound state grew more oppressive and conservative.  Hanna and other women remained active promoting feminist issues as they fought against the relentless attacks on women by a patriarchal society now made up of conservative government forces in partnership with the Catholic church

Hanna joined the newly formed Fianna Fáil when it was set up in 1927 however she moved away from the party in 1935 in protest at Sean Lemass’s Conditions of Employment Bill. Hanna, along with other women such as Maud Gonne and Kathleet Clark spoke out and campaigned against the 1937 Irish constitution promoted by Eamon de Valera because of the way it discriminated against women. They saw the constitution as a betrayal of women’s rights.

In 1943 Hanna stood as an Independent candidate in the general elections in South Dublin representing the Women’s Social and Progressive League, which had decided to contest the election in the absence of any support for women’s rights from the main political parties. Along with her stood three other independent women candidates, Margaret Ashe who stood in Galway West, and Mary Corbett and Mary Anne Phillips who stood in Tipperary.  Their campaign slogans were ‘equal pay for equal work’ and ‘equal opportunities for women’.  Her election address included demands for equal work, equal opportunities for women, the removal of the marriage ban on teachers, doctors and other skilled women, the restoration of jury rights, the abolition of the means test, proper pensions, school meals and free books for school children, family allowances, a clean milk supply, an effective anti-TB campaign, and civilised treatment for the unemployed. It was, as she said, a “bold enough challenge to masculine monopoly”. Its failure was a blow to those women who hoped that a more equal and inclusive society could have been built from the ashes of Easter Week. The women were boycotted by the press which played a part in not getting the women elected. Hanna pointed out that there were now fewer women TDS than there had been in 1918 – only three out of 138 TDs. The political dice were and would continue to be loaded in favour of the boys who were still as she said ‘allergic to women’.

Hanna died on 20 April 1946.  She had been looked after by her son Own and on her deathbed she remained an atheist ‘’refusing to see a priest even on her deathbed’’  Hanna is buried in Glasnevin Cemetary with her husband Frank. 

Echoes Today

Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, a botanist,  is the grand-daughter of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington.

In December 2018 Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington successfully applied to the Commemorative Naming Committee of Dublin City Council to have a commemorative plaque erected at the Ship Street entrance to Dublin Castle in honour of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (1877-1946), a suffragette and activist. 

The application stated that Hanna Sheehy Skeffington is ‘’Ireland’s most famous suffragette. Her actions contributed to Irish women being given the vote in 1918. On the 100th anniversary, the Irish suffragette’s contribution to Irish society should be recognised. Hanna lived and was active in Dublin so it would be appropriate for Dublin City Council to take a lead in recognising her importance by erecting a plaque to honour her and what she achieved. The appropriate place to acknowledge Hanna’s suffrage activity in Dublin is not where she lived but somewhere where she fought for women’s suffrage. One of Hanna’s most significant actions was the deliberating smashing of a window on the outside of Dublin Castle, the seat of British government rule. For this she was arrested and imprisoned. In prison she went on hunger strike’. 

The Commissioners  for Public Works in Ireland granted permission for a Dublin City Council  plaque to be erected at the site of Ms Hanna Sheehy Skeffington’s breaking of the Castle windows in 1912. The agreed wording for the plaque was:

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington 1877-1946 

Suffragette

Smashed these Windows 13th June 1912

In 2014 Dr Sheehy Skeffington won a ‘landmark case against  her former employer of thirty four years, the National University of Ireland, Galway.   The Equality Tribunal found that the university had discriminated against the botanist for promotion because of her gender’.’ At that time research by the Higher Education Authority in Ireland identified that women were ‘overwhelmingly under-represented in senior academic roles in third-level institutions in Ireland’. The report found that ‘’half of all lecturers in universities are female but that these numbers decline at higher grades, with women making up only 32 per cent of associate professors and 23 per cent of professors.  Women are also far more likely to earn less, with men making up 70 per cent of those earning in excess of €106,000’’.

For further Information on Micheline’s Three Conditions go to https://michelinesthreeconditions.wordpress.com/page/2/

For a video of Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, grand-daughter of one of Ireland’s foremost suffragettes, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, re-enacting her grandmother smashing windows at the seat of British Government rule in Dublin Castle to mark the centenary of women over 30 being allowed to vote, go to:

https://michelinesthreeconditions.wordpress.com/page/2/

For a video of Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, grand-daughter of one of Ireland’s foremost suffragettes, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, re-enacting her grandmother smashing windows at the seat of British Government rule in Dublin Castle to mark the centenary of women over 30 being allowed to vote, go to:

https://www.gettyimages.ie/detail/video/micheline-sheehy-skeffington-grand-daughter-of-one-of-news-footage/915264736

Reference: Hanna Sheehy Skeffington: A Life, Margaret Ward, 1997, Attic Press, Cork University.

Anna Haslam (1829-1922)

Anna Haslam née Fisher (1829-1922), was a  social reformer and woman’s rights campaigner, born in Youghal County Cork to a Quaker family. ‘Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends) were leaders in philanthropy and social reform, and, of all the Christian denominations, the most favourable to equality between the sexes’.  While Anna was teaching in Yorkshire , she met her husband Thomas Haslam, a social reformer, originally from County Laois and also a Quaker. Thomas was a pacifist and campaigner and he worked as a journalist and researcher and later as an accountant.

Thomas was excommunicated  from the Quaker Society in 1851 due to heterodoxy.

Thomas’s excommunication made it impossible for Anna to marry him within the Society of Friends. On March 20th, 1854, they married at Cork register office and went to live in Clonmel, in Co Tipperary; as a result Anna also was expelled from the society in August 1854. Neither ever rejoined it, but they maintained lifelong contact with Friends and were buried at the Quaker burial ground at Temple Hill in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Thomas and Anna had a happy marriage and many friends and associates commented on this. The decided not to have children due possibly to financial constraints or perhaps the difficulties of dedicating your life to campaigning for equality while also rearing children and it is said that they practiced sexual abstinence after their marriage in 1854.  Anna had an interest in birth control and had corresponded with the Scottish campaigner Marie Stopes who was a pioneer in providing family planning services and supporting the right to use birth control.   They moved to Dublin in 1866 and lived at  Leinster Road, Rathmines. When Thomas suffered from a health breakdown in 1866 Anna took over as the breadwinner for the next forty years running a shop from their home in Rathmines looking after Thomas until his death in 1917.

Anna and Thomas were both social reformers and played a key role in the campaign for votes for women ensuring that women would have active citizenship and the opportunity to influence society through legislation.  They were active in the early feminist movement promoting equality for women through peaceful means. They campaigned for equal access to education and were active in gaining the right for women to vote and stand as candidates  in local elections. They founded the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Association in 1876 which later became the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association (IWSLGA).  Anna was secretary from 1876 to 1913. She stood down in 1913 and was then elected life-president from 1913 to 1922.  Activities included writing letters to newspapers and periodicals, holding public meetings with prominent women speakers as well as drawing room meetings to influence ‘important’ people, liaising with suffrage associations in Northern Ireland, England and internationally, sending delegates to attend meetings and rallies and lobbying Irish MP’s through letter writing, delegations and petitions ‘urging them to introduce or support bills or amendments to bills to enfranchise women’. 

With regard to local government reform, the historian Mary Cullen writes that:

The Irish poor law system had been set up in 1838 and the boards of guardians had become an important part of the local government structure . . .  guardians were elected by the ratepayers and it was the one area where women could vote on the same property qualification as men, while in England, women were also eligible for election as guardians. The office of poor law guardian had obvious potential for women philanthropists as a way to share in policymaking. Anna Haslam explained Irish suffragists’ slowness in acting on the issue to the fact that in Ireland, election to the boards of guardians had from the start become an arena of political contest between male nationalists and unionists. The DWSA now organised the introduction of a private member’s bill to remove disqualification ‘by sex or marriage’ for election or serving as a poor law guardian. 

The bill passed in 1896 and the association immediately wrote to the newspapers and published leaflets explaining how to register to vote and stand for election and actively encouraged qualified women to go forward as candidates. By 1900, there were nearly 100 women guardians. There followed successful campaigning to have women included in the anticipated reorganisation of Irish local government . . . In England, women had already won the vote in municipal elections in 1869 and in 1887, the Northern Ireland Suffrage Society had done the same for Belfast. County councils had already been introduced in England and Scotland, and the Local Government (Ireland) Act of 1898 set up elected county councils and urban and rural district councils. Women gained the franchise on the same terms as men for all these new bodies as well as eligibility for election to the urban and rural district councils. Eligibility for election to the county councils did not come until 1911. 

Anna and Thomas were unionist supporters and during the above period, Anna was ‘one of the organisers of a meeting in Dublin in the early 1870s at which Isabella Tod, the prominent feminist leader in Belfast, spoke’. Isabella had set up the first suffrage society in Ireland, the North of Ireland Society for Women’s Suffrage established in 1872.

During the 1870’s, Anna was very involved in the campaign to repeat the Contagious Diseases Acts (1869-86), a campaign described as ‘disgraceful because lades discussed prostitution and venereal disease, subjects they should have known nothing about’.  The Contagious Diseases acts were brought in to stop the spread of venereal disease amongst soldiers in the British army who were stationed in places including Ireland with the laws discriminating against women. Three Contagious Diseases Acts (CDAs) were passed ‘which permitted the compulsory inspection of prostitutes for venereal disease in certain military camps in both England and Ireland. Under the acts, a woman could be arrested by a policeman on suspicion of being a prostitute and taken before a magistrate, who had the power to certify her as a common prostitute and order her to submit to a fortnightly internal examination. If found to be suffering from gonorrhoea or syphilis, she was forcibly detained in a Lock hospital for a period of up to nine months. There was no similar check on men’. These laws ‘did not touch the men involved but treated the women as commodities to be, in the words of the English leader, Josephine Butler, periodically cleansed and recycled as ‘clean harlots for the army and navy’.    Women’s rights campaigners including Anna Haslam and Isabella Todd played a key part in the campaign to force the repeal of the acts because of the way in which they discriminated against women. The  Contagious Diseases Acts were repealed in 1886.

During the early twentieth century the campaign for a woman’s right to vote began to grow. 

New suffrage societies were founded and the IWSLGA had grown to over 700 members by 1912. Many new suffragists came to the movement through the long-established IWSLGA. Anna Haslam, though herself unionist in sympathy, actively encouraged women of all political and religious affiliations to join. Members with well-known nationalist sympathies included Jennie Wyse Power of the Sinn Féin executive, Mary Hayden, professor of Irish History at UCD, and the future founders of the militant Irish Women’s Franchise League, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Margaret Cousins. 

Anna and the IWSLGA  remained committed to peaceful, legitimate means to gain the parliamentary vote and Anna did not agree with the more radical tactics undertaken by suffragettes including Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, however, they all remained united in aim, if not methods uses. Anna voted for the first time in 1918 ‘surrounded by flowers and flags, flanked by a disparate crew of unionist, constitutional nationalist and Sinn Fein women united in her honour to celebrate the victory of the vote’.

Margaret (Gretta) Cousins

Margaret (Gretta) Cousins. An Irish born Theosifist fist, radical activist and feminist and one of the founders of the militant Irish Women’s Franchise League set up in  1908 to fight for emancipation and a woman’s right to vote.  She also worked and lived in India where she established the Women’s Indian Association, one of first feminist groups in that country.

The following is an excerpt from a script by Mary Moynihan on Greta Cousins:

‘My mission is to advance the cause of womanhood the world over.  I remember going to Manchester for a Vegetarian conference where I witnessed nearby, a meeting of the Pankhursts and the Women’s Social and Political Union. Their spirited militancy rouses in me, a passion for the woman’s question. Their motto is ‘deeds not words’.

I return to Dublin where I set up the Irish Women’s Franchise League with my husband James and our friends Hanna and Francis Sheehy Skeffington. We choose the daffodil as our symbol, the colour of yellow to stand for women’s suffrage.   Hanna and I are determined to wake up the Irish public. We travel from Donegal to Dingle, in summer or winter, in hot sun or freezing cold,  speaking in parks, on the back of trucks, outside churches, anywhere we can find an audience. We canvass and petition,  heckle and campaign, independence is our bedrock. Warm clothes and a hat that won’t blow off in a wind are essential and thick boots.

I break windows with English suffragettes outside Downing Street and am arrested, I spend a month in Holloway Women’s Prison, a living death. I am sentenced again in 1913, in Tullamore Jail for breaking windows in Dublin Castle, the centre of British rule in Ireland.  We go on hunger strike to get political status. I write to the prison board, ‘I am not a criminal but a political prisoner, I refuse to be branded’ and we are successful.

James and I live in a tiny house at the edge of the sea in Dublin. But even with our teacher’s salaries we are the working poor.  We travel first to Liverpool and then India. It is like Celtic Ireland, a home to spirituality and the imagination, fighting for independence and yet denying women their rights.  I devote myself to feminist causes, the franchise for women, birth control, women in political office.  We convene the Women’s Indian Association to lobby for equal suffrage and set up the All-Indian Women’s conference. I am appointed the first woman magistrate in Indian.  In 1948 India gains its  independence and all women are granted the vote.  It  happened in Ireland in 1928.

Maeve the Warrior Queen, Grace O Malley, Anne Devlin, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington – find a daffodil in springtime and remember us for we will reign supreme. I hope that some day, we can say that the fight is won and all who have fought will not be cast away.’

Doctor Eleonora Fleury (1860-1940)

Dr Eleanora Fleury (1860-1940) was the first female member admitted in 1894 to the Medico-Psychological Association (MPA), the precursor to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.  The following is an article on Eleonora Fleury by Aidan Collins from The British Journal of Psychiatry.   (get copywright of this article to use0

In the history of the Medico-Psychological Association (MPA), precursor to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the admission of the first female member in 1894 was surely one of the landmark events. It is surprising therefore that so little is known about Dr Eleonora Fleury and that the college has no image of her in its archive.

Eleonora (Norah) Lilian Fleury was born in Manchester in 1867. Her father was Charles Fleury, a surgeon. Her early education was likely to have been by home schooling but she undertook her medical studies in London and Dublin, obtaining high honours at the MB examination of the Royal University of Ireland in 1890. She was the first female medical graduate from the Royal and was awarded the degree of MD with Gold Medal in 1893. The Royal was only an examining body and so she received her clinical instruction at the Richmond Hospital in Dublin and the London School of Medicine for Women. On qualification she worked at the Homerton (Fever) Hospital in London.

On her return to Dublin she took up a post as Clinical Assistant the Richmond District Aslyum at Grangegorman, then under the stewardship of Dr Connolly Norman and by far the biggest asylum in Ireland. Dr Norman appears to have had high regard for Fleury such that he proposed her for membership of the MPA in July 1893. Her election as a member did not pass on that occasion, but it was clear to most members of the council that women needed to be admitted to the association. The rule change was passed later in 1893 and in 1894 Dr Fleury became a full member. The admission of the first female to MPA membership was significant enough to be reported in the American Medical press.

Fleury served as assistant medical officer in the Richmond Asylum and later deputy resident medical superintendent (RMS) at the satellite asylum at Portrane, County Dublin. Connolly Norma died in 1908 and Dr Fleury did not fare well in the reshuffles that followed. 

It has been said that she was passed over for the post of RMS either a the main asylum at Grangegorman or at Portrane because of her gender and certainly the annual report displays a tendency for the governors to prefer a male RMS, and even for a quota system to exist in terms of the number of female doctors allowed work in an asylum at any given time. Indeed, other women were not appointed to Portrane until Fleury’s retirement in 1925. However, another factor may have hindered her advancement.

Irish free state forces arrested Fleury during the civil war that followed the signing of the treaty with Britain in 1921. In 1923, she was detained in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. She had been involved in an organised assistance and escape programme for anti-treaty prisoners centred on the asylum at Portrane. While in Kilmainham she served as medical officer to the Republican prisoners using whatever sparse resources were available to her. On her release she returned to her duties at Portrane. The government that had imprisoned her remained in power until 1932. Dr Fleury never married and she died in 1960. She spent the last years of  her life in Rathmines, Dublin.

Source: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/eleonora-fleury-captured-extra/FA4ED5AD667BF2FC4EA2B8BDCFE97C7B

Citation: Collins, A. (2013). Eleonora Fleury captured – extra. British Journal of Psychiatry, 203 (1),  5-5. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.113.126797 Copyright: © Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2013 

The following article is from https://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/on-the-inside-sitting-alone-pioneer-irish-women-doctors/

Ireland in the late nineteenth century was still largely rural, with gross poverty and marked social inequalities. Most women were illiterate; health was poor; infectious diseases and multiple pregnancies were common. Unemployment was high, and there was massive emigration (higher among women) to England and the Americas. English fashions and ideas percolated slowly to Ireland, and in neither country did women have a vote or any power to influence change. In England, educated girls found that networking and supporting each other as adults was a powerful tool when working for their independence. Collective action helped them to bring about changes, but the women’s suffrage movement had less impact in Ireland.


Many intelligent women were becoming restless and their struggle for independence began slowly. It was hampered by their lack of education and by the power of men and the churches. The Society of Friends (Quakers), who had always considered women as equals, made some impact on women’s education in Ireland. Irish medical women pioneers tried to change the situation of women but found themselves frustrated by the negative attitudes of many professional men, who were inclined to treat women as second-class individuals. Some of these women were fortunate in having parents who had encouraged their education. Some early Irish women medical students attended the London School of Medicine for Women; others went to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Europe. In Dublin a few attended small private schools such as the Carmichael and Cecilia Street schools, but were not allowed to sit examinations or obtain degrees.


In England Elizabeth Blackwell, who had qualified as a doctor in the United States, was the first woman on the 1858 General Medical Council (GMC) register. She was followed by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who qualified LSA in 1865 and registered with the GMC in 1865. She had a postgraduate degree from Paris. Women were then prevented from being registered to practise until 1876, when Russell Gurney MP successfully introduced a Medical Qualification Act, an amendment to the 1858 GMC Medical Act, which removed the restrictions that the council had introduced to prevent qualification on grounds of gender. In 1877 the King’s and Queen’s College of Ireland (later the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI)) was the first body in the British Isles to allow women to register. On 10 January 1877 the college voted, by a majority of one, to admit women. Women could now sit their examinations, register and get a licence to practise medicine. In 1885 the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) agreed to extend its educational facilities to women and to recognise the examination results from the London School of Medicine for Women. The RCSI was the first college in Great Britain and Ireland that allowed women to take its examination. In 1886 the RCPI and the RCSI agreed to a conjoint degree that was registrable. It was obligatory for all candidates to pass medicine, surgery and midwifery before admission to the GMC register. In 1886, out of 50 women on the General Medical Council register, 44 had entered it as licentiates of the Irish King’s and Queen’s College.

Dr Fleury, who became a successful psychiatrist, was the first woman member of the Medico Psychological Association (MPA), now the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In 1893 she was proposed by Dr Connolly Norman, a president of the MPA and one-time editor of the Journal of Mental Science. This was refused for a year as the association rules had to be changed to allow her admission. In 1894 she was elected by 23 votes to 7, no mean achievement in a male-dominated age.

Eleanora Fleury was born in Dublin, the daughter of Dr Charles Fleury. She was the first woman medical graduate of Royal University of Ireland (RUI), with first-class honours and a first-class exhibition (1890). She had been a student at the Richmond Hospital in Dublin and the London School of Medicine for Women for a three-month course of clinical instruction in mental diseases. In April 1890 she passed the final examination at RUI and was first in order of merit. Following qualification she worked at the Homerton Fever Hospital in London for a year before returning to Ireland to work at the Richmond Asylum (later called Grangegorman) for 27 years. Dr Fleury became deputy medical director but was always ‘passed over for male colleagues’. From 1921 she worked at Portrane Asylum, Donabate, until she retired in 1926. She died in 1940.

With regard to asylums in Ireland, by 1840 there were eight public asylums and a number of private ones. In 1841 the Association of Medical Officers of Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane was set up and in ‘1846, an Office of Lunacy was created in Dublin Castle and with it the posts of Inspectors of Lunatics in Ireland’. The Association of Medical Officers of Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane had a name change in 1965 when it was called the Medico-psychological Association. At that time it was believed that  ‘lunatic asylums are hospitals for the recovery of curable patients and houses for the reception of incurable lunatics and not prisons for the safe custody of dangerous madmen’.  In 1961 Joseph Lalor of the Richmond Hospital became the seventh president of the  Medico-psychological Association. Lalor had retired in 1886 and died some months later aged 76.

In 1893, Connolly Norman advocated that the rules be changed to allow women to become members, and proposed as the first female member Dr Eleanora Fleury, who was working with him in the Richmond. Despite some resistance the rules were amended, and Dr Fleury was elected a member in 1894. This same year saw Connolly Norman present his presidential address at the College of Physicians, Dublin.

Eva Gore Booth (1870-1926)

Eva Gore Booth (1870-1926) was a poet, playwright, trade unionist, feminist, campaigner for equality and a sister of Constance Markiewicz. Eva was a leading suffragist in England alongside the Pankhursts. Eva had superb organisational skills and in 1908 she organised a male candidate in favour of female suffrage to stand against Winston Churchill in a bye-election as Churchill was against the  female franchise. Eva ran the campaign and defeated Churchill in an electon in which she could neither stand in or vote in herself. 

Eva Gore-Booth was the author of nine books of poetry, seven plays, and several collections of spiritual essays and studies of the Gospels. Just as important to her legacy, however, are the many pamphlets and essays she published while living in England that dealt with the political issues of her day, including the fight for equal rights for women. In addition to being a writer, Gore-Booth was also a political activist, and one of the first female suffragists to advocate extending the vote to both female property owners and women in the working class. “Sex is an accident,” Gore-Booth once wrote, summing up her motivation to fight for equal rights. Gore-Booth’s equally strong belief in pacifism was evident in many of her works, including the protest play The Buried Life of Deirdre (1930).

From an aristocratic background, Gore-Booth began writing poetry in the early 1890s, and her talent was immediately noticed by some well-known Irish literary figures, including the great poet William Butler Yeats. Recognizing that despite her talent Gore-Booth was still an undisciplined writer, Yeats gave her several books to read in an effort to help polish her craft. “I’m always ransacking Ireland for people to set at writing Irish things,” Yeats wrote in an 1895 letter. “She does not know that she is the last victim—but is deep in some books of Irish legends I sent her and might take fire.” Indeed, in spite of the fact that Gore-Booth lived most of her adult life away from Ireland, many critics have maintained that her work is a good representation of Irish literature of the period.

Gore-Booth’s poetry, especially such later works as The One and the Many and The Egyptian Pillar, include themes of social change and sexual liberation. For example, the latter collection makes numerous references to strong and independent women from ancient times, including Sheba and Cleopatra. Two of her poetry collections, The Perilous Light and Broken Glory, published during World War I, express pacifist themes. Despite the praise she received from many contemporary critics, modern readers have largely neglected Gore-Booth’s work. Some scholars believe that her writings should not be forgotten, however, because they offer a unique perspective on some of the most important issues of her time. “Gore-Booth deserves a far more prominent place in the canon of British literature of the early twentieth century,” wrote John C. Hawley in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

The daughter of Anglo-Irish landowners, Gore-Booth was born in 1870 into a life of privilege. The private education she received helped spawn her independent thinking and creative self-expression. The death of her grandmother, Lady Hill, when Gore-Booth was nine years old was a shaping force throughout her life. In the years following Lady Hill’s death, Gore-Booth felt the constant presence of her grandmother’s spirit. Some critics have noted that such a belief led to Gore-Booth’s lifelong interest in mysticism and theosophy, which she explores in many of her writings. In fact, spirituality is a central concern of her final two books of poetry, The Shepherd of Eternity and The House of Three Windows.

In 1896, while on a trip to Italy, Gore-Booth met Esther Roper, a leading suffragist and activist. The two women became lifelong partners, although there is no evidence that they were lovers. Under Roper’s tutelage, Gore-Booth became a leading voice in the suffragist movement, especially after they moved to the English industrial city of Manchester. There the two women helped female factory workers organize and fight for better working conditions. In 1900 Gore-Booth became a leading figure of the Manchester Trade Union Council, which was enormously influential in the formation of dozens of other female unions.

Political activities never prevented Gore-Booth from writing, and she continued to publish regularly right up to the time of her death. Having suffered poor health throughout much of her adult life, Gore-Booth died of intestinal cancer on June 30, 1926, in London, where she had moved just a few years earlier. Shortly before she died, she privately published a magazine called Urania, which circulated around London. In it Gore-Booth made a prophetic statement that symbolizes much of what she believed. “There is a vista before us of a Spiritual progress which far transcends all political matters,” she declared. “It is the abolition of the ‘manly’ and the ‘womanly.’ Will you not help to sweep them into the museum of antiques?”

Louie Bennett (1870-1956)

Louie Bennett (1870-1956) was an Irish suffragette, a trade union activist and a peace activist from Dublin. She was involved with the Irish Women’s  Suffrage movement.  In 1911 she cofounded, with her life-long friend and colleague Helen Chenevix,   the Irish women’s Suffrage Federation, an umbrella organisation, which by 1913 had connected 15 Irish suffrage societies and established links with Europe and the United States.

She was born on January 7th, 1870, on Garville Avenue in Rathgar, Dublin, the eldest daughter of James Cavendish Bennett, a prosperous auctioneer, and his wife Susan (nee Bolger). The young Louie, as she was known, was brought up at Temple Hill in Blackrock, Co Dublin, and educated at Alexandra College, and an academy for young ladies in London, where she and her sisters formed an Irish League; she went on to study singing in Bonn, Germany. As a teenager she showed an interest in writing, her first literary effort being Memoirs of the Temple Road in the 1880s; she afterwards published two unsuccessful romantic novels, The Proving of Priscilla in 1902 and A Prisoner of his Word in 1908, the latter set in Co Down in the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion.

She turned her attention to women’s issues and by 1910 had become involved in the suffrage movement, initially through her reading of the suffrage monthly Irish Citizen. In 1911 she cofounded, with her life-long friend and colleague Helen Chenevix , the Irishwomen’s Suffrage Federation, an umbrella organisation, which by 1913 had connected 15 Irish suffrage societies and established links with Europe and the United States. She and Chenevix were the organisation’s first honorary secretaries. She was also associated with the Irish Women’s Franchise League, for which she ran public-speaking classes. However, as the divide between militants and opponents of the use of violence became more pronounced, Bennett, as a confirmed pacifist, who endorsed what she called “constructive, rather than destructive action”, distanced herself from the league, and through her involvement in the production of the Irish Citizen sought to side-line the militants.

Bennett, as a confirmed pacifist, endorsed what she called ‘constructive, rather than destructive action’ and sought to side-line the militants Bennett’s concerns were not limited to the question of women’s franchise. As founder of the Irish Women’s Reform League, she not only addressed the suffrage question, but examined many social issues concerning women. The league focused on working conditions, monitored court cases involving women, and demanded school meals and better education. She was among those who assisted in the relief effort at Liberty Hall during the 1913 strike and lockout in Dublin, and she appealed for funds for strikers’ families through the Irish Citizen.

In the period that followed, she maintained links with the labour movement. She often opposed the direct, uncompromising approach of both James Connolly and Helena Molony, and argued that labour and women’s issues would be hampered by any affiliation with nationalist politics. The aftermath of the Easter Rising and, in particular, the murder of Francis Sheehy Skeffington caused her to revise some of her views on nationalism. In late 1916 she accepted an invitation to reorganise the Irish Women Workers’ Union, on the understanding that she would have complete independence from Liberty Hall. Assisted by Chenevix and Fr John Flanagan, she re-created the union along professional lines, and by 1918 its membership had risen dramatically from a few hundred to 5,300. She consistently defended its separatist stance, arguing that women’s concerns in a male-dominated union would always be of secondary importance.

Throughout the first World War, Bennett campaigned for peace, and she was selected as the Irish representative to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She led the Irish Women Workers’ Union in its opposition to the attempted introduction of conscription in 1918, and in 1920 she travelled to the US to highlight atrocities committed by the Black and Tans. She later met Lloyd George and demanded the removal of the Black and Tans from Ireland. As a member of the Women’s Peace Committee, she acted as a mediator during the civil war. In 1925 she was appointed to an Irish Trades Union Congress committee to promote a scheme of working-class education with the assistance of the labour movement; her interest in adult education later led to her involvement with the People’s College. She was a member of the national executive of the Irish Trades Union Congress from 1927 to 1932, when she became the first woman president, and from 1944 to 1950, serving a second presidential term in 1947. Her knowledge of labour issues was officially acknowledged by the Irish government in 1932, when she was sent as a representative to Geneva to put forward the case of Irish women workers. In 1938 she delivered a paper entitled Industrialism in an Agrarian Country to the International Relations Institute in the Netherlands.

Despite the depth of her involvement with the union movement, she had ambitions outside trade unionism, and in 1938 she let her name be put forward by the Irish Women Workers’ Union as a congress candidate for election to the senate, but this came to nothing. In that year she was appointed to the government commission on vocational organisation which continued until 1943. That year she was elected as a Labour Party member of the Dún Laoghaire borough council.

As a councillor she consistently lobbied for improved housing and was instrumental in the establishment of Dún Laoghaire’s housing council in 1949. She had refused a Labour nomination in the 1918 general election, but she stood for Dublin County Council and the Dáil in 1944, in both cases unsuccessfully. She was the only Labour Party member to criticise the party’s support for the Fianna Fáil minority government of 1932, arguing that it is “never right or wise to co-operate with another party with fundamentally different principles”. As an elected member of the Labour Party executive, she represented Ireland at the International Labour Organization in Europe. She was also a representative at the League of Nations.

Throughout her public career, Bennett consistently condemned colonialism, fascism, and armaments expenditure. She is possibly best remembered for her leadership in the laundry workers’ strike of 1945, during which Irish Women Workers’ Union members successfully fought for a fortnight’s paid holiday. Her management of the union, which lasted until 1955, was marked by determination and diplomacy, though she often used threatened resignations as a means of controlling her colleagues. She died, unmarried, on November 25th, 1956, in Killiney, Co Dublin.

Delia Larkin (1878-1949)

Delia Larkin was a trade union activist who set up the Irish Women’s Workers Union.

Delia Larkin was born in Liverpool on the 27th February 1878. She followed her brother Jim into organizing Trade Unions, firstly in Belfast and then in Dublin.

In 1909 Jim founded the Irish Trade and General Workers Union (ITGWU) and in 1911 it was decided to establish a women’s branch, the Irish Women Workers Union (IWWU). Delia Larkin was the first secretary and she wrote a column in the Irish Worker. When Jim travelled to England to drum up support for the Lock Out of 1913, Delia helped organise a soup kitchen which provided meals for 3,000 starving children.

Jim was arrest in America in 1920 for “criminal syndicalism” and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in Sing Sing Prison. Delia became the leading light of the Release James Larkin campaign. On his release, Jim was expelled from the ITGWU and supported by Delia, Jim and his brother Peter set up the left wing Workers’ Union of Ireland.

In the 1930’s she confined her activities to writing occasional articles for the re-launched Irish Worker.

Delia Larkin died on the 26th October 1949 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Isabella Tod (1836-1896)

Isabella Tod (1836-1896) was a suffragist and Unionist campaigner originally from Edinburgh, Scotland. She lived in South Belfast, Northern Ireland and was an active campaigner for women’s rights. She campaigned to allow women to take exams at Queen’s University Belfast, and was an active campaigner in the suffrage movement. In 1873, she formed the first Irish suffrage association called the North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society.

Isabella Tod was born on 18 May 1836, in Edinburgh. Her father James was a Scottish merchant and her mother, Maria Isabella Waddell, was from county Monaghan. The family came to live in Belfast in the 1860s. Tod was proud of her Scottish background, and often referred to the fact that one of her ancestors signed the Solemn League and Covenant at Hollywood, Co. Down, in 1646. Her attachment to the Presbyterian faith was strong and her religious beliefs were to influence her political activism. 

Isabella Tod was largely self-educated and had no formal education. Her interest in the affairs of women was apparently fostered by her mother whose encouragement led her to engage in private study. Her initial means of raising the status of women (and making herself an income) was through. writing, and in the 1860s and the 1870s she contributed pieces anonymously to the Dublin University Magazine , the Banner of Ulster  and the Northern Whig . She was a leading advocate of extending to middle-class women the education that would qualify them for proper employment. In 1874, she published a paper entitled On advanced education for girls in the upper and middle classes, calling for practical education along the lines of the Belfast Ladies’ Institute. She was Secretary of the Institute, which campaigned to allow Irish women access to University education. In 1878 she organized a delegation to London to put pressure on the Government to include girls in the Intermediate Education Act. She was the main influence behind the establishment of the Ulster Head Schoolmistresses Association, formed in 1880. She was involved in the campaign to amend the laws governing married women’s property and she also served on the executive of the Married Women’s Property Committee, which was based in London. Through her activities on this Committee, she came to know reformers, such as Frances Power Cobbe, Lydia Becker, Elizabeth Wolstenholme and Josephine Butler. In 1874 she and Margaret Byers formed the Belfast Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA). By 1875 the BWTA had opened three temperance food houses in the city, one of which offered ‘nutritious dinners to girls engaged in factories’ and it expanded from supporting temperance to starting schemes for social reform, establishing a Prison Gate Mission, and homes for alcoholic and destitute women. It began classes in cookery and hygiene, and attempted to raise the moral and social standards of the homes of the poor. By 1889 it claimed to have forty branches around the country. In 1894 all these branches merged to form a single organisation, the Irish Women’s Temperance Union. Isabella Tod also called for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Under  these Acts, prostitutes were forced to undergo medical examination for venereal disease and she considered this an infringement of women’s civil liberties. She was elected secretary of the Belfast branch of the Ladies’ National Association. In 1884 she was presented with a testimonial of £1,000 contributed mainly by her ‘English fellow workers in various philanthropies’. In November 1886 she was presented with a full length portrait as a token of appreciation for her work in Ireland. Another testimonial, some years later, consisted of an album, which contained 120 signatories, many from the front rank of the Unionist Party.

Isabella Tod was also an active suffrage campaigner, establishing the Northern Ireland Society of Women’s Suffrage Society (NISWS) in 1871, which was linked to the London Women’s Suffrage Society. She remained secretary of the NISWS until the 1890s.  In 1872 Isabella Tod organized the first Irish suffrage tour, holding meetings in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Derry and Dublin. The Belfast meeting, held on 6 February, attracted an audience of 500. On 21 February she addressed a meeting in Dublin which resulted in the establishment of a suffrage committee which evolved into the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Society

As a unionist, she opposed the Irish Home Rule Bills and this lost her some friends in the suffrage movement. She organised a Liberal Women’s Unionist Association in Belfast and spoke on platforms in Devon, Cornwall, and London. Her last public appearance, just before her death, was at a meeting about distressed Armenians. She lived in Claremont Street off University Road for some of her life, and died at her home in Belfast (possibly situated on Botanic Avenue) on 8 December 1896.

Source of above biography: Celebrating Belfast Women – A City Guide through Women’s Eyes, Belfast Women’s History Tour, Page 34

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) was a British political activist and suffragette who founded the Women’s Franchise League in 1898 which fought to allow married women to vote in local elections and later the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

Emmeline Goulden was born on 14 July 1858 in Manchester into a family with a tradition of radical politics. In 1879, she married Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer and supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. He was the author of the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, which allowed women to keep earnings or property acquired before and after marriage. His death in 1898 was a great shock to Emmeline.

In 1889, Emmeline founded the Women’s Franchise League, which fought to allow married women to vote in local elections. In October 1903, she helped found the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – an organisation that gained much notoriety for its activities and whose members were the first to be christened ‘suffragettes’. Emmeline’s daughters Christabel and Sylvia were both active in the cause. British politicians, press and public were astonished by the demonstrations, window smashing, arson and hunger strikes of the suffragettes. In 1913, WSPU member Emily Davison was killed when she threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby as a protest at the government’s continued failure to grant women the right to vote.

Like many suffragettes, Emmeline was arrested on numerous occasions over the next few years and went on hunger strike herself, resulting in violent force-feeding. In 1913, in response to the wave of hunger strikes, the government passed what became known as the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act. Hunger striking prisoners were released until they grew strong again, and then re-arrested.

This period of militancy was ended abruptly on the outbreak of war in 1914, when Emmeline turned her energies to supporting the war effort. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave voting rights to women over 30. Emmeline died on 14 June 1928, shortly after women were granted equal voting rights with men (at 21).

Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913)

Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913) was a suffragette who fought for votes for women in Great Britain in the early twentieth century.

Emily Wilding Davison was born in Blackheath in southeast London on 11 October 1872. She studied at Royal Holloway College and at Oxford University, although women were not allowed to take degrees at that time.

In 1906, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by Emmeline Pankhurst. Three years later she gave up her job as a teacher and went to work full-time for the suffragette movement. She was frequently arrested for acts ranging from causing a public disturbance to burning post boxes and spent a number of short periods in jail.

In 1909, she was sentenced to a month’s hard labour in Strangeways Prison in Manchester after throwing rocks at the carriage of chancellor David Lloyd George. She attempted to starve herself, and resisted force-feeding. A prison guard, angered by Davison’s blockading herself in her cell, forced a hose into the room and nearly filled it with water. Eventually, however, the door was broken down, and she was freed. She subsequently sued the wardens of Strangeways, and was awarded 40 shillings.

By 1911, Davison was becoming increasingly militant. On 4 June 1913, she ran out in front of the king’s horse as it was taking part in the Epsom Derby. Her purpose was unclear, but she was trampled on and died on 8 June from her injuries.

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