Some documents are in PDF format

Download Acrobat Reader

home / Anna Haslam's Minute Book exhibition

The Dublin Women's Franchise League

Essay by Mary Cullen on Anna Haslam - page 3

There followed successful campaigning to have women included in the anticipated reorganisation of Irish local government to replace the administrative role of the grand juries in the counties. In England, women had already won the vote in municipal elections in 1869 and in 1887, the Northern Ireland Suffrage Society had done the same for Belfast.

County councils had already been introduced in England and Scotland, and the Local Government (Ireland) Act of 1898 set up elected county councils and urban and rural district councils. Women gained the franchise on the same terms as men for all these new bodies as well as eligibility for election to the urban and rural district councils. Eligibility for election to the county councils did not come until 1911.

Again the DWSA published information on what had been achieved and advice on how to avail of it. Anna Haslam saw the Local Government Act as the 'most signal political revolution that has taken place in the history of Irishwomen.' It opened unprecedented opportunities for participation in public political life, and also, and of major importance to Haslam, it would encourage more women to join the campaign for the parliamentary franchise. In anticipation of this, and to include local government in its remit, the DWSA changed its name to the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association (IWSLGA).

By the early years of the 20th century, advances, some considerable, had been made in all the campaigns except that for the parliamentary vote, and that now became the big feminist objective. Internationally and in Ireland, the suffrage movement grew rapidly. In Ireland the expansion took place in the atmosphere of optimism and self-help that characterised the cultural and political renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Many new recruits had benefited by the earlier feminist achievements. Many were educated, some with university degrees. Many were active in the cultural revival, some were nationalists and some sympathetic to socialism and the labour movement. Catholic women became involved in greater numbers than before. New suffrage societies were founded and the IWSLGA had grown to over 700 members by 1912.

Many new suffragists came to the movement through the long-established IWSLGA. Anna Haslam, though herself unionist in sympathy, actively encouraged women of all political and religious affiliations to join. Members with well-known nationalist sympathies included Jennie Wyse Power of the Sinn Féin executive, Mary Hayden, professor of Irish History at UCD, and the future founders of the militant Irish Women's Franchise League, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Margaret Cousins.

As the suffrage movement grew internationally, it began to use new methods, such as large scale street demonstrations, with banners, colours and slogan. Some suffragists moved to 'militant' methods, first to forms of passive disobedience such as refusal to pay tax, then to heckling and disrupting public meetings, and finally to physical violence such as damaging public buildings. This last type of militancy emerged in Britain and Ireland where suffrage had for so long appeared within reach but never materialised. The name 'suffragette' was coined to designate these militants.

The IWSLGA took part in street marches in London but remained committed to strictly constitutional methods. Ireland's chief militant suffrage organisation, the Irish Women's Franchise League (IWFL), was founded in 1908 by a group led by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Margaret Cousins. As Cousins recorded, they went to Anna Haslam, 'the dear old leader of the constitutional suffragists', to explain that they wanted a more 'Irish' organisation and one prepared to use militant methods if necessary. While Haslam regretted their action, they agreed to 'differ on means, though united in aims and ideals'.

As the tensions between nationalists and unionists grew with the increasing likelihood of Home Rule being implemented, the Irish suffrage societies managed to maintain unity of action. All were agreed that if Home Rule came it should include women's suffrage. When the Irish Parliamentary Party refused to commit to support for this, for fear of destabilising the Liberal government and endangering the third Home Rule bill introduced into parliament in 1912, the IWFL turned to militancy in the form of breaking windows in public buildings.

While Anna Haslam publicly expressed the IWSLGA's disapproval of these actions as detrimental to the suffrage cause, her private view was more complex. She visited Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in Mountjoy jail, explaining: 'I am not here in my official capacity, of course ... but here's some loganberry jam – I made it myself.'

In 1913, she stepped down as secretary of the Association and was elected life-president. When the First World War began in 1914, organised suffrage activism became difficult for all the societies. The IWSLGA tried to maintain co-operation with other societies on other feminist issues, and Anna Haslam herself remained active. In 1915, she was to the fore in another project, the setting up of voluntary women police patrols, working with the police, and with the aim of keeping young girls off the streets.

This activity drew criticism from the IWFL newspaper, the Irish Citizen, as undermining the objective of properly paid professional women police and from the socialists as the activity of 'middle-class snobs'. In 1918, the IWSLGA joined the IWFL, Cumann na mBan and the Irish Women Workers' Union in opposition to another government attempt to regulate prostitution under the Defence of the Realm Act of 1918.

Continued on page 4

Return to the introduction