OUTSIDER WOMEN

The 3U Outsider Women online exhibition explores the lives of three Irish women from the worlds of medicine (Emily Winifred Dickson), Irish language study (Agnes O’Farrelly or Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh) and and literature (Teresa Deevy).

In her essay Exploring the Lives of Outsider Women, Dr Jennifer Redmond, Department of History at Maynooth University, explains the importance of these three women to Irish history and explores their contribution to the societies of which they were a part, yet outside. Outsider Women is a collaboration between the 3U Partnership Libraries whereby each institution digitised an archival collection and has made it available as an online exhibition.  The first thematic collection, Outsider Women (September 2015), is an online archival collection which explores the lives of three Irish women from the worlds of medicine (Emily Winifred Dickson), Irish language study (Agnes O’Farrelly or Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh), and literature (Teresa Deevy).

 

 

Outsider Women Timeline
Click on the image to find out more about the Outsider Women

Emily Winifred Dickson
1866 | 1944
Emily Winifred Dickson
1866 | 1944

Emily Winifred was a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Obstetrics. RCSI selected the Emily Winifred Dickson collection (LRCSI 1891) because of her unique and challenging struggleas a woman in a male dominated medical world. Emily overcame these challenges to become the first female Fellow of any medical school in the British Isles in 1893 of Surgeons in Ireland.


Archive available at dickson.rcsi.ie

Agnes O'Farrelly
1874 | 1951
Agnes O'Farrelly
1874 | 1951

Agnes O’Farrelly was an academic and Professor of Irish at University College Dublin (UCD), a poet, Irish language author and founding member of Cumann na mBan. DCU/St Patrick’s Drumcondra chose the Agnes O’Farrelly collection because, despite her many roles as an activist and academic in the late 19th and early 20th Century, she is not well known and has received little attention relative to many of her contemporaries.


Archive available at ofarrelly.dcu.ie

Teresa Deevy
1894 | 1963
Teresa Deevy
1894 | 1963

Teresa Deevy was an Irish dramatist, short story writer, and writer for radio. Maynooth University selected the Teresa Deevy archive due to Deevy’s status as an almost forgotten writer who overcame many professional and personal challenges to pursue her writing but was ultimately marginalised by the Irish literary elite in the late 1930s.


Archive available at deevy.nuim.ie

Exploring the lives of ‘Outsider Women’ by Dr Jennifer Redmond

This project is a collaborative effort in digital humanities by 3U Partnership consisting of Maynooth University, the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, and St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, a constituent college of Dublin City University. It is fitting, in the year which marks the 40th anniversary of the International Women’s Year (IWY), a designation given by the United Nations to celebrate women globally, [1] that this exhibition should focus on three Irish women: Emily Winifred Dickson (1866-1944), Agnes Winifred O’Farrelly,(1874–1951) and Teresa Deevy (1894-1963).

 

These women lived in different time periods and social worlds but are connected by two major themes – their contribution to their societies and their status as outsiders, either in their contemporary world or in our subsequent historical recordings of it. These observations remain true despite Gerda Lerner’s assertion that ‘women have always been active and at the centre of history’, [2] for while as half of the human population women have contributed much to their societies, they have not always been acknowledged as such.

 

The twentieth century was a watershed for women in Ireland as they gained many rights, most importantly the right to vote, at first a right restricted to educated and wealthier women in 1918 but extended to all women on an equal basis with men at the foundation of the state in 1922. However, the new Ireland brought about by independence was not the socialist, feminist utopia aspired to by some rebels. It was also a time of gender based restrictions, with bans on women in the higher echelons of the civil service, bans on married women in the public and private sectors, restrictions on women’s access to jury service and a lack of equal pay. Women’s access to birth control or information about their reproductive systems was severely restricted in the 1930s, and an atmosphere of conservatism appears to have descended on the country after the disruption of the revolutionary years. The persistent negative discourses about women did not go unnoticed by some contemporary commentators; the writer Oliver St. John Gogarty asserted in the Seanad in 1928 that ‘it is high time that the people of this country find some other way of loving God than by hating women’.[3]

 

These conditions persisted until the 1970s when Ireland’s entry to the European Economic Community brought about sweeping legislative reforms that redressed many of the gendered imbalances in Irish life. This era also brought about the birth of the academic study of women in history, often traced to the publication resulting from the Thomas Davis radio lecture series on RTE that was subsequently published as Women in Irish Society: The Historical Dimension by Margaret MacCurtain and Donnchadh Ó Corráin.[4] Since this time the field has flourished, cultivated by the scholarship of historians and the regular gatherings and publications emanating from the Women’s History Association of Ireland.

Emily Winifred Dickson, a Tyrone born doctor found herself an outsider when she wished to pursue her medical training at Trinity College in the 1880s which at that time considered women ‘a danger to the men’. As Laura Kelly’s work has demonstrated, women wishing to pursue medical education in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries faced significant obstacles, from access to education to parity of training, even though Ireland was a leader in providing medical education to women: ‘In 1877, the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland made history by becoming the first institution in the United Kingdom to take advantage of the Enabling Act of 1876 and admit women to take its medical licences’. Emily Dickson was to become a trailblazer among a small, elite, but significant group of early female medical practitioners in the British Isles. At the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) its supplemental charter of 1885 provided that …[the] education, examination, and granting diplomas to Fellows or Licentiates shall extend to and include women. Dickson became the first female Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1893, thus qualifying as a surgeon. From this point, up to the founding of the state in 1922, there were 26 female fellows of the RCSI. They had to contend with their unusual position in Irish society and the medical field overall; although competent and qualified, women like Dickson found that their gender marked them and isolated them from their peers. As Dame Beulah Bewley has observed: ‘In the early twentieth century a successful woman doctor described her position in the profession as being ‘on the inside sitting alone’’. Thus Dickson was ‘inside’ the profession she fought hard to enter, but found herself ‘outside’ its inner workings and enclaves.

 

Agnes O’Farrelly, or Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh[5] as she was known by her Irish name, was a highly respected cultural and language activist and writer. Described by historian Senia Paŝeta as one of Ireland’s leading female academics of her era, she was a member of the Executive Committee of the Gaelic League and was one of its ‘most active and articulate advocates, especially of the League’s non-political and non-party position’, a difficult position given the increasingly divisive political scene in Ireland from 1900 as home rule inched ever closer to becoming a reality.[6] One of the only organisations that allowed for equal participation by men and women, it also allowed her to mix with other prominent women of her era. She had met fellow university academic Mary Hayden, the historian and activist, and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, co-founder of the Irish Women’s Franchise League while studying in St. Mary’s University College. These were just some of the contacts she had during her lifetime, with whom she worked and socialised.

 

Unusually for her era, O’Farrelly remained unmarried, and while this was a factor that perhaps set her as an ‘outsider’, it was also one that undoubtedly assisted her in contributing to a wide range of causes, from camogie to poetry, home industry to political campaigns. Ríona Nic Congáil, author of the Irish language biography of O’Farrelly, positions her within the context of her time: she had benefitted from the work of activists for women’s higher education and was able to reap the rewards of academic study so hard won by those such as Dickson.[7] Like her contemporaries such as Sheehy Skeffington, O’Farrelly believed firmly in both cultural nationalism and feminism, and saw the two efforts as symbiotically combined in her vision of what a new Ireland could look like. Like her contemporary, Máire Ní Chinnéide, O’Farrelly wrote Irish language literature, yet was held ‘outside’ the canon by contemporaries and historians as her ‘literary endeavours in Irish were often overlooked by critics, all male, as they wrote in what were considered to be traditional female genre’.[8] For while anyone, regardless of gender can and always has been able to write, women have often found themselves to be outsiders in literary circles, and the historiography can sometimes narrowly reflect the contemporary prejudices these women faced.

 

Teresa Deevy, the most recent historical figure in these connected exhibits, was a successful playwright in the first years of Irish independence, staging a number of original plays at the Abbey Theatre. It was not her loss of hearing that set her as an outsider to her society, but rather her fierce objections to the social conservatism and literary censorship that she saw in 1930s Ireland. The great Irish women’s historian, Margaret MacCurtain, has identified women born at the same time as Deevy as being part of a generation that were born ‘during or after the last decade of the nineteenth century [who] influenced the cultural, political and moral climate of the post-civil-war decades subliminally, despite their absence from the public life of the country’.[9] Deevy, then, unlike many of her contemporaries who were absent from public life, had a voice and a role in shaping the cultural life of her country, a country that had emerged from a tumultuous decade of political turmoil, armed insurrection, international war and bitter political divisions that saw the partitioning of Ireland in 1920.

 

The 3U Digital Exhibitions created by the partner institutions provide vital reflections on women’s contribution to Irish society in the past, an important contribution as we proceed through the Decade of Centenaries which marks the commemorative activities for the years 1912-22. Women’s roles in the nationalist and unionist organisations, the First World War, the Rising, the War of Independence and the founding of the Free State are all coming under critical reflection, and are being highlighted to the public on a major scale for the first time. Although diverse in political outlook, temporality and experience, Dickson, O’Farrelly and Deevy’s lives ‘book end’ the great changes that took place in Ireland, especially for women. While Dickson challenged patriarchal notions of women’s capacity to learn and to practice medicine at a professional level, O’Farrelly challenged gendered notions of culturally appropriate realms for women, while Deevy built upon the successes of these first generations of educated women by developing a career as a professional writer. Recognising their talents, energies and achievements at this point seems wholly appropriate given the international and national context of reflection.

 

MacPherson has argued that women in Ireland in the early twentieth century found their own ways to contribute to public life: “Irish women [… ]could participate in the public life of the nation not through imitating men’s roles in politics but by reinforcing and extending existing notions of acceptable female behaviour”.[10] Barred from traditional ways of civic activism through entering politics, women often found other ways to participate in and influence their societies as the stories of Deevy, O’Farrelly and Dickson’s lives demonstrate. In these exhibitions, you will be introduced to the significant achievements of these women, ranging from awards gained by Dickson during her studies at the RCSI, to a digital copy of Grádh agus Crádh (1901), the first Irish language novel by a female author, to the hugely successful plays by Deevy, most notably her popular production, Katie Roche.

 

In each case, they contributed richly to the lives of their community and paved the way for other women to achieve success in their chosen field. Outsider Women, it is hoped, will allow those in Ireland and worldwide to come to a similarly rich appreciation of their legacies.

 

 

 

 

Dublin City University, St Patrick’s College

Dr Ríona Nic Congáil

Orla Nic Aodha (Librarian, St Patrick’s College)

Liam O’Dwyer (Assistant Librarian, St Patrick’s College)

Christopher Pressler, Director of Library Services, Dublin City University

 

Maynooth University

Dr Jennifer Redmond (Department of History Maynooth University)

Cathal McCauley (Librarian)

Padraic Stack (Digital Humanities Support Officer)

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Dr Laura Kelly (U of Strathclyde)

Kate Kelly (Librarian)

Meadhbh Murphy (Archivist)

Ken Purtell (Web Developer)

 

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Dr Laura Kelly (U of Strathclyde)

Kate Kelly (Librarian)

Meadhbh Murphy (Archivist)

Ken Purtell (Web Developer)

 

3U Partnership

Dr Ruth Davis (Director)
Andrea Clarke (Marketing Officer)