New Book – Women, Reform, and Resistance in Ireland, 1850-1950

Edited by Christina S. Brophy and Cara Delay

Women, Reform, and Resistance in Ireland, 1850-1950 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) documents the challenges faced by Irish women and their complex reactions. This interdisciplinary volume focuses on the categories of gender and class in a sustained analysis of both reform and resistance in modern Irish history. By investigating philanthropies, prisons, hospitals, and inebriate reformatories; interrogating court records, begging letters, and memoirs; and exploring the ‘imaginative resistance’ of folk narratives and formulaic cursing; authors illuminate previously obscured experiences of Irish women. Several contributors explore the ways in which middle-class and elite women, through philanthropy and reform, found their voices by attempting to regulate the lives of the poor. Rather than passively accepting their lot, these women were often insubordinate, opportunistic in their use of charity, and defiant toward the ideologies of dominating-elites.

Chapters and Contributors:

1. ‘Souper, Souper, Go To Hell!’: Women, Sectarianism, and Poverty in Nineteenth-Century Dublin; Margaret Preston, Augustana College, USA

2. Regulating Poor Mothers: St. Ultan’s Infant Hospital, Dublin from 1918; Vanessa Rutherford, University College Cork, Ireland

3. Safeguarding Irish Girls: Welfare Work, Female Emigrants, and the Catholic Church, 1920s -1940s; Jennifer Redmond, NUI Maynooth, Ireland

4. ‘Should I Take Myself and Family to Another Religion [?]’: Irish Catholic Women, Protest, and Conformity, 1920-1940; Lindsey Earner-Byrne, University College Dublin, Ireland

5. ‘Having an Immoral Conversation’ and Other Prison Offenses: The Punishment of Convict Women; Elaine Farrell, Queens University Belfast, Northern Ireland

6. Poverty, Alcohol, and the Women of the State Inebriate Reformatory in Ireland, 1900-1918; Conor Reidy, University of Limerick, Ireland

7. Gendered Speech and Engendering Citizenship in the Irish Free State: Ordinary Women and County Clare District Courts, 1932-1934; Brigittine French, Grinnell College, USA

8. Girls, the Body, and Sexual Knowledge in Modern Ireland; Cara Delay, College of Charleston, USA

9. ‘What Nobody Does Now’: Imaginative Resistance of Rural Laboring Women; Christina S. Brophy, Triton College, USA

10. ‘All I Had Left Were My Words’: The Widow’s Curse in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Ireland; E. Moore Quinn, College of Charleston, USA

ISBN  9781137513137


‘Brophy and Delay’s eclectic mix of historical essays provide accounts of struggles faced, and lives lived, by mná na hÉireann (the women of Ireland). Each essay can be read either as active engagement in, or resistance to, social, legal and cultural reform in modern Ireland. Covering a diverse range of themes from philanthropy –both as actors and agents- deviant behavior, criminality, patriarchy and folk beliefs, the entire social spectrum finds representation in this lively read, which will appeal to scholars of Irish studies, gender, and world histories alike.’ Ciara Breathnach, Lecturer in History, University of Limerick, Ireland

‘This collection of essays offers a fresh and insightful exploration of women’s lives in Ireland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Including work by historians and anthropologists it provides enlightening studies of how the interactions between middle class and poorer women shaped both the nature of power between them, and also the character of their resistance to wider economic and social pressures…These essays provide a sense of the complexity of Irish women’s lives within a dramatically changing social, economic and political period of Irish history.’ Maria Luddy, Professor of History, University of Warwick, England

‘The historians in this collection provide rich narratives of how the forces of modernization resulted in increased surveillance and stifling regulation of women and girls in late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century Ireland. Yet the central achievement of these scholars is the attention they give to the resilience of the women they document: their strategies of resistance, subversion and even rebellion. The archives used for documentary sources in this book are more varied than generally mined by Irish historians and the deft deployment of theoretical concepts is also not routinely found in Irish history writing. Perhaps most impressive is that the scholars are as attentive to how class inflects, constrains and demarcates differing female experiences as much as they are focused on the discourses of gender. The essays gathered here are not ‘women’s history’ in that they don’t seek to add an account of what women did to the dominant narrative of Irish history. The scholars in this collection provide a consummate example of how feminist historiography not merely adds nuance or complicates received historical accounts but radically challenges the unreflective assumptions of much Irish history writing: their work provides new ground from which to gain a perspective on how lives were lived, and what lives mattered in post-Famine Ireland.’ Katherine O’Donnell, Senior Lecturer, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin, Ireland

‘This is a coherent and very stimulating collection of essays. It makes an innovative and fresh contribution to Irish historical studies. Drawing on the multi-disciplined approaches of historians, folklorists and literary scholars, the volume interrogates the notion of Irish women as passive victims of church and state. It documents the complex and, often, surprising ways in which women responded to the challenges of post-Famine Irish society. The volume is essential reading for students of modern Irish history.’ Mary O’Dowd, Professor of Gender History, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland

‘Christina Brophy and Cara Delay have brought together a dazzling array of writers who produced a challenging set of essays, all of which give Irish women agency and voice. Whether think about family, religion, the criminal justice system, sexuality or citizenship, these articles challenge and inform, rightfully making the women who come alive in these pages powerful historical actors.’ Hasia R. Diner, Director, Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History, New York University, USA