Several attempts were made to restrict women's access to work. The Cumann na nGaedheal government sought to prohibit women from entering the higher grades of the Civil Service in 1925 solely because they were women. This measure was defeated in the Senate, but in 1932 the Fianna Fáil government imposed a public service marriage ban whereby women civil servants and national school teachers would lose their jobs on marriage.

The government sought to protect male employment when new opportunities for women and men were opening up in manufacturing in the 1930s. The Conditions of Employment Act (1935) gave the Minister for Industry and Commerce the right to limit the number of women working in any industry.

Ireland was not unique in the 1930s in restricting employment for women. Public service marriage bans operated in Britain during periods of unemployment. The Weimar government in Germany, struggling with inflation as well as unemployment, called for women employees to be dismissed systematically. Later, after the Nazis took over in 1933,

... their early pronouncements on women stressed the need for women to stay within the 'woman's world' of 'her husband, her family, her children and her home' as Adolf Hitler declared to a meeting of the Nazi Women's Association in 1934. Actively opposing the recent changes in women's rights as a 'product of the Jewish intellect', the Nazis promised German women 'emancipation from emancipation'. 'Woman in the workplace is an oppressed and tormented being' stated a propaganda pamphlet from the 1920s.
Anderson & Zinsser, A history of their own, Vol.II, London, 1988, p.303.

Yet the first census taken in the Irish Free State in 1926 showed that comparatively few women, married or single, were actually in paid employment in Ireland. Very few married women worked outside the home while less than half of all single women were in the paid workforce and these were mainly in agriculture and domestic service where employment prospects were declining, though opportunities for women in industry would increase in the 1930s. Neither were women entitled to unemployment assistance on the same basis as men as it was assumed that men provided for them.

The intention of restricting employment for women was especially harsh on the very many women who were single at the time. The marriage rate in Ireland was particularly low, and in 1926 about a quarter of women in the age-group 45-54 had never been married.

No doubt, taking all the circumstances into account, many women voted with their feet and left the country. The proportion of women emigrating in the years 1926-36 was the highest so far, with an average of 1,298 females emigrating for every 1,000 males.


  1. Outline the attempts made by Irish governments in the 1920s and 1930s to restrict women's access to work.
  2. Write a short paragraph on single women in Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s.
  3. The average number of females emigrating in the years ___________ was _________ for every ______males.
  4. Other countries which restricted women's rights to employment in the 1930s included _____ and ______.


  1. Write and role play a speech you would deliver in the Dáil in the 1920s or 1930s on any issue concerning women or men.
  2. Write a letter to a newspaper of the 1920s or 1930s on any woman's issue.
  3. Role play or compose a dialogue on the following topic:

    A young woman teacher in conversation with Éamon de Valera on the marriage ban in 1932.

  4. Research the topic of women and emigration in the section Later modern Ireland.

  5. Research the role of women in any other country during the 1920 and 1930s.
contents index