The Irish Women's Franchise League

In November 1908, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Margaret Cousins, members of IWSLGA, impatient with the results of peaceful methods, called on Anna Haslam, now nearly eighty years old and still secretary of the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association.

... So a group of us went in November to the dear old leader of the constitutional suffragists, Mrs Anna Haslam, to inform her that we younger women were ready to start a new suffrage society on militant lines. She regretted what she felt to be a duplication of effort. She was also congenitally a person of peace, non-violent, law-abiding to the finger tips. But she sensed the Time Spirit, and we parted as friends, agreeing to differ on means, though united in aim and ideals.
James and Margaret Cousins, We two together, Madras, 1950, p.164.
Margaret Cousins
Margaret Cousins

The new group they formed was called the Irish Women's Franchise League (IWFL). It was an active, militant, and imaginative group.

Members composed pamphlets, plays, short stories, poems and songs, gave recitals and held conferences. They addressed the public at open-air meetings - remember television and radio were not yet available. They went on tour around the country, organised lectures and delivered speeches from the backs of lorries. They attracted publicity; often they were praised but just as often they were ridiculed and condemned for being 'unladylike.'

We held parades, processions, pageants ... We had colours (orange and green), a Votes for Women badge, slogans; we made use with feminine ingenuity of many good publicity devices and stunts ... and became a picturesque element in Irish life ... women speakers who could hold their own ... meeting hecklers on their own ground, being good-humoured and capable of keeping their temper under bombardments of rotten eggs, over-ripe tomatoes, bags of flour, stinking chemicals, gradually earned respect and due attention: Suffs were good sports.
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington quoted in Rosemary Cullen Owens, Smashing Times. p. 66.


Obviously public speaking did not always come naturally to the women and Margaret Cousins rehearsed open-air speaking 'in a field behind our house with only an ass for my audience' ...

It was reported in June 1912 that 'The Votes for Women Quartette won first prize for string quartettes at the Sligo Feis Ceoil.'
Cliona Murphy, The Women's Suffrage Movement and Irish Society, p. 33.

Public speaking
Public speaking in Phoenix Park
National Photographic Archive of Ireland

At Castlebar, County Mayo, a group of men tried to disrupt a suffrage meeting by singing a popular song:

Put me on an island where the girls are few;
Put me with the most ferocious lions in the zoo;
Put me in a prison and I'll never, never fret,
But for pity's sake don't put me near a Suffering-Gette.

Sometimes the IWFL met with spectacular success:

Drawing from the intellectual and cultural world of early twentieth century Dublin, the Irish Women's Franchise League would come to represent the more dynamic strand of the Irish suffrage campaign. Their confidence was demonstrated indeed during the Galway visit where despite little, if any, local contacts, members of the league managed to call a special meeting of the urban district council, organise a well-attended meeting with Christabel Pankhurst as speaker, and have a motion on women's suffrage introduced on the agenda of Galway county council.
Mary Clancy, 'On the western outpost' in Galway - History and Society, p.564.

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington's husband, Frank, in particular, braved the ridicule he received for supporting women's issues:

F & H Sheehy Skeffington
Frank & Hanna Sheehy Skeffington
The Skeffy gang appears to have had an unusually lively time of it last Saturday in the Phoenix Park. Apparently the window-breaking of the Skeffy gang induced an extra large audience to the Suffer pitch in the Phoenix on Saturday. It appears by all accounts to have been a humorously hostile audience. Skeffy, the only male, apparently, of the gang present, came in for some banter and hustling from the crowd. There were cries of 'cut his whiskers off' ... 'the breeches should be taken off him and a skirt put on.'
The Leader, 22 June 1913.

Hanna and Margaret had married husbands who encouraged and assisted their feminist activities. Frank Sheehy Skeffington and James Cousins were actively involved in editing the suffrage newspaper, The Irish Citizen which was published from 1912 until its presses were smashed by the Black and Tans in 1920.

Irish Citizen masthead

The masthead of The Irish Citizen

The motto of the paper was:

For Men and Women Equally
The Rights of Citizenship;
For Men and Women Equally
The Duties of Citizenship.

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