Sources for 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, by no means is it exhaustive but it should provide a starting point on the subject and convey the broad nature of our collections that contain material of relevance. It is important to note that many record series other than those mentioned will also contain relevant material.
The collections relating to women’s history in the holdings of the National Archives are disparate, encompassing official records created prior to the foundation of the state, government departmental records, business archives and small private deposits.
CSORP Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (1818–1922)
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 Chief Secretaries Office.
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 reference, CSO/RP/1822/2391 relates to Concern over separation of convict mothers from infant children in 1822, CSO/RP/1823/1087 relates to the application of a woman and her children to follow her transported convict husband to Australia as a free settler.
This collection can be searched online from 1818-1833:
RLFC – Famine Relief Commission
The famine relief commission commenced in August 1846 and from the very beginning women were involved in the charitable work of the organisation comprising of local relief committees, county lieutenants, local clergy and concerned citizens including women’s committees.
The collection can be searched via: https://www.nationalarchives.ie/search-the-online-catalogue/advanced-search/#!/
Convict Reference Files (1836–1922)
Records of crime and punishment are useful in numerous ways. 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. 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.
General Prisons Board Penal records (1881–1927)
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 generally they include photographs taken at the start and end of the sentence.
Prison registers (1798–c.1920)
Prison registers generally provide information such as name, age, religion, crime, sentence and remarks on conduct. Registers are often divided by Male and Female or combined.
GPB/SFRG General Prisons Board Suffragette Papers (c.1907–1914)
Includes 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.
An online exhibition featuring highlights from this material can be viewed here:
Registry of Friendly Societies files (1851–1961)
This collection of local co-operatives includes files on women’s organisations.
Records of Government Departments
Legislation and discussion of issues affecting women are dispersed throughout departmental collections. The Department of the Taoiseach contains high level material relating 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.
Ireland’s membership of the European Union and the establishment of a Minister of State for Women’s Affairs led to further development of women’s rights in the official record. The Departments of Labour, Justice, Industry and Commerce, and the Office of the Attorney General in particular hold much material of relevance such as ref. 2009/74/549 regarding legal questions on the status of women in Ireland; 2010/27/116 on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; 2010/27/116 Maternity protection for women in employment.
Further material can be located through a search of our online catalogue: https://www.nationalarchives.ie/search-the-online-catalogue/advanced-search/#!/
Women in 20th century Ireland 1922-1966: Sources from the Department of the Taoiseach
This source, created by Professor Maria Luddy, contains just under 20,000 entries relating to women’s place in Irish society and the information contained within the official records of the Department of the Taoiseach. The resource can be viewed as a PDF or searched via an online database, the original files themselves need to be consulted in the Reading Room at the National Archives.
ENV/ Local Government and Public Services Union records
Primarily 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.
ED/ National Education Collection (1831- c1960s)
This collection contains a great deal of useful material on female teachers in the primary education system. A thorough overview of the records can be found here:
Hospital records particularly those with a speciality in maternity care would be the most obvious source for women’s health, such as the Coombe and Rotunda. Health records do have special access requirements and a more complete description of our holdings can be found here:
Private and Business Collections
LOU 13/ Ancient Order of Hibernians records (1907–1970s)
This collection includes a run of The Hibernian Journal, which contains many references to Women’s Auxiliary Divisions, in addition to some photographs.
98/17 Dr. Hilda Tweedy Papers, Irish Housewives Association (1940s-1990s)
The full catalogue to this collection can be view here:
PRIV 1363 Joint Committee of Women’s Societies and Social Workers (1935 –c1990s)
An article describing the organisation and a link to the full catalogue can be found here:
2005/51 Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association (Anna Haslam) (1876-1914)2
A full explanation of the collection including the digitised minute books are available online: https://www.nationalarchives.ie/article/minute-book-dublin-womens-suffrage-association-irish-womens-suffrage-local-government-association-1876-1913/
2005/52 Records of the Dublin Women’s Franchise League and Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association
PRIV1212 Records of the Women’s National Health Association of Ireland (1907-1977)