herstory

SR DR MAURA LYNCH / Medical missionary

Image Source: Fistula Care Plus

Image Source: Fistula Care Plus

Sr Dr Maura Lynch, 1938–2017

Medical missionary

In Uganda on 9 December 2017, a celebration was planned for the golden jubilee of the arrival in Africa of Youghal-born Sr Dr Maura Lynch, who devoted her life to improving the lives of African women. Sadly, she died suddenly in Kampala on that very day.

Maura was the fourth of the nine children of a teacher and a post office employee, and the family moved frequently. She joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary at the age of 17. She studied medicine in UCD and came in the top three in her graduating class in 1965, and received a gold medal for surgery. She completed a Diploma in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in London in 1966 and a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Public Health in Lisbon in 1967. She would return to Dublin in 1985 to train as a surgeon.

Having completed her medical training, she left for Chiulo Mission Hospital in Angola, where she had to work across the range of medicine, surgery, obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics, and work as a lecturer and examiner in the Nurses Training School. She and only one other medical Sister had the care of 200 patients, many of whom suffered from TB, leprosy, or injuries sustained during the Angolan civil war. She and her colleagues risked their lives travelling the rough terrain of southern Angola by bicycle, sheltering in the undergrowth as aerial bombings pummelled the ground around them.

In 1987, she was assigned to Kitovu Mission Hospital in Uganda as a consultant surgeon, obstetrician and gynaecologist. There, she conducted her pioneering obstetric fistula repair work, performing over 1,000 procedures between 1993 and 2007. In the words of Professor Bill Powderly, former Dean of UCD School of Medicine, it is ‘an astonishing record that one can confidently say will never be bettered’.

Sr Dr Maura found her vocation in obstetrics, and developed a love of Uganda and its people. It must have been hugely gratifying to her, then, to receive a unique Certificate of Residency for Life from the Ugandan government in recognition of her work. She was a founding member of the Association of Surgeons of East Africa, and pioneered innovative training programmes in obstetric fistula repair. She fundraised for a centre of excellence in the treatment of obstetric fistula in St Joseph’s Hospital, Kitovu; it opened in April 2005.

Her accolades were many. In 2009, she was nominated by the United Nations Population Fund (Uganda) as a leader in the fight against fistula; in 2013, she received an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology; and in 2015, she was awarded the prestigious Council of Europe’s North–South Prize. She called for better education of girls and of medical staff to help the estimated 50–100,000 women affected annually by obstetric fistula, which is also linked to obstructed labour, reducing perinatal deaths. The 28-bed unit and dedicated operating theatre she established performs 250 operations per year; women are treated for free and, should they go on to become mothers, are offered free antenatal care and caesarean delivery.

Those who knew her spoke of her sense of fun, and her boundless energy; in 2013, she participated in a six-mile run to raise €5,000 for an overhead lamp for the operating theatre. Her position as a champion of African women’s healthcare is best expressed in the name given to her by her Ugandan patients: ‘Nakimuli’, meaning ‘Beautiful Flower’.

Sources: Joanna Lyall, ‘Maura Lynch: Fistula Fighter and Nun’, British Medical Journal, 360 (23 Mar. 2018); Irish Times, 23 Dec. 2017; ‘Sr. & Dr. Maura Lynch (1938–2017)’, https://digitalheritagecollections.rcsi.ie/rcsiwomen/sr-dr-maura-lynch-1938-2017/;‘Sr Dr Maura Lynch (1938–2017): Nakimuli–Beautiful Flower’, http://www.ucd.ie/medicine/ourcommunity/ouralumni/alumniprofilesinterviews/srdrmauralynch/.

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

AMY 'AMMA' CARMICHAEL / Missionary

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Amy ‘Amma’ Carmichael,1867–1951

Missionary

Amy Carmichael was born into a prosperous, middle-class Ulster Presbyterian family, but when her father died in 1885, her education came to an abrupt halt. From an early age she was involved in holding Bible meetings for children, and organised classes for ‘shawlies’, the mill-girls of Belfast. These were so successful that as a result, The Welcome hall, built by donations, opened in January 1889.

Amy and her mother were invited to continue their charitable work in Manchester in 1889, but this was cut short due to Amy’s ill-health. Later,she recalled: ‘I was deep in slums when I was 17. ’Amy was strongly influenced by the Quaker Robert Wilson, who she met in Belfast in 1887. They shared a commitment to religion and missionary work, and had an unusual relationship: she took the place of his deceased daughter, while Amy referred to him as ‘Fatherie’. She lived at his home in Cumberland, helping with his religious work, leading the weekly Scripture Union, and writing her first book, Bright Words.

Amy experienced a ‘call’ to missionary work, and in March 1893, she left with the Evangelistic Band to spend just over a year in Japan, where she struggled greatly to learn the language, but convinced her fellow missionaries to adopt traditional Japanese dress. She left Japan for Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) due to illness in July 1894, but quickly returned to England after receiving news that ‘Fatherie’ had had a stroke.

In spring 1895, she applied to the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society. Although not an Anglican, she was accepted, and sailed for India in October, taking leave of ‘Fatherie’ for the last time. She arrived in India suffering from dengue fever, but threw herself into studying Tamil. She formed her own group of mission sisters who spent seven years travelling around southern India before settling at Dohnavur, where Amy would remain for the next six decades.

At Dohnavur, she established a Christian community focused on reforming the Hindu practice of devadasis, the ceremonial marriage of young girls to a temple deity. After forty years, the community had 800 residents, served by nurseries, schools, a hospital, and a house of prayer. It was modelled on a familial structure, and missionaries contributed to teaching, nursing, engineering and farming. She insisted that Dohnavur workers should not expect a salary since the organisation never actively fund-raised.

Amy’s ideal was that ‘Indian and European, men and women, live and work together [...] each contributing what each has for the help of all.’ She expressed some sensitivity to Hindu traditions, but occasionally paternalistically attempted to control the lives of adult residents and workers. She avoided providing sex education to the young people in her care, seemingly in an attempt to prevent ‘arousal’. For Carmichael, no material improvement in living conditions was worth having if not attended by Christianity.

Amy published 38 books, mostly relating to Dohnavur, many of which were translated into other languages. She was unconventional, passionately committed to her work, and wore Indian dress. In 1919, she was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal for Public Service in India. Devadasis was finally outlawed with the passage of a 1947 act by the Madras state parliament. The work at Dohnavur continues, however, to protect vulnerable children. Today, all fellowship members are Indian nationals, and the hospital treats patients of all faiths and classes.

Sources: Elisabeth Elliot, A Chance to Die:The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael (Fleming H. Revell, 1987);Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online edition; Margaret Wilkinson, I Remember Amy Carmichael ([for the author],1996); Amy Carmichael,The Widow of the Jewels( [1928] SPCK, 1950)

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

HARIOT GEORGINA HAMILTON-TEMPLE-BLACKWOOD, LADY DUFFERIN / Philanthropist, author, vicereine of India

Image Source: Virtual Museum of Canada

Image Source: Virtual Museum of Canada

Hariot Georgina Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Lady Dufferin, 1843–1936

Philanthropist, author, vicereine of India

Scattered around Myanmar, India and Pakistan stood a series of hospitals bearing the name of Lady Dufferin, an Anglo-Irish heiress who married, at the age of just 19, a man who became one of Britain’s most senior diplomats, governor-general in Canada, and viceroy in India. So much more than a diplomatic wife, Lady Dufferin left a particular legacy in India through her National Association for Supplying Female Medical Aid to the Women of India, better known as the Dufferin Fund.

The Dufferins arrived in India as viceroy and vicereine in December 1884, having previously lived in Canada and in St Petersburg, where they witnessed the anarchist terror campaign and the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. Dufferin quickly established a busy routine in India, taking lessons in Hindustani and in photography, and devoting much time to the establishment and running of her Fund. Her letters to her mother reveal her appreciation for the extent of the undertaking, and her trepidation on the occasion of the public launch: ‘I don’t in the least mind the work, but I sometimes shudder over the publicity and wish it were a quieter little affair.’ She gently but persistently pressed for funds at every opportunity, accepting donations from the Maharajas of Kashmir and Jeypore, holding a sports day and a Jubilee collection that elicited 400 pledges. The Fund doubtlessly saved lives and achieved its stated aim of alleviating the suffering of Indian women through childbirth and illness. However, it was not immune from criticism. Contemporary campaigners for equality for female doctors highlighted the Fund’s focus on zenana women to the detriment of non-zenana women, particularly lower-caste and working-class Indian women (who could not observe purdah due to the economic necessity of working outside the home).

Zenana women occupied the greater place in the minds of Victorian philanthropists and medical missionaries, who focused on the seclusion that denied them access to doctors and hospitals; Dufferin hospital boards debated issues like enclosing the buildings so that zenana women could move around freely inside without compromising their seclusion by being visible through a window, for example. Dufferin, during her time in India, remained assured of the necessity of the work by the testimony of Indian leaders who described to her the strict requirements of purdah: ‘in the harems in Scinde not even a man’s picture is admitted, much less a live doctor [...].’

She was disappointed when her husband was recalled to London, and described her tearful leave-taking on the steps of their residence. In 1907, its 23rd year, the Fund had 12 provincial branches, 140 local and district associations, and 260 hospital wards and dispensaries officered by women, who delivered care to over 2 million women and children. Working for the Fund were 48 ‘lady doctors with British qualifications,’ 90 assistant surgeons, and ‘311 hospital assistants with Indian qualifications.’ Subscriptions and donations in that year, to the UK branch alone, totalled over £4000. The Fund was very popular with colonial administrators, fundraised successfully in both India and the UK, and was popular among the Indian conservative elite.

Another important legacy of Dufferin’s initiative was its role in helping British and Irish women enter the medical profession. Zenana hospitals, for all their ethical problems, were in their early years an important source of employment for British women, who had few other opportunities to practice. The first woman to both train and qualify at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dr Mary Josephine Hannan, worked at the Dufferin Hospitals in Ulwar and Shikarpur in the 1890s.

Sources: Marchioness of Dufferin & Ava,Our Viceregal Life in India: Selections from my Journal( 2 vols, John Murray, 1889); ‘India’, British Medical Journal, 2, no. 2494 (29 Aug. 1908), 625; Samiksha Sehrawat, ‘Feminising Empire: the Association of Medical Women in India and the Campaign to Found a Women's Medical Service’,Social Scientist, 41,no. 5/6 (May–June 2013), 65–81 .

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

ELIZABETH GURLY FLYNN / Activist, president of the American Communist Party

Image Source: ThoughtCo

Image Source: ThoughtCo

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, 1890–1964

Activist, president of American Communist Party

While Mother Jones started her activist life approaching 60 years of age, Gurley Flynn started hers as a 16-year-old schoolgirl, calling on American workers to rise in front of a red flag on a makeshift stage on a New York street corner. Quickly becoming a ‘jawsmith’ (orator) for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), she was devoted to women, the working class, anti-racism, and anti-capitalism. Gurley Flynn was dedicated to women’s rights but saw feminism as bourgeois. She was a key figure in a generation of activists who saw class-based organization as key to the emancipation of women. She believed that women could never be free under capitalism; that only socialism could eradicate poverty and women’s economic dependence on men. She exemplifies intersectional feminism, recognising that the universal category of woman did not acknowledge the additional struggles faced by African American women, for example.

Gurley Flynn’s Irish parents were committed socialists and atheists, who imbued their children with a hatred of capitalism and empire. Annie Gurley encouraged her daughters to aspire to meaningful careers; she continued to work as a seamstress after marriage, at times supporting the household. While Gurley Flynn married at nineteen and had a son, this never defined her and she was determined to be financially self-sufficient (except during her ten-year relationship with the physician, Dr Marie Equi, when she rarely left their Portland home).

As a single parent, with the support of her mother and sister, she maintained her political commitments and gruelling schedule of US-wide public talks. When she started her career with the IWW (or ‘Wobblies’), workplace disputes commonly involved violence, long-drawn-out strikes, and lockouts. She was a brilliant strategist who pioneered new tactics, such as getting workers to sit idle at their machines, which eliminated ‘scab’ labour and prevented lockouts.

By 1910, she was the leading woman in the IWW. She also began to publicly advocate for women’s access to birth control, when it was still illegal to advertise such products in the press. In 1936, after a ten-year hiatus in Portland, Gurley Flynn returned to New York and joined the Communist Party, rising rapidly through its ranks. During the Cold War, communists were harassed and imprisoned as ‘un-American’. Gurley Flynn was one of over 100 communists imprisoned for their views in the 1950s, spending 28 months in the maximum-security wing of Alderson Female Penitentiary, West Virginia, in 1955–7. She had been in a similar position in 1917, when she and other members of the IWW were charged with ‘seditious conspiracy’, a charge next to treason.

American anti-communism only made Gurley Flynn more resolute in her commitment to freedom of speech and political association. She supported deportees who, under the 1918 Immigration Act, were summarily expelled as ‘alien anarchists’ without warning, and without their families. World War II gave American communists a brief reprieve, thanks to the alliance between the USA and the USSR. Gurley Flynn used this time to build a national platform and a wide support base, and to pursue feminist goals.

Her aims as director of the Women’s Commission of the Communist Party included the representation of women at all levels within the Party ‘against all concepts of male superiority’, and the full enfranchisement of African Americans and poorer women. Fascism, as she saw it, placed women in a subordinate position, so she framed gender equality as anti-fascist against the backdrop of millions of ‘Rosie the Riveters’ filling vacant jobs in factories. By 1943, 50% of the Party’s membership was female.

In 1961, she became the first woman elected head of the American Communist Party. She died on her second visit to Moscow in 1964. Lauded as a heroine in the USSR, she was given a full state funeral and Nina Khrushcheva was one of her pallbearers. Half of her ashes were buried by the Kremlin walls; the other half were conveyed to Chicago. Perhaps too-willing to believe that the ideals to which she had committed her life had been realised in the USSR, she never questioned Soviet propaganda about the quality of women’s lives under communism.

Sources: Lara Vapnek, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: Modern American Revolutionary (Westview Press, 2015); Obituary, New York Times, 6 Sept. 1964.

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

MABEL ESMONDE CAHILL / US Open tennis champion, writer, actor

Image source: International Tennis Hall of Fame

Image source: International Tennis Hall of Fame

Mabel Esmonde Cahill, 1863–1905

US Open tennis champion, writer, actor

Mabel was twelfth of the thirteen children of landowner and barrister Michael Cahill of Ballyconra House, Ballyragget and his wife, Margaret Mangan. Margaret died in c.1875, and Michael married Elizabeth Netterville a year later. According to Michael’s will, Elizabeth had ‘shamefully deserted’ him by 1877. When Mabel and her siblings were orphaned, she and at least two others were attending Roscrea School; three older brothers had previously emigrated to California.

By 1886, Mabel had moved to Dublin and was actively involved in the genteel sport of lawn tennis. Twenty-six-year-old Mabel arrived in New York City in October 1889. Shortly afterwards, she joined the city tennis club, and quickly gained notice. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle stated, ‘the severity of her play is the terror of opponents of her own sex.’ In 1891, she entered the US Open tennis championship, but lost the final to the defending champion, Ellen Roosevelt. She was vindicated in the following year, when she became the first non-American–and the only Irish person ever–to win a US Open title. She also became the first player ever to win the singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles in the same year, and was described as‘the foremost racquet wielder in America.’

Tennis fans may have been disappointed that she did not defend her titles in the 1893 US Open and that, by 1896, she had ‘dropped tennis entirely for equestrianism’. It is not clear how Cahill supported herself financially. While she may have had a stipend from her father’s estate, this cannot have been substantial due to the size of the family. Her writing may, therefore, have been a response to financial need. In 1891, she published a romantic novel, Her Playthings, Men, followed a year later by the shorter works Carved in Marble( 1892) and Purple Sparkling (1892). Playthings was light and insubstantial, and its commercial failure may have disappointed her. She had little more success as a journalist, publishing articles on‘The Art of Playing Good Tennis’ and ‘Arranging a Tennis Tournament’ in the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1893.

In 1896, she took a lawsuit against a New York police officer who refused to take seriously her complaints about repeated harassment and physical assaults by gangs of small boys. In evidence, the defendant said that ‘the boys called her a new woman [...] and that she wore a striking costume.’ Whether due to poverty or illness, Mabel spent the final years of her life in a manner very different to her genteel upbringing. A woman of the same name and similar age is recorded in various English workhouses in 1897, 1900, and 1905.

Attempting to support herself, she continued to publish occasionally in magazines, and acted on the London stage, taking a case against a theatre manager over earnings. A woman of her name, age, and occupation (journalist) died in the workhouse at Ormskirk, Lancashire, of phthisis laryngeal (tuberculosis of the larynx), on 2 February 1905. When, in 1936, the Irish Lawn Tennis Association placed an advertisement in the national press requesting that she, or a representative, claim a gold medallion struck in her honour, it took three months for a family member to come forward. The medal was never struck. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1976. Despite her standard-setting record,her life story was, until recently, shrouded in mystery.

Sources: Early California Wills (The California Society, 1952), I, 78, transcribed at Cal Data Nook, SF Genealogy, http://www.sfgenealogy.org; Mark Ryan ‘Mabel Cahill’, https://www.tennisforum.com/59-blast-past/1042881-mabel-cahill-lawn-tennis-champion-writer-stage-actress.html; Dictionary of Irish Biography online edition;Wright & Ditson's Lawn Tennis Guide (1892), 173–4;Irish Independent, 1 Aug. 1936;Kilkenny People, 5 June 1937; International Tennis Hallof Fame, ‘Mabel Cahill’, https://www.tennisfame.com/hall-of-famers/inductees/mabel-cahill

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

CYNTHIA LONGFIELD / Entomologist, world traveller

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Cynthia Longfield, 1896–1991

Entomologist and world traveller

Cynthia Longfield, ‘Madam Dragonfly’, was born in London in 1896 to Anglo-Irish parents. The family divided their time between London and the ancestral home in Cloyne, Co. Cork, where she enjoyed roaming the countryside. Her early love of nature and insects grew into a lifelong passion, and she became a leading authority on dragonflies and damselflies. Longfield’s interest in the sciences was fostered in childhood, with her mother’s encouragement. She was inspired at an early age by reading about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and his Beaglevoyage of 1831–6. She later wrote, ‘I went on the St George expedition to follow Darwin’s footsteps–and I got there!’ She absorbed the importance of fieldwork and travel, both of which played important roles in her life and in her scientific work.

It was in 1921, during her first overseas tour–taking in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Panama,Jamaica and Cuba–that her passion for entomology blossomed. In 1924, she participated in the St George scientific expedition, an 18-month-long re-enactment of Darwin’s Beaglevoyage, taking in Coiba, Cocos Island, the Galapogos, the Marquesas, the Tuamotu Archipelago and Tahiti. During the expedition, Longfield collected moths, beetles and butterflies for the Natural History Museum in London. Following this, she worked, unpaid, as a cataloguer at the museum, where she had responsibility for the dragonfly collection. Her personal circumstances freed her from the need for paid employment. She would remain in this post for 30 years, but continued to travel the world in search of specimens.

In 1927, she participated in a six-month-long scientific expedition in the Mato Grosso, Brazil, where she collected 38 species of dragonfly, three of which were new species. She went on to make scientific expeditions to south-east Asia in 1929, where she collected hundreds of moths and butterflies; to Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and South Africa in 1934, where she travelled alone and identified six new species of butterfly and dragonfly; and to Cape Town and Zimbabwe in 1937.

She was forced to return to London when she contracted malaria in 1937, and was prevented from returning to Africa by the outbreak of World War II. During the war, she volunteered for the Auxiliary Fire Service in London. She had previously worked with the Royal Army Service Corps and in an aeroplane factory during World War I. Longfield did not limit herself to quietly cataloguing species in the museum. She regularly published her findings, sat on museum committees, and was a member of the Entomological Society, the Royal Geographical Society, and the London Natural History Society.

In 1937, she published the sell-out The Dragonflies of the British Isles, which became the standard handbook on the topic. She retired from London’s Natural History Museum in 1956 and returned to Cloyne, but never stopped travelling or studying entomology. Two dragonfly species were named in her honour: Corphaeschnalongfieldae (Brazil) and Agrionopter insignis cynthiae (Tanimbar Islands). She donated her personal archive and library, some 500 volumes, to the Royal Irish Academy in 1979, and her Irish specimen collection to the Natural History Museum in Dublin.

Sources:Jane Hayter-Hames,Madam Dragonfly: The Life and Times of Cynthia Longfield( Pentland Press, 1991);Dictionary of Irish Biography online edition; Royal Irish Academy Longfield Collection.

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

PROFESSOR DAME KATHLEEN LONSDALE / X-ray crystallographer, pacifist

kathleen lonsdale.jpg

Professor Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, 1903–1971

X-ray crystallographer, pacifist

Kathleen Yardley was born in Co. Kildare in 1903, the youngest of ten children. Her Scottish mother and Irish father had an unhappy marriage; the family was wretchedly poor, four of the ten children died, and their postmaster father abused alcohol. By 1908, her parents separated, and Kathleen and her surviving siblings were brought to Essex by their mother.

Kathleen excelled through elementary and high school. She entered Bedford College, University of London aged 16, where she chose to read physics because, like Kay McNulty, she was worried that the only career open to women maths graduates was teaching–something she did not wish to do. In 1922, she achieved the highest grades in the BSc exams that had been seen at University of London for ten years and, as a result, was invited to join Nobel physicist Professor William Bragg’s research school. The post brought an income of £180 per year, with which Kathleen helped her family. She was the only woman in a group of international researchers. She collaborated with international scientists to produce theI nternational Tablesor ‘crystallographer’s bible’, comprehensive tables for determining crystalstructure.

In 1927, Kathleen married Thomas Lonsdale. Contrary to her expectation that he might wish her to assume a traditional domestic role, he encouraged her to continue her scientific research. In 1929, she made her first major discovery, solving an important question that scientists had been arguing over for sixty years: she demonstrated conclusively that the benzene ring was flat. Her later contributions to science included important investigations into natural and synthetic diamonds.

By 1931, Kathleen and Thomas had two children. She worked on calculations at home for a time, until Sir William Bragg intervened to secure her return to professional research by creating a position for her at the Royal Institution, including provision for childcare. She worked there for 15 years. In the 1940s, she gained the recognition she so richly reserved. In May 1945, she became one of the first two women elected Fellow of the Royal Society, 300 years after the Society’s foundation. A year later, she was appointed reader in crystallography at University College London, and in 1949, she became the first woman professor at the university. She was also the first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography.

During this time, she developed interests outside of the sciences. A Quaker by convincement, she conscientiously objected to registering for civil defence service during World War II and, refusing on principle to pay a fine of £2, she spent a month in Holloway Prison. Her husband later reflected that prison was the single most formative experience of her life, fostering a lifelong interest in penal reform. She became president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and published many articles on pacifism. Her 1957 book, Is Peace Possible? cites Martin Luther King’s non-violent civil rights movement, and–as co-founder of the Pugwash Movement and the Atomic Scientists’ Association–warns of the danger of nuclear weapons and the problems presented by the disposal of nuclear waste. She was a witty person. When, in 1966, a rare form of hexagonal diamond was named lonsdaleite in her honour, she wrote: ‘It makes me feel both proud and rather humble [...]the name seems appropriate since the mineral only occurs in very small quantities... and it is generally rather mixed up!’

Lonsdale made important scientific contributions, published prolifically, and worked tirelessly for humanitarian goals. She advocated for women in science, publishing instructions on the topic in 1970–her first piece of advice was to choose a supportive husband, as she had.

Sources:Dorothy M.C. Hodgkin, ‘Kathleen Lonsdale, 28 January 1903–1 April 1971,Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 21 (Nov. 1975), 447–84; Peter Childs and Anne Mac Lellan, ‘The Stuff of Diamonds in Lab Coats and Lace,ed.Mary Mulvilhill (WITS, 2009), 145–155; Kathleen Lonsdale, ‘Is Peace Possible?’, in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing,ed.Angela Bourke (Cork University Press, 2002), IV, 648–52.

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

ALEEN ISABEL CUST / First woman veterinary surgeon in Britain & Ireland

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Aleen Isabel Cust, 1868–1937

First woman veterinary surgeon in Britain and Ireland

Aleen Cust was the daughter of a baronet, but a life of ease was not for her. When her father died in 1878, her new guardians–also aristocrats–encouraged her independent streak, and supported her decision to become a veterinary surgeon, despite her mother’s disapproval.

In 1894, enabled by a modest private income, she enrolled in the New Veterinary College, Edinburgh aged 26. She was an excellent student, coming top of her class in her first year. She completed her training in 1900, but was barred by gender from using the title ‘veterinary surgeon’. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) maintained that in their regulations, the word ‘student’ implied male student. She had excellent references, however, and was offered a position as assistant to William Byrne’s veterinary practice in Athleague, Co. Roscommon.

As Byrne’s assistant, Cust gained the respect of the people of Roscommon and east Galway. In 1905,when a vacancy arose for the position of veterinary inspector for Mountbellew District, she was elected by 14 council votes to 10, against two male candidates. Her appointment was contested by the Department of Agriculture on the basis that a woman could not be a member of the RCVS and therefore, she did not meet the requirements of the position. Galway County Council argued that no other trained and experienced veterinarian lived in the region, and in June 1906, her appointment was finally sanctioned by the Department.

Cust was hardworking and determined, but still needed the support of male allies who fought on her behalf. On the evening of her selection, Councillor J.C. McDonnell said, in response to the question of her qualifications, that the RCVS ‘would have to change their opinion and adopt later day ideas (hear hear).’ Despite these noble sentiments on the injustice of Cust’s disbarment from the RCVS, the irony went unremarked that they were 24 men voting on the professional fate of a woman. Not everyone agreed on ‘later day ideas’. The Western News editorialised: ‘The county council have made an appointment in the horse and brute kingdom which appears to us at least disgusting, if not absolutely indecent ... We can understand women educating themselves to tend women–but horses! Heavens!’

William Byrne died in 1910, and Cust took over his practice. In 1915, she took a leave of absence from her Galway County Council and drove her own car to Abbeville, France, to volunteer as veterinary to the tens of thousands of horses on the Western Front. The passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919 forbade the exclusion of women from professions, and meant that the RCVS were now obliged to consider Cust’s membership. She was finally awarded her diploma in December 1922. From the 1920s, Cust found the Irish Free State no longer congenial, stating: ‘things became so unsettled that I had to leave. When one has the house raided and half a dozen revolvers are pointed at one’s head, it seems time to come home. But they were rather polite.’ She retired to the New Forest, England, where she devoted herself to breeding spaniels, but continued to attend Veterinary Medical Society meetings.

She died on 29 January 1937 while visiting friends in Jamaica, and was buried there. She left a fortune of almost £30,000, from which £5,000 was endowed for a scholarship in veterinary research (with a preference for female candidates), and £100 for a kennel at the RCVS in memory of her spaniels. An obituary published in The Times stated that Cust was ‘as much a pioneer in her particular sphere as, for example, Mrs Pankhurst, of women’s suffrage fame, was in hers, and the opposition encountered was as great in the one as it was in the other.’

Sources:Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online edition; Belfast News-Letter, 3 Feb. 1937;Western People, 23 June 1906;Western News, 4 Nov. 1905;Irish Times, 5 Feb. 2018;Skibbereen Eagle, 27 Feb. 1915;Freeman’s Journal, 22 Dec. 1922;The Times, 8 Feb. 1937;will of Aleen Cust, quoted in Irish Examiner, 19 Apr. 1937.

Research by Dr Angela Byrne, DFAT Historian-in-Residence at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Featured in the exhibition 'Blazing a Trail: Lives and Legacies of Irish Diaspora Women', a collaboration between Herstory, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.