Historical records

Sources for Women’s History

Did you know that the oldest record we hold relating to a woman is a memoranda roll from 1309? That the place of Countess Markievicz’s birth is given incorrectly on the cover of her prison file? That you can examine the will of Princess Grace of Monaco in our Reading Room? Or that we hold the records of the Joint Committee of Women’s Societies and Social Workers until it was wound up in 1993?

The following guide is not an exhaustive list of all our holdings but rather is intended as a signpost pointing you in the direction of collections containing records relating to women. These reflect the richness of our archives relating to women across departmental, business, legal, religious, medical and private source records. They cover a diversity of subjects and range in format from photos, newspaper reports and government records to prisoner files, personal letters and deportation orders.

Read on for more information on record sources held in the National Archives relating to women’s history which shed light on the lives of women in Ireland.


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

The Chief Secretary was the chief executive of the British administration in Ireland and was based in Dublin Castle. The registered papers generated by his office are one of the most valuable collections of original records for research on Ireland in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They cover the full spectrum of political, administrative, economic and social operations of the Chief Secretary’s Office and contain material on the lives of women in Ireland during these centuries.

For example, document CSO/RP/1822/2391 relates to concern over the separation of convict mothers from infant children in 1822 while CSO/RP/1823/1087 consists of an application made by a woman and her children to follow her transported convict husband to Australia as a free settler. This rich collection can be searched online from 1818–1833 at https://csorp.nationalarchives.ie/search/index.php.


Convict Reference Files (CRF, 1836–1922)

Records of crime and punishment provide insights into the lives of women in Ireland through petitions received from female prisoners and their relatives. The Convict Department of the Chief Secretary’s Office was responsible for the administration of the convict system and convicts had a right to petition the Lord Lieutenant for commutation or remission of their sentences. We hold a large volume of petitions relating to female prisoners which describe the conditions in which they lived and which sometimes provide information on their family circumstances which are valuable for family history research.


General Prisons Office/General Prisons Board records and prison registers (GPO/GPB, 1798–1927)

Divided into male, female or combined, prison registers are another rich source for information on women providing their name, age, religion, crime, sentence and remarks on conduct. Meanwhile, the GPB collection is a treasure trove of case files on female prisoners. There is a file for each prisoner detailing their health, occupation, diet, correspondence, visits and punishments and generally includes photographs taken at the start and end of their sentence.

The file for Countess Markievicz gives her sentence as death commuted to penal servitude for life and includes her medical history and high-level correspondence to deal with her removal from Mountjoy Prison to Aylesbury Prison in England on 7 August 1916.

A subset of the GPB files are the General Prisons Board Suffragette Papers (c1907–1914) dealing with Suffragette prisoners and the conditions they endured such as their force-feeding while on hunger strike and the application of the Cat and Mouse Act of 1913 to their imprisonment.

Check out our online exhibition about the Suffragettes’ prison conditions at www.nationalarchives.ie/article/suffragettes-prison-conditions-ireland.


Relief Commission (RLFC, 1845–1850)

The Relief Commission was one of the main components of the British administration’s official response to the Famine and from the outset, women were heavily involved in the charitable work of this organisation which consisted of local relief committees, county lieutenants, clergy and concerned citizens including women’s committees.

Read more about their work at www.nationalarchives.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Great_Famine_TomQuinlan.pdf and search our catalogue at www.nationalarchives.ie/search-the-online-catalogue.


Government department records

Legislation and discussion of issues affecting women feature throughout our departmental record holdings. The Department of the Taoiseach collection contains high-level material on matters discussed at cabinet and government meetings and covers a broad spectrum of political and administrative concerns of the time. New legislation which came before cabinet and files dealing with acts such as the Infanticide Act of 1944 provide insights into changing official attitudes to women.

Women in 20th-Century Ireland: Sources from the Department of the Taoiseach, 19221966
This online resource consists of the results of a survey conducted by the Women’s History Project in relation to Department of the Taoiseach records that we hold. Files for the years 1922–1966 were checked to see if they included references to women. The database contains just under 20,000 entries which provide a fascinating picture of life for women in Ireland from the early to mid 20th century.

Meanwhile, Ireland becoming a member of the European Economic Community in 1973 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 material on this matter eg file ref 2009/74/549 relates to legal questions on the status of women in Ireland and file ref 2010/27/116 refers to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women while records contained in file ref 2010/27/116 concern maternity protection for women in employment. Additional files can be located by searching our online catalogue.


Environment/Local Government and Public Services Union

These consist primarily of minutes of the LGPSU, formerly the Irish Local Government Officials Union. Many members of the Union were low-paid women employed in local authorities and the minutes give an insight into their working conditions.


National education records (1831–c1960s)

This collection contains a wealth of material on female teachers in the primary education system and a detailed overview is available at www.nationalarchives.ie/article/guide-sources-national-education.


Hospital records

Hospital records – particularly those specialising in maternity care such as the Coombe and the Rotunda – are a wonderful source of information on women’s health. In fact, the records of the Rotunda are regarded as one of the finest collections of maternity archives in the world.

Health-related records have special access requirements and for a more complete description of our hospital holdings and how to access them, please see www.nationalarchives.ie/article/guide-hospital-records.


Private and business records

We hold extensive private and business collections featuring records relating to female employees and women’s membership of suffrage associations and health organisations. Some of these include the following sources:

  • LOU 13: Ancient Order of Hibernians records (1907–1970s)

This collection includes a run of The Hibernian Journal containing 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 accessed at www.nationalarchives.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/98_17HildaTweedyPapers_IrishHousewivesAssociation.pdf

  • 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 is available at www.nationalarchives.ie/article/joint-committee-womens-societies-social-workers

  • 2005/51: Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association (Anna Haslam, 1876–1914)

An explanation of the collection including the digitised minute books is available at www.nationalarchives.ie/article/minute-book-dublin-womens-suffrage-association-irish-womens-suffrage-local-government-association-1876-1913

  • 2005/52: Dublin Women’s Franchise League and Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association
  • PRIV1212: Women’s National Health Association of Ireland (1907–1977)
  • Registry of Friendly Societies files (1851–1961)   This collection of local co-operatives includes files on women’s organisations

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