#OTD in 1908 – Irish Women’s Franchise League is founded by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Margaret Cousins, with the intention of gaining voting rights for women.

The Irish Women’s Franchise League was an organisation for women’s suffrage which was set up in Dublin in November 1908. Its founder members included Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and James H. Cousins. Thomas MacDonagh was a member.

Its paper was The Irish Citizen, which was published from 1912 to 1920. The paper was edited originally by James H. Cousins.

In the early 20th century the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond and his deputy John Dillon was opposed to votes for women, as was the British prime minister, Asquith.

In June 1912, after a meeting of a number of women’s organisations, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins with six other members of the IWFL smashed government windows in the GPO and other government buildings. They were arrested, charged, and jailed. The following month Asquith came on a visit to Dublin to address a meeting in the Theatre Royal. Francis Sheehy-Skeffington managed to gain entrance and demanded votes for women before being thrown out, while Asquith’s carriage was attacked by British suffragists Mary Leigh and Gladys Evans. In that attack John Redmond was injured. The British women went on hunger-strike in Mountjoy Jail, and were joined by the imprisoned Irish IWFL members in solidarity. In March 1913 a bust of John Redmond in the Royal Hibernian Academy was defaced by a suffragist protesting against the failure of the Irish Parliamentary Party to support a Women’s Franchise Bill in the House of Commons. In contrast, as a mark of solidarity with the women, James Connolly travelled from Belfast to Dublin to speak at one of the IWFL’s weekly meetings which was held in the Phoenix Park, and members of the ITGWU provided protection and offered escorts to women as they left the meetings.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington lost her teaching job in 1913 when she was arrested and put in prison for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle. Whilst in jail she started a hunger strike but was released under the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act and was soon rearrested.

The league kept a neutral stance on Home Rule, but was opposed to the World War. After the killing of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington by a British officer in 1916, it supported Sinn Féin.

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