Was The First Daffodil Day A Fundraiser For Women's Rights?
In this week’s post we are looking at one weekend in April 1914, when the Irish Women’s Franchise League organised a fundraising festival in Molesworth St. It has been popularised online and in print as ‘the first Daffodil Day’. But was it?
What did they need money for?
The Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL) was a force to be reckoned with when fundraising. In fairness, they carried out a lot of activities and all of these things cost money. They produced The Irish Citizen newspaper for a start - regularly printing and distributing copies around the city. They held rallies and meetings, renting rooms and larger venues to do so. They paid the travel expenses of famous pro-suffrage speakers, and then hosted them in Dublin for events. They wrote endless letters and petitions to government representatives, and paid for ink, paper, envelopes, and stamps as required. The list went on.
To raise money for this, they had a few different income streams. A big one was selling advertising in their newspaper. Another one was the tea and snacks (and probably gifts and souvenirs) that they sold in their café on Westmoreland Street. And in April 1914 they held a big fundraiser day that they called The Great Daffodil Fête.
What did they do on this special fundraising day - did they sell daffodils?
The advertisement for the day that appeared in the newspapers described what your entrance fee would get you. See the first image above for the executive summary! Another edition of the newspaper that month (April 1914) ran a column by Margaret Cousins giving more detail. The “feminist tableaux” were still scenes from history portrayed by members of the IWFL in costume. The scenes chosen were those involving remarkable women - for example, Constance Markievicz played Joan of Arc (above in image). There were also tableaux featuring Queen Maeve, Florence Nightingale, and Sappho, as well as some reflecting modern suffragette struggles. The motivation behind this activity was to show that women had conquered before, and therefore would again.
The decoration of the hall with yellow flowers and green leaves was intended to show the power women had in transforming a space. As Margaret put it, this was as important to achieve in the Home Office as it was in a local fête. The daffodils themselves were fresh as well as crafted from paper. Hot drinks and cakes were available to buy, and their availability also proved that these suffragettes were real women, and not ‘unsexed females’ as they were labelled in other media outlets. Margaret also took this opportunity to highlight the irony that the people who were responsible for feeding the nation had no influence in the sphere of food related laws or taxation.
There was also a market where fruit, vegetables, eggs, jams, sweets, cakes, and books could be bought. Music was played during the day by ‘A Special Orchestra of Women’, and at night there was a dance which was separately ticketed. A play written by Francis Sheehy Skeffington was premiered - it was called ‘The Home-Coming’ (later ‘The Prodigal Daughter’).
The whole thing took place in Molesworth Hall on Molesworth St in Dublin over the two days of a weekend.
Let’s dispel some popular modern reports about this being the ‘first Daffodil Day’.
This Great Daffodil Fête of 1914 has often been portrayed as the ‘first Daffodil Day’ with comparisons being drawn to the modern cancer charity event which takes place once a year (please do support this initiative too when it rolls around in Spring!). In fact, we’ve never seen it referred to as anything else but ‘the first Daffodil Day’, whether in standard texts, blogposts, or other online sources. But there are a few points to make here which show that it really holds nothing in common with that fundraiser beyond the use of a daffodil in the name.
Many Daffodil Fêtes were held in Great Britain and Ireland in the Edwardian period. All of them were fundraisers held in Spring. All of them were modelled along the same lines - some market stalls with books, jams, and jumble, some music playing, and sometimes a dance. Money was raised for war relief, for schools, for hospitals, or anything that needed an injection of cash. Daffodils themselves were not sold at any of them. The daffodil in the name referred only to the choice of floral decoration reflecting the time of year.
The Dublin suffragettes were not inventing something new. They were doing the opposite - they were inserting themselves into a well-known tradition of charity festivals. They adopted this familiar template for their fundraiser as part of a strategy to present themselves as a friendly force for the good (rather than a threatening force for uncertain change), and as women of good society who knew how things were done well (rather than the un-women they were portrayed as in the press). Like every other part of the day, the adoption of the Daffodil Fête as an event was deliberate and purposeful. It was held as a fundraiser, and made money for sure, but the real point was to show Dublin suffragettes as reasonable women with approachable and adoptable ideas. Margaret Cousins put it in the speech she wrote to open to Fête - it was “an opportunity of seeing suffragettes in other than their political and militant garb”. It was an exercise in propaganda.