Contesting Politics: Women in Ireland, North and South

By Yvonne Galligan; Eilís Ward et al. | Go to book overview

12
Shaping the Nation: Women in the Free State Parliament, 1923-1937

MARY CLANCY

In this chapter I first consider the generation of women who were elected to Parliament in the Irish Free State in relation to legislation concerning gender issues. I suggest that two significant, diametrically opposed factors within political culture at the time influenced women's participation in the parliamentary process. First, legislative reform on the part of the British administration over the decades raised the confidence and expectations of a particular constituency of feminists and equal rights campaigners. Second, separatist nationalism provided a contrasting source of optimism for women operating outside the British framework in promising measures of equality of citizenship, irrespective of gender, in the postrevolutionary state.

Notwithstanding the more complex realities of political life in the immediate aftermath of an often embittered post-civil war society, it is useful to understand the source of ideas about equality in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of the women who moved into formal political life in the early years of the state came from a nationalist rather than a reform or women's-rights background. A significant minority of these women, however, did take an interest in equality. And that unanimity about the role of women was evident on occasion and transcended the civil-war division is one of the more surprising findings of a study of the period.

Following an introduction to the historical context of the period, I will examine the contributions made by women parliamentarians during the 1920s and 1930s. Particular attention will be paid to the passage, through both houses of Parliament, of bills that sought to define the position of women: the Juries Act, the Civil Service Amendment Act, the

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