Print, Protest & the Polls: Protest in Print
Irish suffragists participated in the protest of the 1911 census of Britain and Ireland, which offered a large-scale opportunity for women in the suffrage campaign to mark their objections to their lack of a political voice. The later establishment of Irish suffrage newspaper The Irish Citizen in 1912 provided further opportunity to provide such a combined voice for Irish women. The newspaper was circulated throughout the thirty-two counties and provided a national platform for opinion from Irish women from all nationalist, suffrage and socialist groups.
The introduction and overview page for the Print, Protest & the Polls exhibition is here.
Suffrage and the 1911 Census
These census forms mark an act of passive political resistance by Irish suffragettes. The 1911 census of Britain and Ireland offered a unique and large-scale opportunity for women in the suffrage campaign to mark their objections to their lack of a political voice. A considerable number of women from the campaign boycotted this event, arguing that they would not participate in a census when they were not represented with a vote.
The act of census resistance differed in Ireland to Britain. Unlike in Britain, the Irish census enumerators were policemen, who could implement a large fine for resistance. This meant that it was not possible for Irish women to organise the type of mass resistance public events which occurred in Britain. This resulted in women evading rather than resisting the census, camping in the hills and in empty houses on the night to avoid the enumerators. One of the other ways which Irish women voiced their protest was through the information they provided for their census forms. A number of the forms show that the columns recording “Religion” and “Infirmity” were used to record protest by Irish suffragists. This form of passive protest allowed for participation by a wide range of women from the suffrage cause. Women who did not wish to take part in militant or unlawful activity could still officially record their discontent with their lack of a vote through the census return.
This census form for the Manning family at Rathmines & Rathgar East in Dublin includes returns for Susan Manning and a visitor to the house, Elizabeth Duggan. Both women record their religion as “Militant Suffragette”, and note their infirmity as “legally unfit to vote”.
On this census form from the Sheehy Skeffington household in Dublin, the census enumerator incorrectly filled in the information for Hanna, whose space had been left blank in protest. Hanna successfully managed to evade the enumerator, staying away from her home on the night of the census, with her husband Francis excluding her from the household entry. The refusal to complete the form is marked with the note “Information Refused”. She is recorded by the enumerator as Emily Sheehy Skeffington, aged 28, and born in Dublin city – all of which are incorrect details.
The Irish Citizen
The IWFL struggled to differentiate themselves from the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) who they had initially been influenced by. While they admired the organisation and tactics of the WSPU, the IWFL understood that the Irish struggle for suffrage against a backdrop of growing nationalism was specifically unique. They struggled to be recognised as an independent Irish group rather than a WSPU affiliate group. As the suffrage campaign developed, imperialist English suffrage groups such as the WSPU and the Women’s Freedom League refused to recognise national differences and attempted to gain control and influence over the Irish campaign. This led many of the Irish suffrage organisations to gradually distance and separate themselves from English suffrage.
The foundation of the Irish suffrage newspaper The Irish Citizen in 1912 acted as a way in which Irish suffragists could both distinguish themselves from the English movement and form a patriotic vehicle for Irish suffrage. It was circulated throughout the thirty-two counties and informed women across the country of developments and issues, providing a national platform for opinion from Irish women from all nationalist, suffrage and socialist groups. The title of the newspaper was an ambitious and revolutionary one. At this time in Ireland, there was no such thing as an Irish citizen, as Ireland was still under British rule.
The Irish Citizen was first published weekly, and then on a monthly basis. It continued in production from 1912 up until its presses were smashed by the Black and Tan forces in 1920. The newspaper provided an accessible and inclusive platform for women to voice their political and cultural opinions, present their work, and advertise their activities. The Irish Citizen encouraged its readers to use their own writing as a form of political activism, urging them to publish their opinions and responses in both its own paper and other journals. The paper included discussions on wider feminist and nationalist topics in addition to the suffrage movement.
This Irish Citizen broadside poster (printed on one side) would have been used to advertise the most recent edition of the newspaper. The poster would have been placed on a sandwich board outside a shop, or, as some surviving images show, would have been worn by the female suffragist advertising and selling the newspaper in public.
The Irish Citizen fostered and invited discussion from diverse suffrage organisations from all across the country, attempting to unite Irishwomen in a common cause. It also provided a vehicle to advertise suffrage events and activities such as meetings, protests, and lectures. It was used to update fellow suffragists and the public on significant issues such as the militant activities of suffragettes, their associated court case proceedings, and their imprisonment as political prisoners. Several prominent suffragettes wrote articles for the newspaper to explain and defend their militant activity, providing them with an opportunity to have their own say in rebuttal to the wider negativity by the national press.
One of the most powerful suffrage propaganda cartoons was created by the political cartoonist Ernest Kavanagh. This cartoon (seen here on the front cover of The Irish Citizen) titled “The Angel of Freedom” shows a winged depiction of John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, using one foot to hold down an Irish female suffragist, while displaying a message in the other. Home Rule, represented by Redmond, is stamping on Irish women’s suffrage. This cartoon, which was circulated widely, caused outrage and embarrassment for Redmond and his supporters.