Goodnight Stories for Repeal Girls
It’s pretty hard right now for people taking part in the Yes campaign. The streets and roads are filled after dinner time with women knocking on doors and asking for their human rights. Rain or shine, they are pounding the pavements, and finding the mental and physical energy from somewhere to tell their stories to an audience that can be uncaring, unreceptive, and uninterested. This bedtime story is for them.
Once upon a time there was a girl called Anna. She was born in 1829 in Youghal in County Cork, and she had sixteen brothers and sisters! Anna’s Mom and Dad believed that people should all be treated the same, no matter whether they were a man or a woman, and Anna grew up being friends with lots of people who thought the same way. One of her best friends later was a woman called Susan B. Anthony, who also thought that equality was very important.
When Anna grew up, she became a teacher. She met another teacher called Thomas and really liked him, so they got married and they decided to live in Dublin. She opened a shop that sold paper and pencils, and earned enough money to support both herself and Thomas. They decided not to have any children, but to spend all of their free time working to make Ireland a more equal place for people to live in.
One of the most important things that had to happen was giving women the right to vote. When Anna was 37 years old, a man called John Stuart Mill organised a letter to be sent to the politicians in parliament asking for the right for women to vote. 1500 people signed the bottom of the letter, and Anna was one of those names. This was one of the first times that a lot of people had asked the government to think about this, and although it didn’t work the first time, it encouraged them to keep trying until something did work.
Anna and Thomas didn’t lose hope, and the next thing they tried was starting a new newspaper. It was called The Women’s Advocate, and it was important because the main newspapers at the time didn’t think that women voting was a very important issue at all, and they wouldn’t write anything about it. This new newspaper would let lots of people print great ideas about equality, and lots of other people would get to read them and be inspired.
Soon after this, Anna and Thomas had another idea. They thought it would be good if people who thought equality was important were able to meet up regularly and plan projects that would help. They called the new group the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Association, and they ran it for nearly forty years. Everyone was welcome to join this group - it didn’t matter where you were from or what religion you were. They did things like invite people who knew a lot about campaigning for women’s votes to come and visit them. They went around Dublin distributing copies of their newspaper to libraries and shops, and they sent their own members to big meetings abroad where people were discussing equality so that they could bring home new ideas. They also sent lots more of their own letters into the government, asking them to give women the vote, and getting thousands of people to sign their names to the bottom.
It took a very long time for the government to agree that women should be able to vote. In fact, when it finally did happen, and Anna was able to cast her vote in Dublin in the 1918 General Election, she was nearly ninety years old. Everyone was delighted that she had lived long enough to see her many years of hard work rewarded.
In all of those years, she had never missed a single meeting of her Association. Even though many, many people told her that she was wrong to think that equality was important, she kept going. People made up jokes about her and her friends, and drew nasty pictures of them in the newspapers. Her church told her that she and Thomas couldn’t be members anymore because of the work they were doing to help women be more equal to men. Politicians told her that she would be better off spending her time helping Ireland to separate from England, or the other way around! But Anna kept going, because she knew herself that it was the right thing to do.
When she did finally get to cast her vote in 1918, which was exactly 100 years ago, she sat in a fancy car with a beautiful bunch of flowers on her lap. It was very unusual to have a car at all at that time! She was accompanied by lots of men and women from all types of backgrounds and different political parties, who came together to honour her role in winning the right to vote for women, and who walked alongside and behind the car together, just like a parade. It must have been a very happy day for Anna, and it was a certainly a very happy day for women in Ireland!
*The format of this blogpost is based on the incredible books Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls which is available in two volumes. They are affordable, accessible, and all round amazing.