Margaret (Gretta) Cousins, theosophist and feminist, was born Margaret Gillespie, daughter of a law clerk, in Boyle, Co Roscommon, and lived out her commitments on two continents.
She took a music degree in Dublin in 1902, marrying James Cousins in 1903. She worked as a part-time music teacher, and joined him as a vegetarian, theosophist and medium, among Dublin’s literary circles. This activism led her to a women’s suffrage conference in Manchester. Back home, she joined the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association in 1906.
In 1908, with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, she founded the Irish Women’s Franchise League, and became its leading speaker. She served two one-month prison terms, in England in 1910, and in Tullamore in 1913, for breaking windows in Government Buildings. War and the winding down of suffrage campaigns probably encouraged Margaret and James Cousins to move to India in 1915, living in Madras (now Chennai) among theosophical communities. She brought Irish experience to Indian womens’ campaigns for political and social freedom. She founded the Women’s Indian Association in 1917, editing its monthly journal. Their campaign developed into demands for women’s education and against child marriage, leading to the All-India Women’s Conference, 1926, and an All-Asia Women’s Conference in 1931, organised by Cousins. In 1932 she served a year in prison for supporting Gandhi’s free-speech campaign. She published three books on Indian women’s rights.
A series of strokes paralysed her from the 1940s. She was cared for by James and died in March 1954.
Featured photo: Margaret Cousins, Meg Connery, Barabara Hoskins, Mabel Purser