Profiling Irish Women Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

Dr Cathy Higgins

In December 1920 Hanna Sheehy Skeffington published the final issue of the suffrage newspaper, the Irish citizen. She remarked, with heavy heart, that the women’s emancipation movement was just “marking time”. In 1922 the Irish Free State Constitution established the equality of the sexes, and a similar equality was granted to women in Northern Ireland and Great Britain in 1928. Yet these developments failed to deliver the socio-political and economic opportunities those at the vanguard of the women’s movement had expected. What went wrong? Were women not persuasive enough in their arguments? Did men not wish to share power? Were there other socio-cultural and political dynamics at work?

This book outlines and critiques the various complex factors that impacted the development of the women’s movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century in Ireland. In addition, it adopts an historical fiction approach to imaginatively bring to life historical women from this period. The women profiled are drawn from unionist, nationalist, labour and suffrage movements, which dominated at that time. The hope is that as these women share their experiences, aspirations and fears, reasons for the ultimate failure of feminism to liberate women will become clearer. There is no quick fix to establishing gender equality but if we are serious about making it a reality in 21st century Ireland, north and south, then there is no avoiding honest grappling with the obstacles that stood in its way a century ago, some of which are live issues today.