And where were the women when history was made? #JHISS

Ruth Taillon chaired a panel with Dawn Purvis, Martina Devlin and Bernadette McAliskey for a session entitled And where were the women when history was made? at the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh.

Bernadette opened the discussion by reframing the question: Where are women when what happens in the world is recorded and documented? Her answer: Virtually nowhere. What has been recorded – mostly by men – has been what was important in terms of high level power. History is the story of male power. Women have been cleaning up after martyrs for a long time. But the brutalisation of women and the affect of conflict of children are lost when you write women out of history, and instead create a far to narrow

JHISS Thu Panel Women in HistoryAre fiction and arts a better way of connecting with history? Martina noted that all of can engage and empathise with the personal story or images, stories of sacrifice or heroism against incredible odds. She was saddened that there isn’t more culture spanning the border and bridging the gap between the developing “fortress Ulster” and “fortress Ireland”.

Dawn Purvis referred to a “hidden history” of women in the labour movement and the changes that they brought into industry. But the decade of centenaries has consigned women to auxiliary roles (eg, nurses and widows) – writing women into a men’s version of history – rather than looking at their role in suffrage and trade unionism. 2018 will be an opportunity to celebrate the vote being extended to women over the age of 30 in Ireland.

The discussion veered off in all kinds of directions. Bernadette McAliskey told a great anecdote to illustrate how women can disappear from the public narrative – even today – though that can give them space to make changes under the radar. She went on to highlight the more radical side of organisations like the Mothers Union and the Women’s Institute … bastions of respectability today!

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

  • John Collins

    Well I see no point contributing to any discussion here if your views do not suit the moderator. I have repeatedly tried to reply to other contributors on Chris Donnelly’s ‘Omerta ‘ debate but have been repeatedly baulked. There are 580 replies in that debate and I cannot get a reply in, yet I have no problem posting here.
    Incidentally as far as Dominic Hendron and Jarl are concerned there would never have been an independent Irish State but for the War of Independence and down here practically nobody wants to return to GB Rule. They had their chance during the Act of Union era but they blew it

  • terence patrick hewett

    The ladies are well equipped to look after themselves as John Knox found to his cost. Archaic societies are precisely that and cannot be judged by the standards of today. there are plenty of female historians: get on with it.

    The histories of powerful women are extensively documented: the activities of the poor were not, regardless of gender: for that you have to read Chaucer, Shakespeare, Terence, Plautus, Aristophanes and just about everybody else.

  • Anglo-Irish

    ” Once made equal to man, woman becomes his superior. ” Socrates.

    As someone who had an Irish mother, four Irish aunts and was taught by
    nuns at an impressionable age I have never harbored the delusion that
    they are the weaker sex.

    In reality it matters not what a persons gender is, what matters is the persons
    character and ability.

    In the current American election campaign whilst Hilary has faults and isn’t an ideal candidate in my opinion she is so far ahead of the alternative that it should be no contest.

    Unfortunately, my opinion counts for nothing in that particular debate and I can only
    hope that the American people can see through Trump’s demagogue approach.

    Then again 3.8 million people voted Ukip in the last general election and we have Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary.

    Corporal Fraser was right ” We’re doomed I tell you, doomed!”

    And it isn’t the women’s fault.

  • Gopher

    “Bernadette opened the discussion by reframing the question: Where are women when what happens in the world is recorded and documented? Her answer: Virtually nowhere”

    C.V. Wedgewood, Antonia Fraser and of course Barbara Tuchman spring to mind. I would also suggest Dr Janina Ramirez’s BBC series on the Hundred years war was pretty bloody good. Its not whether your male or female its whether you have got any talent. Just because none of the panel have heard of Fanny Lucy Radmall and her contribution to the suffragette movement and Battle of Britain does not mean nobody else has. If you have an interest in a subject you will follow it. Lets face it, if you mentioned any of the five ladies above on a night out the blessed Mother’s Union would now be defunct. Please god tell me public money is not paying for this.

  • John Collins

    Point taken Dominic- no problem. My point was that the GBG had no intention of responding to the wishes of the Irish people as expressed in 1918. I would not try to justify Dan Breen’s action’s but I did point out he was returned to parliament election after election, so some must have approved.
    Btw Dominic. did GB or the USA vote for the Iraq War?

  • John Collins

    There is a speech made in Westminster by a Robert Ambrose MP, seventeen years before Soloheadbeg, in which he quotes various prominent British Politicians of the Nineteenth Century verbatim. He recalls comments made by men like Disraeli, Pitt and Gladstone, among others, in which they state that any concession given to Catholic Ireland by Westminster in that century was only given by violence or the threat of it. They also, to a man, said that any of those should never have been given. You have to view history in relation to the time it occurred, not through the eyes of the modern World, when British/Irish Relations are thankfully way better. I think Avril Doyle put it well, when she berated Farage and his friends in the European Parliament, when she said ‘things could have been so much different if the wishes of the Irish were respected by British Administrations in the past’.
    Finally any mandate from 1918 would have faded out in the mid twenties and anyone who fought in the WOI are long dead. Those who have claimed legitimacy for criminals Acts in later decades due to votes or events that took place in that era are codding themselves. In fact Sinn Fein only ever got very minimal support down here during any of the trouble periods in NI, since the twenties.

  • Lex.Butler

    I think women voted amongst the UKIP 3.8M and for Brexit. I doubt if we are doomed. Fraser was always proved wrong.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    With two such prominent women of the left there, it sparked a rather counter-intuitive thought about the largely forgotten history of political women of the right and centre right. I’m not banging a unionist drum on this at all, you’ll be relieved to hear. When you look at the mass involvement of women in political debates pre-suffrage, a lot of the big numbers were on the conservative side, and in Ireland on the unionist side. The Ulster Unionist Women’s Council had by 1918 somewhere between 120,000 and 200,000 paid up members, making it not just the biggest women’s political group in Ireland but in the whole of the UK. It was an absolute phenomenon in terms of mass involvement.

    The Primrose League was also huge nationally – over a million across the UK at one point and very active in pre-independence Ireland.

    We tend to think of the birth of suffrage as a purely left-leaning moment; in fact if we want to understand what was going on with women in politics in Ireland as full democratic rights neared, you have to spend a lot of time looking at what the right was doing and what unionism was doing. They were active in big, big numbers, much bigger than say Cumann na mBan. Possibly not as interesting, but there you go!

  • Anglo-Irish

    No doubt some did, I know of one, on the other hand I know of five that voted Remain.

    As for Private Frazer, he would have been correct if it wasn’t for the fact that all those other countries joined in on our side. : )

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Never forget these women !

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Or this one, Isabella Tod: amazing campaigner for women’s suffrage and responsible for Belfast getting it a good decade ahead of the rest of Ireland:
    She was possibly the best known voice of liberal unionism in late 19th C Ireland. Stood up to Gladstone over Home Rule, standing up for progressive, egalitarian politics within the union. Described as “the most prominent feminist in 19th C Ireland.” Fantastic woman.

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    Well, for a few examples from Easter Week:

    Mollie Adrian, on her bicycle, shuttled orders and reports between Pearse in the GPO and the Fingal Battalion, so that Thomas Ashe would get the credit.

    Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh was in command of the Cumann na mBan at Jacob’s factory, from where she had an excellent view of the pounding the GPO was getting.

    The Cumann na mBan had to be ordered out of the GPO — it took Seán McDermott backing up Pearse before they would agree — late on the Friday morning of Easter week. The first shell arrived soon after their departure.

    At the Department of Agriculture farm at Athenry, Mellows had about 500 men armed with a total of 35 rifles and 350 shotguns. The women of the Cumann had the local bullocks slaughtered, and made the stew to feed them all — which was about the most positive aspect of Mellows’ “campaign`”.

    The Kilkenny Cumann were (later) more than tart in their comments about how the menfolk sat around debating, but not actually getting stuck in.

    Marie Perolz of Inghinidhe na Éireann, on her motor-bike, all the way from Dublin to the brigade in Cork, brought MacCurtain and MacSwiney the orders for the Rising (how the other eight orders got through, I’m not sure).

    Rose McManners of the Inghinidhe was in the Jameson distillery to observe how clueless MacDonagh was when it came to leadership. When the garrison of 44 men at the South Dublin Union surrendered, and dumped arms, Rose and the other twenty Cumann picked up the weapons and brazenly carted them into the Richmond Street barracks. They got away with it, because the British Army had no women searchers to hand.

    Kathleen Lynn took command at City Hall after Seán Connolly was killed, and negotiated the surrender of the ICA garrison.

    Elizabeth O’Farrell, nurse and midwife, of the Cumann na mBan, under fire took the white flag from the GPO to Moore Street, to open the surrender negotiations.

    Then, of course, as Kathleen Clarke never stopped complaining, the women of 1916 were largely elided from the record. It’s not they weren’t there, but as Jessica Rabiit said, “I’m just drawn that way”.

  • Croiteir

    I believe that the number of women who voted on the Brexit, or rather the UKexit are about the same percentage wise who voted against?

  • Anglo-Irish

    I have no idea, as I said, of those that I know personally – and know which way they voted – it was five to one for Remain.

  • Granni Trixie

    The online biography is based on an original list researched by Kate Newman. I recall that circa 1993 after her book was published Kate told an audience at a public event that Following the usual leads most of the people she ended up with were men ….so she retraced her steps looking specifically for females who fited with the criteria. She found quite a few and the point she made was that it’s not that accomplished woman do not exist but that as they are less visible you have to go looking for them.

    Awareness raising about this should go far to address the problem. …if there’s the will to do so.

  • Gopher

    I’m sure people have heard of Cleopatra, Boadecia, Queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, Leni Riefenstahl, Eva Peron, Ann Frank etc etc etc. I think the point that Mainland is trying to make is you are really narrowing your field to Guardian readers to find your Women in history as if they are some clause to be voted on at a labour conference. “Right motion carried we will have 20 heroines of socialist labour in the 20th century”

    Countess Bathory might not have read the Guardian or been a member of Momentum or even particularly likable but she is a part of History and a woman. This nonsense of trying to get people to fit a crib and if they don’t somehow they don’t exist is idiotic.

  • Granni Trixie

    I completely disagree. Surely if the idea of selecting people for BLue Plaques or online biographies is to recognise people who have significant achievements then if you find most are men, it is right to reexamine the evidence?

    Another factor is that of who does the selecting? Looking at photographs of the history group who organise the selection it is obvious most of them are men, though a list of the members of this group does not seem to be published for some reason.

  • AntrimGael

    An equally important question that NEVER gets answered is “Where were the ‘Loyal’ people during WWII? On a visit to Belfast in the early 40’s, John Betjeman, the future Poet Laureate made the observation at the sight of so many young men on the streets of fighting age NOT in the services. “So many Loyal Ulstermen…… Loyally staying at home”. Indeed Sir John, indeed!

  • Gopher

    I still think your missing Mainlands point that if they are people that fought for Woman’s rights and were unionists or made victory in the Battle of Britain possible it seems the Left want to forget them because it does not fit with the crib they are trying to create.

    The recording of history of History is not fair in the pure sense and that tends to outwork itself in the general sense. That is not a gender problem but is why we have Historians.

    Because of the nature of “Historians” we have here in Ireland who attack the houses with Blue plaques, that might be a reason to keep the list quiet.

  • Granni Trixie

    I see what you mean about MU angle.

    I am looking however at the old chestnut of why do women tend to be written out of history – which involves who records and documents – to which you could add “and researches and analyses what is going on”. For example the people attributed with bringing about the peace process are invariably men – yet if you analyse that cultural change was ultimately part of the reason, you could identify that women largely behind the scenes were part of making the peace process happen.

    As regards who the mysterious circle of people with the power to chose who is to be honoured in Blue Plaques or internet biographies I think in the interests of transparency they ought to make public who they are. Don’t most bodies nowadays have a spot on their website labelled “who we are”?

  • Gopher

    I don’t think they do. Getting overlooked by mainstream History is a common compliant from Charles XII to the 14th Army. Dont worry if John Hume had of been a woman the same cult would have built around her. Little to do with gender. If you do some research into projection of image at a guess 8 out of ten historical figures will be great self publicists.