Women’s History Project

Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th - Century History, 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (Winter 1997), News, Volume 5

The Irish Association for Research in Women’s History was formed in 1988 to encourage research and publications in the field of women’s history. It is currently sponsoring the Women’s History Project. The WHP was set up on 1 September 1997 and is based in the office of the Irish Manuscript Commission in Dublin. The Project has a number of objectives:

• To survey and record sources relevant to the history of women in Ireland.

• To list the sources and to make it available to the public through the use of a computer database, and the publication of a Directory of  Primary Sources on the History of Women in Ireland.

• The publication of historical documents relating to the history of women in Ireland.

The Project is currently undertaking a survey of historical documents. This is an island-wide survey and involves the compilation of a list of archival institutions, private and public organisations and individuals that are known to have or may have relevant papers in their custody. We will also send questionnaires to institutions and individuals asking them to provide details of the papers in their possession. Project staff will follow up the responses to the questionnaires.
People are not generally used to locating sources relating to women. Often material is discarded because it is thought to be useless. The criteria for inclusion in this survey are very broad. We are interested in material on women of all classes and in all time periods. The following categories provide some guidelines as to the range of material that might be searched for information on women: papers relating to individual women, e.g. Maud Gonne, Catherine McAuley—the women do not have to have a national profile—they may be significant in a local context, or there may just be references to them in papers; ecclesiastical records relating to convents, religious organisations such as the Legion of Mary, etc.; records of an organisation, institution or movement in which women were involved or which influenced women’s lives, e.g. the Gaelic League;  philanthropy; the records of businesses such as laundries, textile mills, shops, workhouses, asylum records, suffrage papers, etc.; family papers which often hide large amounts of material on women—diaries, wills, letters, drawings, photographs, cartoons, recipe books, farm account books, household account books, marriage settlements, etc. There are often documents relating to women in less obvious collections. For example the [1798] Rebellion papers in the National Archives, Dublin, contain a wealth of material on women, though they do not appear to be an obvious source for women’s history. Similarly the 1641 Depositions in Trinity College, Dublin, also contain a wealth of information about women.
Another part of the Project involves the listing of material relating to women in the files of the Department of the Taoiseach, 1922-1966 that are in the custody of the National Archives. These files provide insights into changing official attitudes to women and a wealth of detail on issues such as women’s opposition to the 1937 Constitution as well as fascinating material for the post-Civil War period on women activists and prisoners.
The Project is also engaged in editing, annotating and preparing for publication the McTier-Drennan correspondence that is held in the Public Records Office, Northern Ireland, consisting of over 1400 letters between Martha McTier and her brother William Drennan, dating from the 1770s to the 1810s.
The Project is a major undertaking and its findings will be of use to all those interested in history generally, and the history of Irish women in particular. If you have any information about papers or documents relating to Irish women, particularly material that may not appear in any printed or published guides, we would be pleased to hear from you.

Enquiries: Women’s History Project, 73 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, tel: (01) 6615225.

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