irishhistory

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.

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.