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Research guides and articles

Guide to sources on women’s history

The following guide outlines a selection of sources held in the National Archives which relate to the study of women’s history, though it is important to note that many record series other than those mentioned will also contain relevant material. What follows is a short account of the main series of records likely to repay examination.



By virtue of its official function, the majority of the records in the custody of the National Archives are official records reflecting the state’s views of events and individuals. The exceptions to this are business records like those of the Dublin Laundry Company, trade union records like those of the LGPSU or the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers and private records like those of the Protestant Orphan Society. (Some of the records series also appear in: Ken Hannigan, Labour records in the Public Record Office of Ireland, Saothar 6 (1980), pp 93–99.)


A number of the records series, though in the custody of the National Archives, were accessioned by the Irish Manuscripts Commission’s Business Records Survey. Records located by the Business Records Survey are described annually in the Journal of Irish Economic and Social History.


Records series


1) Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (1818–1922)

Description: The Chief  Secretary was the chief executive of the administration in Dublin Castle, responsible to the Lord Lieutenant. The Registered Papers are the most important records of the CSO. They are called the Registered Papers because details of incoming correspondence were entered in annual registers. The papers themselves were filed under the number given in the registers. When a number of papers were received on the same subject, the earlier papers were attached to the latest paper and filed together under the number of the last paper. The original registers and indexes remain in use and it can take a researcher some time to familiarise themselves with the system, as it changes a number of times throughout the century. However, researchers should take note that having traced a file through the registers, there is no guarantee that it is still extant. As the Registered Papers cover the full spectrum of political, administrative, economic and social operations of the CSO, they undoubtedly contain material on women’s issues – for example, there is a separate calendar of Registered Papers relating to the 1916 Rising which includes details of women’s participation in the rebellion.

Location: NAI

Finding aids: Indexes and registers to Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (CSORP), 1818–1924



2) General Prisons Board Suffragette Papers (c.1907–1914)

Description: Four cartons of files dealing with Suffragette prisoners, giving details of the operation of the Cat and Mouse Act, conditions endured by the women in prison, force-feeding of hunger-strikers and details of diet.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: Draft list



3) Department of the Taoiseach files (1922–1979)

Description: These files relate to matters considered at Cabinet and Government meetings and cover the whole spectrum of political and administrative concerns of the time. New legislation which came before the Cabinet and files dealing with acts such as the Infanticide Act of 1944, provide insights into changing official attitudes to women. There is material on the drafting of the 1937 Constitution which sheds interesting light on the status of women and also material on the operation of the marriage bar in the Civil Service. The Cabinet minutes, also in the custody of the National Archives, provide a handy finding aid to the files as file reference numbers are noted in the margins of the minutes.

Location: NAI

Finding aids:

  • Cabinet Minutes 1922–79. List of files of Department of the Taoiseach
  • List of and index to files of the Department of the Taoiseach
  • Department of the Taoiseach files



4) Ancient Order of Hibernians records (1907–1970s)

Description: This collection includes a run of The Hibernian Journal, which contains many references to Women’s Auxiliary Divisions, in addition to some photographs. Business Records Survey Accession, Louth 13.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: List available on request



5) Census of Ireland (1901 and 1911)

Description: The National Archives has custody of the returns from each household in the country for the national censuses of 1901 and 1911. The returns contain for each household member their name, relationship to head of household, religion, age, gender, marital status, literacy status, occupation, place of birth and whether suffering from any of a number of specified health conditions. There is scope for research on women’s occupations in relation to family background, living conditions, number of children born etc.

Location: NAI

Finding aids: 1901 and 1911 censuses online - the lists are arranged by street or townland, within the District Electoral Division and within the county



6) Commissioners of National Education records (1831–1963)

Description: The two series most relevant to women’s studies in this collection are:

ED/2: Registers summarising the Commissioners’ dealings with individual schools, giving details of Monitors’ and Teachers’ appointments and records, as well as day-to-day events in the schools (1835–1963)

ED/9: Case files concerning individual schools, giving a greatly amplified version of the information schematised in the ED 2 series (1877–1924)

Both of these series contain a great deal of useful material on female teachers and pupils in the primary education system.

Location: NAI

Finding aids:

  • Card index to individual schools
  • List of ED/9 files



7) Local Government and Public Services Union records (1901–1970)

Description: Records, mostly minutes, of the LGPSU, formerly the Irish Local Government Officials Union. Many members of the Union would have been low-paid women workers in local authorities.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: List of trade union records



8) Hill’s of Lucan, Textile Manufacturers records

Description: This collection includes a wages book for the First World War period, during which time there was a strike at the factory. Business Records Survey Accession, DUB 101.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: List available on request



9) Arts Council files (1952–1974)

Description: This collection contains information on Arts Council policy and practice and applications for grant aid from individual artists and organisations, many of whom are, or involve, women.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: List available on request



10) Board of Guardians records (1839–1949)

Description: The Boards of Guardians were responsible for administration of the workhouse system. The National Archives has custody of the records of the Poor Law Unions of North Dublin, South Dublin, Rathdown and Lismore. There are Admission and Discharge Registers for each of the Unions. These give the date of admission, name, previous address, age, marital status, occupation, religion, description of any disability (interpreted very broadly), name of spouse if not in workhouse, observations on condition when admitted and date when discharged or died. The records for Rathdown and Lismore are fuller than the other two and include more information about the health of the inmates.

Location: Off-site

Finding aids: Lists of Board of Guardian records



11) Convict Reference Files (1836–1922)

Description: The Convict Department of the Chief Secretary’s Office was responsible for the administration of the convict system. All convicts had a right to petition the Lord Lieutenant for commutation or remission of their sentences. Their cases were handled by the Convict Department. There are many petitions from women prisoners or their relatives which give insights into the conditions in which they lived, both in prison and outside. There is a large file on the last woman to be executed in Ireland (Mary Daly in 1902). These records could be very fruitfully used in conjunction with the GPB Penal Records (see 26 below).

Location: NAI

Finding aids:

  • Convict Reference Books 1836–1922, 16 volumes.
  • Alphabetical index – by name of prisoner – to the files



12) Prison registers (1798–c.1920)

Description: These are the prisons own registers of prisoners. There is a general register of female prisoners in Mountjoy Jail which covers the period January 1898–July 1899. The register gives name, age, religion, crime, sentence and remarks on conduct.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: List of Department of Justice Prison Registers



13) Registry of Friendly Societies files (1851–1961)

Description: This collection includes files on women’s organisations.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: List of records of Registry of Friendly Societies



14) Coombe Lying-in Hospital records (1864–1972)

Description: Mainly administrative material  including minutes, 1864–1972. There is a general closure on material under 30 years old. For certain categories of records, it is neccessary to obtain the permission of the hospital authorities before they can be consulted. Business Records Survey, DUB 55.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: Business Accessions List, Dublin (part 1) DUB 55

Note: The Business Records Surveyor has listed records in the custody of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, which include the records of Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, which contain details of the housing conditions of maternity patients and records of a Linen Guild established to ensure that mothers had clean linen, and the Westmoreland Lock Hospital, which treated women with venereal disease. The National Archives can advise on conditions of access.



15) Rotunda Hospital records (1745–20th century)

Description: The most comprehensive collection of hospital records in the NAI is that of the RotundaHospital,Dublin. Described by one academic as the greatest collection of maternity hospital records in the world, the archives begin in 1745 when Dr Bartholomew Mosse opened his first lying-in hospital in George’s Lane off South Great Georges Street and predate the construction in 1757 of the present hospital building. There is a substantial survival of material from the 18th century, including administrative records, operational records, account books, deeds and leases and loose documentation. The records are only available to those who have received authorisation from the hospital itself.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: Business Accessions List, Dublin (part 1) DUB 22.



16) Crime Branch Special files (1890–1920)

Description: These files are the precursors of the modern Special Branch files and provide detailed reports on individuals and organisations regarded as subversive. After 1907 the series shrinks considerably; the remainder was taken toBritain in 1922 and some files are available for public inspection in the Public Record Office,Kew. A number of reports on women active in theIndependence movement are included.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: List arranged chronologically on index cards



17) Department of Labour files (mid 1930s–1963), including files of the Department of Industry and Commerce

Description: There is a small quantity of high quality material in these files dealing with the 1941 Trade Union Act and women’s protests against it.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: List of files of Department of Labour



18) Labour Court files (1922–1960), including records of the Ministry of Labour (1921–1922) and of the Department of Industry and Commerce

Description: This collection includes material on Trade Boards, Joint Industrial Councils and Joint Labour Councils – there are also many files on women’s conditions of employment.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: List of Labour Court files



19) Department of Justice files (1922–1963)

Description: These are the registered files of the Department dealing with the full range of its responsibilities. Among the topics covered are prostitution, street trading (suppression of, in both cases) and adoption. The files are listed and a thorough trawl through the list may reveal interesting material hitherto undiscovered.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: Department of Justice files



20) Irish Congress of Trade Unions records (1912–mid 1970s)

Description: This collection comprises the records of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress (1912–1930), the Irish Trade Union Congress (1930–1959), the Congress of Irish Unions (1945–1959), the Provisional United Trade Union Organisation (1956–1959), Freeman’s Publications Ltd (1949–1951) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions 1959–. The main categories of files relate to organisation, industrial relations, industrial policy, economic policy, social welfare, health and housing, education, international and general. Not all of the records listed in the ILHS guide have been transferred to the National Archives – for example, the National Executive minute books (1923–1976) and the Women’s Advisory Committee minute books (1960–1972) are still in the custody of Congress (there is however, no reason to suppose that a request for access to these records would not be viewed favourably by Congress).

Locations: NAI and Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Finding aids:

  • Guide to the records of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions
  • Irish Labour History Society Trade Union
  • Labour Records Survey (copy available in the Reading Room)



21) Irish National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers (Dublin Branch) records (1918–1960)

Description: Minutes and rules of the Dublin Branch of the Union, with separate records for the Female Section.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: List of trade union records



22) Dublin Laundry Company records (1888–1983)

Description: This collection deals with a company with an almost exclusively female workforce. It contains wages books which give names of employees, details of conduct and punishment, wages paid, photographs (negatives) of women working in the laundry at the turn of the century and incoming and outgoing correspondence which provides insights into the state of health and living conditions of the women. Could be used in conjunction with the 1901 and 1911 Censuses. Business Records Survey Accession, DUB 56.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: Summary list of Dublin Laundry Company records available on request



23) John Ireland and Company, Clothing Manufacturers records

Description: This collection includes photographs taken c.1950 of some of the women employees of the firm at work. Business Records Survey Accession, DUB 46.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: List available on request



24) Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeal, Central Criminal Court and Circuit Criminal Court (1922–1972)

Description: Court records over 20 years old are transferred to the National Archives and made available for public inspection. Of particular interest are the files of the Central Criminal Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal, both of which deal with serious criminal cases, including murder, rape, serious assault and infanticide. Before the Infanticide Act of 1944, the offence was considered to be murder, and a number of women were sentenced to death, although all of the sentences were commuted. There is a large number of files on such cases. If a case was appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal, the file will contain a verbatim transcript of the trial in the Central Criminal Court. Apart from cases like infanticide and rape, which have an obvious relevance to women’s studies, the files deal with the full range of criminal offences, many of which involve women.

Location: Off-site

Finding aids:

  • Trial Record Books, Central Criminal Court
  • List of cases, Court of Criminal Appeal
  • Cause Books, Circuit Criminal Court



25) Mater Misericordiae Hospital records (1887–1949)

Description: This collection includes detailed registers of operations from 1887 to 1949 – only records over 80 years old may be inspected. Business Records Survey Accession, DUB 54.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: Business Accessions List, Dublin (part 1) DUB 54



26) General Prisons Board Penal records (1881–1927)

Description: This is a collection of detailed case files on prisoners. There is a file for each prisoner giving information on age, health, occupation, diet, correspondence and visits, conduct and punishments and photographs taken at the start and end of the sentence. The series has been rarely used and contains a wealth of information on women prisoners.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: None, but the files are arranged by release date and the Convict Reference Files can supply this information. These files are currently being entered in a database, which will allow for detailed searches.



27) Department of Health files (1922–1962)

Description: These are the registered files of the Department of Health and of the Public Health section of the former Department of Local Government and Public Health. The files are arranged in 7 series, broadly covering institutional health care, food and drugs, treatment of tuberculosis, construction of health premises, psychiatric care, including staffing, school medical service and mother and child scheme and recruitment of personnel. The collection contains a great deal of information on women’s health and on women employees in the health service.

Location: NAI

Finding aid: List of Department of Health files – 2 volumes



28) Protestant Orphan Society records (1828–1973)

Description: The Society was founded in 1828 to provide support for Protestant children, at least one of whose parents was dead. Since 1898, it accepted children one of whose parents only was a member of theChurch ofIreland. In the nineteenth century the main function of the Society was to send orphans to approved nurses and then to apprentice them to approved masters. In the present century, it has instead supported children either with their mothers, if alive, or at orphanages. The application forms for election of orphans, and applications by orphans for marriage portions, most of which come from women, are of particular interest. There is also a large collection of photographs.

Note: All records less than 70 years old, apart from reports, pamphlets and publicity material, can be consulted only with the written permission of the Committee of the Protestant Orphan Society.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: List of the records of the Protestant Orphan Society



29) Wills, Principal Probate Registry and District Registries (c.1900–c.1987)

Description: Wills are transferred to the National Archives 20 years after the date of probate and are available for public inspection. They are usually accompanied by Schedules of Assets giving a detailed breakdown of the deceased’s property. Obviously the wills of well-known women are of interest, but there is scope for a broader look at changing patterns of women’s personal financial status over a period of time.

Location: Off-site

Finding aids: Annual calendars of wills and administrations, arranged in alphabetical order of name of deceased. The calendars also give address and occupation of deceased, name, address and occupation of executor, and value of total assets.



30) Petty Sessions records (1851–1922)

Description: The precursor of the modern District Court. These are volumes arranged by court location giving a schematised account of minor criminal offences.

Location: Off-site

Finding aid: Records accessible on the basis of locality