The Most Controversial Poster In Dublin On The Outbreak Of The First World War
A brilliantly succinct message from the Irish Women’s Franchise League after the outbreak of the Great War was, for a few weeks in 1914, the most controversial poster in Dublin. Read on to find out who made it, where it was used, and what the reaction was.
What’s the story with the poster?
The Irish Citizen was a newspaper published by the Irish Women’s Franchise League. It came about because all the existing newspapers refused to publish articles or letters about the campaign for votes for women. It was edited by Francis Sheehy Skeffington, the husband of Hanna, co-founder of the League. All articles submitted were published, no matter which suffrage organisation they came from or whether they disagreed with the perspective of the League.
On the 4th of August 1914, war was declared by Great Britain and its allies, against Germany, and the First World War began. An issue of The Irish Citizen was due out just a few days later on the 8th. It featured a Stop the War opinion piece on the front page, highlighted by a thick border.
A week later, when it seemed like ‘stopping’ was no longer an option, the message changed to ‘damning’. The poster, made to promote the next issue on the 15th of August, shocked many. It was Francis’ work, as editor, and he went as far as sticking one up his own front gate, to his neighbours’ dismay. The poster was controversial enough that some street sellers of papers must have voiced their concern, since in the following issue of The Irish Citizen, the front page column dealt with this. There had apparently been no trouble with people using that poster to sell the paper, and in fact, it had been so popular, that the League were now printing more of them. This time there were even sticky backs, to facilitate faster dispersal around the city!
What happened to the suffragettes’ campaign once war began?
It is worth noting that, even though the submissions of all different kinds of suffrage societies were published in The Irish Citizen, this stance on the war did not reflect the attitude of any society except the Irish Women’s Franchise League. Most suffrage campaigns were put on hold and other militant societies decided to suspend their protest activities as there was no likelihood of a bill coming before parliament during a war. The many societies which had sprung up turned to relief efforts instead, such as supporting Belgian refugees who had come to rural Ireland, and otherwise concentrating on local efforts, such as advocating for more women at local government level. In London, Sylvia Pankhurst advocated taking advantage of the employment opportunities that wartime provided, and switched the focus of her campaigning from suffrage to equal pay.
The Irish Women’s Franchise League, in contrast to these other suffrage societies, remained steadfastly pacifist and anti-war, and did not support the war relief effort. Hanna Sheehy Skeffington herself wrote a passionate column in The Irish Citizen shortly after the declaration of war, explaining why.
“Some of these tasks are noble, some ignoble, but all end for suffragists in a cul-de-sac. When the war is over we shall be gently but firmly put back in our place once more - on our pedestals… It is not for us to mitigate by one iota the horrors of war… fiddling with symptoms while the diseases rages unchecked. [we do not want to be] mopping up the blood and purifying the stench of the abattoir, but clearing away the whole rotten system. Until then it is our duty to press on with unabated energy, to increase our activities at this crisis, to preach peace, sanity, and suffrage.”
Ward, Margaret. ‘Irish suffrage and the First World War’ in Becoming Citizens (2018 edition).