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


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Birth of Helen Blackburn, Feminist & Women’s Rights Activist

Helen Blackburn, feminist and campaigner for women’s rights, especially in the field of employment, is born in Knightstown, County Kerry, on May 25, 1842. She is also an editor of The Englishwoman’s Review.

Blackburn is the daughter of Bewicke Blackburn, a civil engineer from County Kerry, and Isabella Lamb of County Durham in North East England. When her family moves to London in 1859, she soon comes into contact with the women of the Langham Place Group, especially Jessie Boucherett and Emily Faithfull.

Over the years Blackburn and Boucherett work together in a number of endeavours. Both are editors of The Englishwoman’s Review. Together they establish the Women’s Employment Defence League in 1891 to defend women’s working rights against restrictive employment legislation. Together they also edit The Condition of Working Women and the Factory Acts, 1896.

Blackburn joins the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1872 and is secretary of the executive committee of the Society from 1874 to 1880. She subsequently holds similar positions in a number of related organisations. She also takes opportunities to study, taking a class in Roman Law at University College London in 1875, and later (1886–88) classes at University College, Bristol. In the early 1890s, she assists Charlotte Carmichael Stopes in her writing of British Freewomen: Their Historical Privilege by supplying her own notes on the subject, then by purchasing the whole of the first edition in 1894. She retires in 1895 to care for her aged father, though later returns to take up her work.

Blackburn inspires and funds two collections. The first is an art collection in 1885 that includes pictures and work done by professional women to show the result of women’s industry. She is insistent that this not include voluntary or amateurish work but rather show the products of female professionals. This loan exhibition includes portraits of leading women like Florence Nightingale and Mary Carpenter. This is donated to the University of Bristol, but recent enquiries indicate that this work is now lost. Her second collection is focused on a book collection by women. The books are from her collection, friends and from second hand sources. Bookplates are commissioned and two bookcases which are decorated with paintings of Lydia Becker and Caroline Ashurst Biggs who had been the previous chairs of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. These bookcases are given to Girton College, Cambridge and are extant. In 1880 she is secretary of the West of England Suffrage Society in Bristol and is the main organizer of a large demonstration.

Blackburn’s long term connection with the women’s movement allows her to write her history of the Victorian women’s suffrage campaign, Women’s suffrage: a record of the women’s suffrage movement in the British Isles, with biographical sketches of Miss Becker, finished in 1902, shortly before her death the following year, at Greycoat Gardens, Westminster, on January 11, 1903. She is buried at Brompton Cemetery. She leaves her archives and the decorated book collection to Girton College, Cambridge. Her will also makes provisions for establishing a loan fund for training young women.

A collaboration with Nora Vynne, published in 1903, titled Women under the Factory Act, criticises legislators for treating women as if they have not the intelligence of animals. Blackburn and Vynne argue that women should be allowed to take risks with their health in the workplace or they may find themselves always in need to protection as if they are incapable. The book is noted for its accuracy, but The Economic Journal recognises its authors as Freedom of Labour Defence members and suspects that it may have political motives arguing for the “equality of men and women.”

Blackburn’s name and picture, as well as those of 58 other women’s suffrage supporters, are on the pedestal of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.


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Death of Isabella Tod, Women’s Rights Activist

Isabella Maria Susan Tod, Irish women’s rights activist, dies at her home at 71 Botanic Avenue in Belfast on December 8, 1896. She is a formidable lady who uses her political skills to great advantage in order to further many causes.

Tod is born on May 18, 1836 in Edinburgh into a well known Irish Presbyterian family, her uncle being the Rev. Hope Masterton Waddell, one of the earliest Irish Presbyterian missionaries who served with the Scottish Missionary Society in Jamaica and whose great grandfather is the Rev. Charles Masterton, one of the most distinguished minsters of the General Synod of Ulster who ministers at Connor and Rosemary Street, Belfast. She is very proud of her Presbyterian heritage and of her Scottish ancestry.

The daughter of James Banks Tod, an Edinburgh merchant, Tod spends her early years in Edinburgh. She is educated at home by her mother, Maria Isabella Waddell, who comes from County Monaghan. The family moves to Belfast in the 1850s following the death of her father. She and her mother join Elmwood Presbyterian Church. Her Presbyterian background no doubt contributes to her radical views on social issues and women’s rights. She earns her living from writing and journalism, contributing, for example, to the Dublin University Magazine, an independent literary, cultural and political magazine, and to the Banner of Ulster, a Presbyterian newspaper.

Tod becomes one of the leading pioneers in the fight to improve the position of women. She is the only woman called to give evidence to a Select Committee of Enquiry on the reform of the married women’s property law in 1868 and serves on the executive of the Married Women’s Property Committee in London from 1873 to 1874. She successfully campaigns for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869 which enacted that a woman suspected of being a prostitute could be arrested and forced to undergo medical examination for venereal disease. She sees this legislation as an infringement of a woman’s civil liberties.

Tod is also a strong supporter of the temperance movement and, along with her friend Margaret Byers, forms the Belfast Women’s Temperance Association in 1874. Perhaps she is best known for her tireless campaign to extend the educational provision for middle-class women. For example, in 1878 she organises a delegation to London to put pressure on the Government to include girls in the Intermediate Education Act of 1878. The Ladies’ Collegiate School in Belfast, Alexandra College in Dublin and the Belfast Ladies Institute owe their existence largely to her. She writes a paper entitled “An Advanced Education for Girls in the Upper and Middle Classes” which is presented in 1867 at a meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and is among the pamphlets held in the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland library.

Tod is also an active campaigner for women’s right to vote, embarking on her first campaign in 1872 and addressing meetings in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Coleraine and Londonderry. Following a meeting in Dublin a suffrage committee is established that later becomes the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Society and in 1873 she forms the North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society. She extends her meetings to London, Glasgow and Edinburgh and is a frequent visitor to London to lobby politicians during the parliamentary session.

Tod is very much a staunch opponent of Home Rule, establishing a branch of the London-based Women’s Liberal Federation in Belfast and the Liberal Women’s Unionist Association. She sees unionism as the way to progress. “I knew that all the social work in which I had taken so prominent a part for 20 years was in danger and most of it could not exist a day under a petty legislature of the character which would be inevitable,” she says. “What we dread is the complete dislocation of all society, especially in regard to commercial affairs and organised freedom of action.”

Tod suffers from ill-health in her later days and dies in Belfast of pulmonary illness on December 8, 1896. She is buried in Balmoral Cemetery in South Belfast.


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Birth of Irish Historian Robert Walter Dudley Edwards

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityRobert Walter Dudley Edwards, Irish historian, is born in Dublin on June 4, 1909.

Edwards, known to his friends as Robin and his students as Dudley, is the son of Walter Dudley Edwards, a journalist who comes to Ireland with his wife, Bridget Teresa MacInerney from Clare, and becomes a civil servant. His mother is a supporter of women’s rights and Edwards recalls that he had a ‘Votes for Women’ flag on his pram. His mother is a suffragette and a member of Cumann na mBan, a women’s organisation designed to support the Irish Volunteers. Members of Cumann na mBan gather intelligence, transport arms, nurse wounded men, provide safe houses, and organise support for Irish Republican Army (IRA) men in prison.

Edwards is first educated at the Catholic University School, then moves to St. Enda’s School, a school set up by 1916 Irish revolutionary leader Patrick Pearse, after the 1916 rising, and then Synge Street CBS, finally returning to the Catholic University School. In his final exams he fails French and Irish but gains first place in Ireland in history.

In University College Dublin, Edwards is auditor of the Literary and Historical Society, gains a first-class degree in history in 1929 followed by a first class master’s degree in 1931 with the National University of Ireland prize. He carries out postgraduate work at the University of London and earns his PhD in 1933, published in 1935 as Church and State in Tudor Ireland.

Also in 1933, Edwards marries Sheila O’Sullivan, a folklorist and teacher. They have three children, Mary Dudley Edwards a teacher and rights activist, Ruth Dudley Edwards, a historian, crime novelist, journalist and broadcaster, and Owen Dudley Edwards, a historian at the University of Edinburgh.

Along with Theodore William Moody, Edwards founds the Irish Historical Society in 1936, and its journal Irish Historical Studies is first published in 1938.

In 1937 Edwards is awarded a D.Litt by the National University of Ireland and in 1939 is appointed to a statutory lectureship in Modern Irish History at University College Dublin. He succeeds Mary Hayden to the Chair of Modern Irish History in 1944, which he holds until he retires in 1979. His contribution to the discipline of History in Ireland is substantial, and includes the setting up of University College Dublin Archives Department, now part of the School of History.

The introduction to Edwards’ book Age of Atrocity records how the leading Irish history journal, Irish Historical Studies, edited by Edwards and Moody, for the first half-century and more of its existence, systematically avoids the theme of violence, killing and atrocity during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Following his wife’s death in April 1985, Robert Dudley Edwards dies on June 5, 1988 in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin after a short illness.

(Pictured: Robert Walter Dudley Edwards (left) and Theodore William Moody (right).)


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Birth of Margaret Anna Cusack, Founder of Poor Clares Convent

margaret-anne-cusackMargaret Anna Cusack, founder of the first Poor Clares convent in the west of Ireland and a talented writer who publishes on the issues of social injustice, is born to an aristocratic family of English origin in Coolock, County Dublin on May 6, 1829. Her writings and actions focus on advocacy of women’s rights including equal pay, equal opportunity for education, and legal reform to give women control of their own property.

Cusack is raised in the Anglican church tradition until her conversion to Catholicism in 1858. She enters the Irish Poor Clare Sisters and is among the first group of Sisters sent to found the convent at Kenmare, County Kerry.

During the next 21 years, Cusack, now known as Sister Francis Clare, dedicates herself to writing. Her writings include a wide range of concerns including lives of the saints, local histories, biographies, books and pamphlets on social issues and letters to the press. As the “Nun of Kenmare” she writes on behalf of the liberation of women and children who are victims of oppression. Income from her books and from her famine relief fund is distributed throughout Ireland. While doing all she can to feed the hungry, at the same time she campaigns vigorously against the abuse of absentee landlords, lack of education for the poor and against a whole system of laws which degrade and oppress a section of society.

To broaden the scope of her work Cusack moves to Knock, County Mayo in 1881 with the idea of expanding the ministry of the Poor Clares. She starts an industrial school for young women and evening classes for daytime land-workers. Several women are attracted by this work and in 1884 she decides to found her own community, The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

Continued conflict in Knock with Church leaders leads Cusack to seek support in England. Under Cardinal Henry Edward Manning and Bishop Edward Bagshawe, she receives approbation for the new religious order from Pope Leo XIII and the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace is founded in January, 1884, in the Diocese of Nottingham, England.

Later, Cusack travels to the United States to continue her work with immigrant Irish women but is immediately rebuked by Archbishop Michael Corrigan of New York. Just at that time, New Jersey stretches out a hand of welcome and encouragement as Bishop Winand Wigger of the Archdiocese of Newark invites her to establish homes for young Irish working women there. Within a few years, however, she claims that because of Archbishop Corrigan’s criticism of her among bishops throughout the United States, the work of her new community can not continue as long as she remains with them.

Physically exhausted, sick and disillusioned with a patriarchal Church, Cusack withdraws from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and leaves behind the sisters she so dearly loved. She eventually returns to her friends in the Church of England. In later years, she keeps in contact with the Sisters and expresses a loving concern for them. She dies on June 5, 1899 and is buried in the cemetery reserved for the Church of England at Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England.

Cusack passes into obscurity for a long time until, as a result of the Second Vatican Council, religious orders are encouraged to review their roots and the intent of their founders. Since then there have been a number a studies on Cusack, such as Philomena McCarthy’s The Nun of Kenmare: The True Facts. With the rediscovery of the life and times of Cusack, she has been hailed as a feminist and a social reformer ahead of her time.


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Birth of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Activist & Feminist

elizabeth-gurley-flynn

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), is born in Concord, New Hampshire on August 7, 1890. She is a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women’s rights, birth control, and women’s suffrage.

Flynn’s family moves to New York in 1900, where she is educated in the local public schools. She grows up being regaled by tales of Irish revolutionaries. According to their oral tradition all four of her great-grandfathers, Flynn, Gurley, Conneran, and Ryan, are members of the Society of United Irishmen, with grandfather Flynn being one of the leaders in County Mayo when the French fleet lands there during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Her parents introduce her to socialism. When she is only fifteen she gives her first public speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women,” at the Harlem Socialist Club.

In 1907, Flynn becomes a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. Over the next few years she organizes campaigns among garment workers in Pennsylvania, silk weavers in New Jersey, restaurant workers in New York, miners in Minnesota, Missoula, Montana, and Spokane, Washington and textile workers in Massachusetts. She is arrested ten times during this period but is never convicted of any criminal activity. It is a plea bargain, on the other hand, that results in her expulsion from the IWW in 1916, along with fellow organizer Joe Ettor.

A founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920, Flynn plays a leading role in the campaign against the conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. She is particularly concerned with women’s rights, supporting birth control and women’s suffrage. She also criticizes the leadership of trade unions for being male-dominated and not reflecting the needs of women.

Between 1926 and 1936, Flynn lives in southwest Portland, Oregon with birth control activist, suffragette, and Wobbly Marie Equi where she is an active and vocal supporter of the 1934 West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike. In 1936, she joins the Communist Party and writes a feminist column for its journal, the Daily Worker. Two years later, she is elected to the national committee. Her membership in the Party leads to her ouster from the board of the ACLU in 1940.

During World War II, Flynn plays an important role in the campaign for equal economic opportunity and pay for women and the establishment of day care centers for working mothers. In 1942, she runs for the United States Congress at-large in New York and receives 50,000 votes. In July 1948, a dozen leaders of the Communist Party are arrested and accused of violating the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence. After they are convicted in the Foley Square trial they appeal to the Supreme Court, which upholds their conviction in Dennis v. United States.

Flynn launches a campaign for their release but, in June 1951, is herself arrested in the second wave of arrests and prosecuted under the Smith Act. After a nine-month trial, she is found guilty and serves two years in Federal Prison Camp, Alderson near Alderson, West Virginia. She later writes a prison memoir, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner.

After her release from prison, Flynn resumes her activities for leftist and Communist causes. She runs for the New York City Council as a Communist in 1957, garnering a total of 710 votes. She becomes national chairwoman of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961 and makes several visits to the Soviet Union.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn dies on September 5, 1964, while on one of her visits to the Soviet Union. The Soviet government gives her a state funeral in Red Square with over 25,000 people attending. In accordance with her wishes, her remains are flown to the United States for burial in Chicago‘s German Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Eugene Dennis, Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman, and the Haymarket Riot Martyrs.

In 1978, the ACLU posthumously reinstates her membership.