Click here for Index

                                 Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Margaret Cousins (1878-1954)

Margaret Cousins, née Gillespie, was born in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. In 1903 she married James Cousins and in 1908 they, together with Francis and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, founded the Irish Women's Franchise League (IWFL). In 1910 Cousins campaigned for womens' suffrage in London and partook in a riot in Downing Street for which she was imprisoned in Holloway Gaol for a month, an experience she later described as 'a living death'.
Cousins supported Irish independence but distrusted John Redmond's Irish Party which had failed to support women's suffrage in the British Parliament.
In January, 1913 Cousins was imprisoned for suffragette activities in Mountjoy and Tullamore Gaols where she went on a hunger-strike to secure her release and in June, 1913 she and James Cousins emigrated to India. The following year she founded the Indian Women's Association. In 1922 she was appointed the first woman magistrate in India and in 1928 she founded the first All-India Womens' Conference. In December, 1932 Cousins, while still a magistrate, was sentenced to one year in prison for protesting at the introduction of legislation which curtailed free speech in India. While in Vellore Women's Jail she went on hunger-strike in support of Mahatma Gandhiji, then also imprisoned.
After her release in October, 1933 Cousins continued to campaign for women's rights and in 1938 she was elected President of the All-India Women's Conference. In 1941 Cousins published The Music of Orient and Occident. This extract is taken from her half of We Two Together (1950) co-written with James Cousins.©

In Ireland our work for women suffrage was chiefly propagandist through open-air meetings in summer and indoor meetings in winter. The introduction of a Home Rule Bill supported by the Liberal Party looked very hopeful for the gaining of freedom of Ireland at long last. But the Bill made no mention of Irish women being made citizens of their own country.
We stumped the country pointing out the injustice of the omission and demanding an amendment in the proposed Home Rule Bill. The Irish Nationalist Members of Parliament were heckled about it wherever they spoke in public. They did not like this. They objected to women butting into their men's way of winning political freedom. But the era of dumb, self-effacing women was over. Everywhere we explained that the Irish Women's Franchise League was not identical in its militant methods with the English suffragettes.
We were not attacking shop-windows; we had no Liberal by-elections, no Cabinet Ministers in Ireland. We were as keen as men on the freedom of Ireland, but we saw the men clamouring for amendments which suited their own interests and made no recognition of the existence of women as fellow-citizens. We women were convinced that anything which improved the status of women would improve, not hinder, the coming of real national self-government.
I went to London to lobby the Irish Members at Westminster. My task was to try to persuade them to add a women suffrage amendment to the Irish Home Rule Bill then being introduced and sponsored by the newly returned Liberal Party. I lobbied Tim Healy, Hugh Law, John Redmond, and five or six others, all of whom were cross with Irishwomen for trying to gate-crash into their sacrosanct politics.
Time enough to think of women's status when Ireland was free. I had an hour's interview with Joe Devlin of Belfast, then very powerful in the Irish Party. He stormed at me that he had always been in favour of giving votes to women, but the way the suffragettes were interrupting Cabinet Ministers, and in Ireland the very members who were fighting for Home Rule, was turning him against the whole movement. He would not move a hand to improve the draft Home Rule Bill, but he would promise us that he himself would introduce an Irish Women Suffrage Bill in the first Irish Parliament. Those Irish politicians had no use for women citizens; they were sufficient for themselves and for the country. We measured them by principle and democracy and found them wanting. We knew that there were other Irish Members, some younger, like Tom Kettle, some with more understanding of the problems of Labour and of women in the world of Labour; other men of vision like Sir Horace Plunkett, James Connolly, Jim Larkin, AE; poets of the Irish revival like Pearce [sic], MacDonagh and my husband; some women political leaders like Countess Markievicz, and Mrs Despard, Mrs Tom Kelly (afterwards first woman Lord Mayor of Dublin), and particularly Frank and Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, who were heart and soul for getting the rights of citizenship into any and every Home Rule Bill and working for women's rights through the Conciliation Bill or any other Bill the English Parties might introduce either before or during all contemporaneous phases of the seven hundred year struggle for the freedom of Ireland. Looking back, facts have proved that our policy was right. The cause of freedom is single and indivisible. No one facet of it can be sacrificed to expediency in favour of another without radical danger to the whole cause and to those who place expediency before principle. We little knew the strophes and antistrophes that were soon to disclose themselves in the ritual of human history that would draw women into the foreground of life, and send the inadequate Irish Parliamentary Party into the oblivion that awaits the inadequate...
No one in that year (1913) thought that Home Rule for Ireland would come in any other way than through the peaceful passage of the Bill promoted by the Liberal Party then in power. We knew a number of the leaders in politics and labour; but names that in a few years were to become starred in the record of Ireland's fighters for freedom (Collins, MacSweeney [sic], Cosgrove, De Valera) were unknown to us or to anyone else.
We had no idea that the Ireland to which we promised our friends that we would return in five years would not then be in existence. The Ireland of our first twelve years together went through undreamt of agonies and tragedies in the years between then and our first return to it in 1925; and then it was an Ireland of transition, rent and bitter, in which we did not feel at home, where there was no room for such as we were; though by then, to our deep satisfaction, Ireland was functioning through its own Parliament, and Irish women were voting citizens of the Irish Free State and of the enforced British province of Northern Ireland.
© Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008

20th Century Ireland (1917-1923)    Irish History Index
    Can't find what you're looking for? Check out our Research Services
© Copyright 1997-2008