seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Margaret “Gretta” Cousins, Educationist & Suffragist

Margaret Elizabeth Cousins (née Gillespie), also known as Gretta Cousins, Irish-Indian educationist, suffragist and Theosophist, is born into an Irish Protestant family in Boyle, County Roscommon, on October 7, 1878.

Gillespie is educated locally and in Derry. She studies music at the Royal University of Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1902, and becomes a teacher. As a student she meets the poet and literary critic James Cousins. They are married in 1903. The pair explore socialism, vegetarianism, and parapsychology together. In 1906, after attending a National Conference of Women (NCW) meeting in Manchester, Cousins joins the Irish branch of the NCW. In 1907 she and her husband attend the London convention of the Theosophical Society, and she makes contact with suffragettes, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, and occultists in London.

Cousins co-founds the Irish Women’s Franchise League with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1908, serving as its first treasurer. In 1910 she is one of six Dublin women attending the Parliament of Women, which attempt to march to the House of Commons to hand a resolution to the Prime Minister. After 119 women marching to the House of Commons have been arrested, fifty requiring medical treatment, the women decide to break the windows of the houses of Cabinet Ministers. Cousins is arrested and sentenced to a month in Holloway Prison.

Vacationing with William Butler Yeats in 1912, Cousins and her husband hear Yeats read translations of poems by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1913, breaking the windows of Dublin Castle on the reading of the Second Home Rule Bill, Cousins and other suffragists are arrested and sentenced to one month in Tullamore Jail. The women demand to be treated as political prisoners, and go on hunger strike to achieve release.

In 1913, she and her husband move to Liverpool, where James Cousins works in a vegetarian food factory. In 1915 they move to India. James Cousins initially works for New India, the newspaper founded by Annie Besant. After Besant is forced to dismiss him for an article praising the 1916 Easter Rising, she appoints him Vice-Principal of the new Besant Theosophical College, where Margaret teaches English.

In 1916, Cousins becomes the first non-Indian member of the SNDT Women’s University at Poona. In 1917, Cousins co-founds the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) with Annie Besant and Dorothy Jinarajadasa. She edits the WIA’s journal, Stri Dharma. In 1919 Cousins becomes the first Head of the National Girls’ School at Mangalore. She is credited with composing the tune for the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana in February 1919, during Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to Besant Theosophical College. In 1922, she becomes the first woman magistrate in India. In 1927, she co-founds the All India Women’s Conference, serving as its President in 1936.

In 1932, she is arrested and jailed for speaking against the Emergency Measures. By the late 1930s she feels conscious of the need to give way to indigenous Indian feminists:

“I longed to be in the struggle, but I had the feeling that direct participation by me was no longer required, or even desired by the leaders of India womanhood who were now coming to the front.”

A stroke leaves Cousins paralysed from 1944 onwards. She receives financial support from the Madras government, and later Jawaharlal Nehru, in recognition of her services to India. She dies on March 11, 1954. Her manuscripts are dispersed in various collections across the world.

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Birth of Eva Gore-Booth, Suffragist & Sister of Countess Markievicz

Eva Selina Laura Gore-Booth, poet and dramatist, and a committed suffragist, social worker and labour activist, is born at Lissadell House, County Sligo, on May 22, 1870. She is the younger sister of Constance Gore-Booth, later known as the Countess Markievicz.

The work of Gore-Booth, alongside that of Esther Roper, the English woman who would become her lifelong companion, is responsible for the close link between the struggle for women’s rights in industry and the struggle for women’s right to vote. As a middle class suffragist representing Manchester, the work of Gore-Booth is mainly recognized in the Lancashire cotton towns from 1899 to 1913. Her struggle begins when she becomes a member of the executive committee of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Carrying out work at the Ancoats settlement, Eva becomes co-secretary of the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council.

In 1902 Gore-Booth campaigns at the Clitheroe by-election on behalf of David Shackleton, a Labour candidate who promises her that he would show support for the women’s enfranchisement. Shackleton is elected but does not act upon his promise. This leads to the founding of the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile and Other Worker’s Representation Committee by Gore-Booth, Esther Roper and Sarah Reddish. When the Women’s Trade Union Council refuses to make women’s suffrage one of its aims, Gore-Booth resigns from the council.

After resigning from the Women’s Trade Union Council, Gore-Booth and Sarah Dickenson, who had also resigned, set up the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade and Labour Council. As part of this council, Gore-Booth and other suffragists use constitutional methods of campaigning. In the general election of 1906, they put forward their own candidate, Thorley Smith, but he is defeated.

In 1907 Gore-Booth, reluctant to give up hope, contributes an essay “The Women’s Suffrage Movement Among Trade Unionists” to The Case for Women’s Suffrage. In this essay Eva gives a summary of reasons for the methods of the LCWTOW campaign to gain a vote for working women.

As World War I breaks out, Gore-Booth and Esther Roper take up welfare work among German women and children in England. Gore-Booth becomes a member of the Women’s Peace Crusade in 1915 and the No-Conscription Fellowship in 1916.

When Gore-Booth embarks on her writing career she is visited by William Butler Yeats who is very much taken with her work. Yeats hopes that she will take up his cause of writing Irish tales to enchant and amuse. Instead Eva takes Irish folklore and put emphasis on the females in the story. Her widely discussed sexuality in later years is never declared but her poetry reflects it quite overtly. Gore-Booth is also one of a group of editors of the magazine Urania that publishes three issues per year from 1916 to 1940. It is a feminist magazine that reprints stories and poems from all over the world with editorial comment.

After years of playing a lead role in the Women’s Suffrage Movement and fighting for equality of women’s rights in the UK as well as staying true to her literary roots, Gore-Booth and Roper relocate to London from Manchester in 1913 due to Gore-Booth’s deteriorating respiratory health.

Just weeks after the 1916 Easter Rising, Gore-Booth travels to Dublin accompanied by Roper and is pivotal in the efforts to reprieve the death sentence of her sister Constance Markievicz awarded for her instrumental role in the rising, which is successfully converted to a life sentence. She further campaigns to abolish the death sentence overall and to reform prison standards. She attends the trial of Irish nationalist and fellow poet Roger Casement thus showing solidarity and support for the overturning of his death sentence.

During the remaining years of her life, which is claimed by cancer on June 30, 1926, Gore-Booth remains devoted to her poetry, dedicates time to her artistic talents as a painter, studies the Greek language and is known as a supporter of animal rights. She dies in her home in Hampstead, London, which she shares with Roper until her passing. She is buried alongside Roper in St. John’s churchyard, Hampstead.


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Death of Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde

jane-wildeJane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde, Irish poet who writes under the pen name “Speranza” and supporter of the nationalist movement, dies at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, London, of bronchitis on February 3, 1896.

Jane is the last of the four children of Charles Elgee, a Wexford solicitor, and his wife Sarah. Her great-grandfather is an Italian who had come to Wexford in the 18th century. She has a special interest in Irish folktales, which she helps to gather. She marries Sir William Wilde on November 12, 1851, and they have three children, William Charles Kingsbury Wilde (1852–1899), Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854–1900), and Isola Francesca Emily Wilde (1857–1867).

Jane, who is the niece of Charles Maturin, writes for the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, publishing poems in The Nation under the pseudonym of “Speranza.” Her works include pro-Irish independence and anti-British writing. She is sometimes known as “Speranza of the Nation.” Charles Gavan Duffy is the editor when “Speranza” writes commentary calling for armed revolution in Ireland. The authorities at Dublin Castle shut down the paper and bring the editor to court. Duffy refuses to name who has written the offending article. “Speranza” reputedly stands up in court and claims responsibility for the article. The confession is ignored by the authorities. But in any event the newspaper is permanently shut down by the authorities.

She is an early advocate of women’s rights, and campaigns for better education for women. She invites the suffragist Millicent Fawcett to her home to speak on female liberty. She praises the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1883, preventing women from having to enter marriage “as a bond slave, disenfranchised of all rights over her fortune.”

William Wilde is knighted in January 1864, but the family celebrations are short-lived, for in the same year Sir William and Lady Wilde are at the centre of a sensational Dublin court case regarding a young woman called Mary Travers, the daughter of a colleague of Sir William’s, who claims that he had seduced her and who then brings an action against Lady Wilde for libel. Mary Travers wins the case and costs of £2,000 are awarded against Lady Wilde. Then, in 1867, their daughter Isola dies of fever at the age of nine. In 1871 the two illegitimate daughters of Sir William are burned to death and in 1876 Sir William himself dies. The family discovers that he is virtually bankrupt.

Lady Wilde leaves Dublin for London in 1879, where she joins her two sons, Willie, a journalist, and Oscar, who is making a name for himself in literary circles. She lives with her older son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and producing books based on the researches of her late husband into Irish folklore.

Lady Wilde contracts bronchitis in January 1896 and, dying, asks for permission to see Oscar, who is in prison. Her request is refused. It is claimed that her “fetch” appears in Oscar’s prison cell as she dies at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, on February 3, 1896. Willie Wilde, her older son, is penniless, so Oscar pays for her funeral, which is held on February 5, at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. A headstone proved too expensive and she is buried anonymously in common ground. A monument to her, in the form of a Celtic cross, is erected at Kensal Green Cemetery by the Oscar Wilde Society in 1999.


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Death of Novelist Edith Anna Œnone Somerville

edith-somervilleEdith Anna Œnone Somerville, Irish novelist who habitually signs herself as “E. Œ. Somerville,” dies at Castletownshend, County Cork, at the age of 91 on October 8, 1949. She writes in collaboration with her second cousin Violet Florence Martin, who writes under the pseudonym Martin Ross. Together they publish a series of fourteen stories and novels under the pseudonym Somerville and Ross, the most popular of which are The Real Charlotte and Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., published in 1899.

The eldest of eight children, Somerville is born on the island of Corfu, then part of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a British protectorate where her father is stationed. A year later, her father retires to Drishane, Castletownshend, County Cork, where Somerville grows up. She receives her primary education at home, and then attends Alexandra College in Dublin. In 1884 she studies art in Paris, and then spends a term at the Westminster School of Art in Dean’s Yard, Westminster. At home, riding and painting are her absorbing interests.

In January 1886, she meets her second cousin Violet Martin, and their literary partnership begins the following year. Their first book, An Irish Cousin, appears in 1889, under the names Geilles Herring (from the maiden name of her ancestor, the wife of Sir Walter de Somerville of Linton and Carnwath) and Martin Ross, though the pen names are dropped after the first edition. In 1898, Edith Somerville goes to paint at the Etaples art colony, accompanied by Violet. There they profit from their stay by conceiving together the stories later gathered in Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., completed the following year. By the time Violet dies in 1915, they have published fourteen books together. Her cousin’s death stuns Edith, who continues to write as “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that they keep in contact through spiritualist séances.

Somerville is a devoted sportswoman who in 1903 has become master of the Carbery West Foxhounds. She is also active in the suffragist movement, corresponding with Dame Ethel Smyth. She is in London still recovering from the shock of Violet’s death when the 1916 Easter Rising breaks out. On May 9 she writes a letter to The Times, blaming the British government for the state of affairs in Ireland. After that she tends towards Nationalism and, as an adept musician at parties, she specializes in Irish tunes and Nationalist songs.

She has exhibitions of her pictures in Dublin and in London between 1920 and 1938 and is active as an illustrator of children’s picture books and sporting picture books.

In 1936, her brother Henry Boyle Townsend Somerville, a retired Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, is killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the family home of Castletownshend. She finishes his book Will Mariner after his death.