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Irish Women You Should Know: The Soldier and the Organizer

Ah women, what a great bunch. So great that a whole month at the beginning of the year has been dedicated to them. Sure we’ll throw International Women’s Day into March while we’re at it. And Mother’s Day is in the same month (in most of the world) so we can get that out of the way quickly… A whole 31 days. 1/12 of a year dedicated to 50% of the population. It doesn’t take Ada Lovelace to work out what’s wrong with those numbers.

At the risk of being contrarian* we’ve decided that 4 weeks is not enough. So to kickstart our tiny revolution, we wanted to highlight a few women we think everyone should know about.

And since as Irish emigrants, we are contractually obligated** to draw attention to our Irishness every few weeks, we figured we would enhance our post by talking about some of the amazing, interesting (and sometimes terrifying) women our tiny little island has spawned.

Full disclosure - we initially wanted this to be a fun little listicle but the more we dug into it, the more we realised that there is just TOO much to say. So for your reading pleasure (and so we don’t lose our minds trying to cut our entries down any further), we’re going to turn this into a series of themed blog posts (because who doesn’t love a good theme?) on Irish women we believe you should know more about. First up, we're taking the idea of “revolution” and discussing two women who fought for what they believed in. Sometimes quite literally.

*who are we kidding - that's the optimal setting here at The Uncurriculum.

**not yet, but we can be bought...

Constance Markievicz, 4 February 1868 – 15 July 1927

Born to a wealthy Anglo-Irish family, the Gore-Booths, Constance studied art in London and became involved with the labour and suffragette movements. After marrying a Polish count named Casimir Markievicz (great name), she moved back to Ireland and settled in Dublin where she began getting into more nationalist causes. She was a founding member of nationalist youth organisation, Fianna na hÉireann, as well as Cumann na mBan (an Irish republican paramilitary organization for women) and the Irish Citizen’s Army.

She was also a key figure of the 1916 Easter Rising, taking part in the fighting at City Hall and St. Stephen’s Green. After the rebels surrendered, Markievicz was brought to Kilmainham Gaol where she was held in solitary confinement until her court-martial on May 4th, 1916. During the proceedings, she told the court,

I went out to fight for Ireland's freedom and it does not matter what happens to me. I did what I thought was right and I stand by it.

For her part in the Rising, Markievicz was sentenced to death although this was later commuted to life in prison on the grounds of her being a woman (typical, can't even get equality in capital punishment).

After being granted amnesty in 1917, Markievicz went on to be very active in politics. She was the first woman elected to the British Parliament in Westminster, though as a Sinn Fein candidate, she abstained from parliament and never took her seat. She also became one of the first female cabinet ministers in the world when she was chosen as Minister for Labour in the First Dáil.

Sadly, on July 5th 1927, Markievicz died of complications related to appendicitis. At that point, she had already given away most of her wealth and, per her wishes, died among the poor and destitute in the public ward of Sir Patrick Dunn’s hospital.

From landed gentry to rebel leader and socialist badass - honestly, we stan (is that still a thing that people say?).

Mother Jones, 1st August 1837 - 30th November 1930

Did you know that, at one time, “the most dangerous woman in America” was actually an Irish woman by the name of Mary “Mother” Jones?

Born in Cork in 1837 to Roman Catholic tenant farmers Richard and Ellen Harris, Mary and her family emigrated to Canada in 1847 to escape the devastation of the Great Famine. Settling first in Toronto (where she attended something called “The Toronto Normal School” which frankly sounds like the most suspicious place EVER - “nothing to see here, totally normal school, we swear…”), Mary later moved to America, married a union organizer called George E. Jones and had four children.

A series of tragedies would befall Jones which would forever alter the course of her life - first losing her husband and all four of their children to the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee in 1867 and then later, having her dress shop in Chicago burn down in the Great Fire of 1871.

While helping to rebuild the city, Jones became involved with the Knights of Labor, a federation that promoted the rights of the worker and agitated for an eight-hour workday. Through them, she soon began organizing strikes, many of which ended with police violence.

From there, Jones’s standing as an organizer and educator only grew as she got involved with the United Mine Workers and the Socialist Party of America. She was a charismatic personality and a highly effective orator with her speeches often including props, stunts, and visual aids. She adopted the nickname “Mother Jones” when she was around 60 years old and would refer to the male workers she advocated for as “her boys”.

She became known for organizing the wives and children of striking workers to demonstrate on their behalf and for drawing attention to child labour laws.

In 1902, while on trial for ignoring an injunction that banned meetings between striking miners, a district attorney for West Virginia claimed,

There sits the most dangerous woman in America…She comes into a state where peace and prosperity reign ... crooks her finger [and] twenty thousand contented men lay down their tools and walk out.

Though rightly remembered as a hero of the working class, Jones could be a little, um...problematic. For one thing, she clashed with other female activists of her time because she did not support the women’s suffrage movement, apparently claiming, “you don't need the vote to raise hell!"*.

Jones died in 1930 at the ripe old age of 93 and despite her more controversial stances, her legacy as a defender of the working class lives on.

*We at The Uncurriculum are huge fans of female suffrage (yay - human rights!) and do not align with the beliefs of Mother Jones, but even we have to admit that woman can spin a slogan like nobody’s business


We’ve got SO many more women to cover so stay tuned for swashbuckling pirates, infamy, witchcraft, science, and modern heroes.

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