The first nine Irish women graduate from the Royal University of Ireland as described by
Mary Hayden

[Mary Hayden, then a second-year university student, wrote in her diary of 22 October 1884 about the graduation of the first nine Irish women from the Royal University of Ireland.]

The long procession of hooded and gowned male graduates, all the girls coming last. As soon as they appeared at the door, there was a burst of applause. They looked exceedingly well in their black gowns, hoods lined with white fur and tasselled caps, even the plain ones and the ordinary ones appeared to advantage ... Charlotte Taylor went up to the organ, sat down on the bench with her silk blue hood hanging gracefully behind her, played the piece which was her 'thesis' for the B. Mus. degree, accompanied by a full orchestra of about 100 people. There was a great deal of applause. Then the Duke [of Abercorn] arose and made a rather long speech. He referred to the girls at some length and quoted that hackneyed old line about 'sweet girl graduates' whereat Henry McIntosh was convulsed with laughter. The girls walked up with great dignity and composure amidst loud applause and the five honours BAs separately, the four pass together. Jessie Twemlow, Marion Kelly, Miss Sands and the Chief (Isabella Mulvany) looked especially well; not a bit the typical blue stocking which I was glad to see, since Chief Justice Morris, having only seen Alice Oldham, pronounced them 'an ugly lot'.

Diaries of Mary T. Hayden, Vol. XVIII, Aug. 1884-March 1885. National Library of Ireland.


  1. Who wrote this and what was remarkable about the occasion?
  2. Why did the phrase 'sweet girl graduates' cause such merriment to Henry McIntosh?
  3. Why was the writer so glad that the women looked so well ?
  4. What did she mean by the term 'blue stocking'?
  5. Comment on Chief Justice Morris's remark on Alice Oldham's appearance. What does it tell you about the views of society on learned women?
  6. Why was Isabella Mulvany called 'the Chief'?
  7. Research one of the following: Alice Oldham or Isabella Mulvany or Mary Hayden.
  8. Examine some of the difficulties facing such women in the late nineteenth century.
  9. Was there anything about this document which surprised you? Explain your answer.

CAISM urges Trinity College, Dublin to open its degrees to women

[Memorial presented by CAISM at the tercentenary of Dublin University, June 1892,
signed by 10,560 Irish women of the educated classes within a period of two months.]

Gentlemen -

We, the undersigned Memorialists, desire respectfully to lay before the board of Trinity College the great necessity that now exists for the help of the University of Dublin in the higher education of women in Ireland.

During recent years important advances have been made in the education of Irish women, and everyday the desire for culture, and the need for the means of acquiring it are being increasingly manifested.

Since the opening of the Royal University, ten years ago, nearly a thousand women have matriculated in that University; while every year numbers of women are leaving Ireland in order to study at Oxford and Cambridge, and for the London University. In every College and University in Great Britain liberal help is now being given to the education of women, and in Ireland all the degrees of the Royal University, and all the teaching of the Queen's College and of Magee College, have been thrown open to them.

Women have eagerly availed themselves of these opportunities, and have by their distinguished success in every branch of science and literature, proved incontestably their ardent desire and their complete ability to attain the highest culture and the most thorough scholarship.

At the beginning of this great movement, the value of which to the advancement of the whole community can hardly be over-estimated, Trinity College rendered material assistance by establishing examinations for women. These examinations, which were very useful as a guide and incentive at that early stage, have been outgrown by the progress of education. The time has now come when the throwing open of the Curriculum and Degrees of Trinity College would be a most important service to the higher education of Irish women, and would be widely taken advantage of. We venture to ask for this boon now, when the Tercentenary of the University is being celebrated, feeling that no greater commemoration of such an event could be made than by extending the benefits of Trinity College to a large portion of the community, who, while earnestly desiring culture and knowledge, are at present debarred from obtaining it in the best way in their own country.

We earnestly hope that Trinity College from the date of her Tercentenary, will no longer stand alone among English and Irish Colleges, in withholding help from the education of women, but will, with this auspicious occasion, begin a new era of increased usefulness, by allowing Irish women to participate in the benefits she has for three hundred years conferred upon Irishmen.

We remain, Gentlemen,
Yours faithfully,

From theRoyal Commission on University Education in Ireland. Appendix to the first report. H.C., 1902, Vol. xxxi, 29.


  1. This document was presented by CAISM. Who was the leading figure behind this association? Can you find any evidence in this document that shows how effective she was in organising this petition?
  2. Why was the year 1892 chosen to present this petition?
  3. This document is important as it marked the beginning of a campaign. What was the main aim behind this campaign?
  4. What evidence was presented in this document to show that TCD was out of step with other universities in relation to the higher education of women?
  5. How do we know from this memorial that TCD had been very supportive of womens' higher education in the past?
  6. What had happened to change this state of affairs in the late 1880s?
  7. Was this petition successful or not? Explain your answer.

A 'proper sphere' for women in 1893?

[From the address by the Lady Auditor, Miss Eileen Kingston, B.A. at the inauguration of the Literary Society, St. Mary's University College for Women, Merrion Square, Dublin.]

The onward movement of women had given rise to much debate, regarded by some as contravening the laws of nature, looked on by others as a noble crusade against custom and prejudice, yet a vexed question ... Taking as a definition of a 'proper sphere' - that sphere most suited to one's capacities - women resented the claim of any man to now determine arbitrarily fixed limits beyond which the energies of one half of his fellow creatures must not extend.

... The determination of 'woman's sphere' was a question of capacity, of natural acquirement. The time was gone when man may say to women 'Thus far shalt thou go and no further' ... for women as for men, the determination of their proper sphere was primarily a question of talent; it is also but secondarily a question of opportunity. Let the same justice be meted out to women as to men and let there not be one law for us, and another for men.

Higher education was providing a great boon to future generations, and was forming a race of capable, self-reliant women, with something more to recommend them, than ignorance and innocence ... A woman, educated and refined ... was a better companion and helpmate for a man, and a better mother and guide for her children, if she chose home as her sphere.

From the Irish Catholic and Nation, 25 November 1893.



  1. To what 'onward movement' of women was Eileen Kingston referring?
  2. Why would the advancement of women be seen as going against the laws of nature?
  3. What did Kingston mean by a 'noble crusade against custom and prejudice'?
  4. What definition did the speaker give of a woman's proper sphere?
  5. Do you think that the position of women in society to-day is due to talent or opportunity or both?
  6. Would you agree with Kingston that higher (university) education was a great boon to 'future generations.' Explain your answer.
  7. Do you think that girls can become capable self-reliant women without higher education?
  8. Discuss the view that an educated and refined woman was a better companion to her husband, and a better mother and guide for her children, if she chose home as her sphere?
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