Unconquered and Unconquerable

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of partial women’s suffrage, granted under the Representation of the People Act (1918) which received royal assent on 6 February 1918, extending the franchise to all men over 21 and for the first time, to women over 30 if they were a graduate voting in a university constituency or a registered property occupier (or married to a registered property occupier) of land or buildings with a rateable value greater than £5 and not subject to any legal incapacity.

The Act added 8.4 million women to the electorate as well as 5.6 million men.

The Irish Free State granted equal suffrage under Art.14 of the Constitution of the Irish Free State (1922), reducing the voting age for women from 30 to 21, the same as for men. Legal scholar Thomas Mohr points out that ‘it is important to recognise that the 1922 Constitution’s commitment to equal suffrage reflected a pre-existing commitment’ in the 1916 proclamation where it promises ‘that when a permanent national government was established it would be “elected by the suffrages of all her men and women” ’.

The collections in UCD Archives contain a wide range of material concerning women’s suffrage and women’s rights. This blog post will concentrate on some documents concerning campaigning for women’s right to vote, for equal suffrage and campaigning during general elections, standing for election and campaigning for women’s rights.

The printed flyer below (UCDA P80/1482) is advertising a debate between actress, journalist and suffragist Cicely Hamilton (1872–1952) and writer, philosopher and critic G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936) on women’s suffrage. A handwritten annotation in Mabel McConnell’s (later Mabel FitzGerald) hand notes that tickets are also available ‘from me!’ (c.1910).

The letter above (UCDA P80/1480) from Geraldine Lennox, The Women’s Social and Political Union, 4 Clement Inn, Strand, to Mabel McConnell , concerning the involvement of Irish women in suffragist protests in England. Lennox discusses the ‘Empire Pageant’ which was included in the procession staged by the suffrage societies on 17 June 1911 to mark the Coronation of George V.

The two documents above (UCDA P106/215) relate to Anna O’Rahilly and her involvement with the suffrage movement in Ireland. The notice is proof that Anna O’Rahilly paid the £150 deposit, to stand as a candidate in the 1918 General Election (4 December 1918). The Certificate of Statuary Declaration of Secrecy was signed by John MacBride [Justice of the Peace] for Anna O’Rahilly (27 December 1918).

Above is the handwritten memoir by Eithne Coyle O’Donnell (UCDA P61/2) concerning her involvement with Cumann na mBan from the time when she joined in Cloughaneely, county Donegal until the time of writing (1940s). Here, she recounts her involvement in the electioneering campaign for the 1918 elections, with an account of how Mary Mac Swiney was dragged from a platform after making a speech in Cookstown, county Tyrone ‘on behalf of our Republican Candidate’ but who

Unconquered and unconquerable the following night this descendant of Cloinn Tsuibne na Miodóg of Doe Castle, in Tírconnaill, addressed the largest meeting ever held in the historic town of Dungannon and proved that the planter thugs were not going to drive her out of Ulster until her mission was accomplished.’

The typescript copy letter on the left (UCDA P150/1171) was from Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Chairman, Irish Women’s Franchise League to Harry Boland requesting his support for a ‘measure to extend the franchise to women under thirty, on the same terms as at present granted to men’ which will ‘come shortly before the Dail’. The letter includes a handwritten annotation in blue pencil ‘Support the measure. HB’.

The printed flyer (UCDA P80/1483) entitled Women Voters! Do you realise your rights are being filched from you under the New Constitution? protests changes in the proposed 1937 constitution which concern equal rights and compare the changes to the text in the 1922 constitution.

The originals of the documents above form part of our exhibition ‘Unconquered and unconquerable’: women and the vote, 1910–1937, which can be viewed in UCD Archives from 8 March to 28 September 2018, Monday–Friday, 10.00–16.00.

  • This post was researched and written by Kate Manning, Principal Archivist, UCD Archives.

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