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Irwin, Inez Haynes

IRWIN, Inez Haynes

Born 2 March 1873, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; died 30 September 1970

Daughter of Gideon and Emma Jane Hopkins Haynes; married Rufus H. Gillmore, 1897 (died); William H. Irwin, 1916

Inez Haynes Irwin was educated in Boston schools and attended Radcliffe College from 1897 to 1900. At the turn of the century, Radcliffe was a center of suffragist sentiment. Determined to extend this feeling to college alumnae, Irwin and Maud Wood Park founded the Massachusetts College Equal Suffrage Association in 1900. This group expanded into the National College Equal Suffrage League, an active force in the enfranchisement campaign.

Irwin's other feminist activities centered around the more radical wing of the suffrage movement, the National Woman's Party. Led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, the party was patterned after the British suffrage movement in its militancy and political tactics. Irwin was a member of the party's advisory council; she wrote for the party's publications and was the party's biographer. The Story of the Woman's Party (1921) is flawed by its lack of objectivity and the failure to mention the other wing of the suffrage movement, but it is the only record of the party's activities, other than the stories repeated in Irwin's more ambitious work on the history of American women, Angels and Amazons (1933).

Irwin's first fictional work was published in Everybody's in 1904. She then became a regular contributor to British and American magazines and devoted herself to writing short stories and novels. Other than her feminist chronicles, Irwin's only digressions from these genres occurred during World War I. Having become the wife of newspaperman Will Irwin after the death of her first husband, Inez visited the European fronts with Will. Her accounts of these visits were printed in the magazines of three countries.

"The Spring Flight" was the O. Henry Memorial award first prize winner in 1924, a puzzling choice, for the story is a quasibiographical sketch of William Shakespeare trying to overcome writer's block before composing The Tempest. It is ironic Irwin received the highest acclaim for this story, so far removed from her field of expertise.

After a few ventures with highly sentimentalized and simplistic novels about orphaned children and an idealized brother and sister, Irwin began writing fiction that addressed the issues with which she is now most often associated—those underlying the suffrage movement. Of her feminist fiction, The Lady of the Kingdoms (1917) has been undeservedly forgotten. This long novel presents two young heroines, the beautiful and self-assured Southward and the plain and self-effacing Hester. Irwin uses both heroines to examine the conventional moralities women have been forced into, as well as the unconventional, even "immoral," ones women have chosen for themselves. Though Irwin may disapprove of the latter roles, she never condemns the women who choose them.

Irwin published two books dealing with divorce, Gideon (1927) and Gertrude Haviland's Divorce (1925). The heroine of the latter work is a fat, dull, sloppy woman who has further alienated her husband by being overly absorbed in her children. The book begins as Gertrude receives her husband's request for a divorce, follows her through mental illness, watches her recover as she realizes she is pregnant, and witnesses her transformation into a woman of resolution, intelligence, self-reliance, and new beauty. Her final triumph occurs when she rejects her husband's offer of remarriage; however, this victory is mitigated by the fact that Gertrude now realizes she loves and will marry another man. Also troubling is the assertion that having a baby is enough to end a woman's suffering, an attitude no doubt affected by Irwin's failure to have children of her own.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Irwin returned to sentimental, descriptive novels and wrote upper-class-murder mysteries and moralistic children's books. The strongest indictment to be made against Irwin comes from these books, the last she wrote. She had run out of good ideas, and no longer had the ability to write strongly, to state issues clearly, and to imagine vital characters. Irwin apparently decided that those qualities of authorship she still possessed were good enough for children's books. She was a prolific writer whose finest works came early and whose mediocre later works have so thoroughly reduced her reputation as a writer of adult and children's fiction that she is virtually forgotten in these fields. Between 1917 and 1927, however, she wrote several impressively direct novels about divorce and women's roles.

Other Works:

June Jeopardy (1908). Maida's Little Shop (1910). Phoebe and Ernest (1910). Janey (1911). Phoebe, Ernest, and Cupid (1912). Angel Island (1914). The Ollivant Orphans (1915). The Californians (1916). The Happy Years (1919). The Native Son (1919). Maida's Little House (1921). Out of the Air (1921). Maida's Little School (1926). P. D. F. R. (1928). Confessions of a Businessman's Wife (1931). Family Circle (1931). Youth Must Laugh (1932). Strange Harvest (1934). Murder Masquerade (1935). The Poison Cross (1936). Good Manners for Girls (1937). A Body Rolled Downstairs (1938). Maida's Little Island (1939). Maida's Little Camp (1940). Many Murders (1941). Maida's Little Village (1942). Maida's Little Houseboat (1943). Maida's Little Theatre (1946). The Women Swore Revenge (1946). Maida's Little Cabins (1947). Maida's Little Zoo (1949). Maida's Little Lighthouse (1951). Maida's Little Hospital (n.d.). Maida's Little Farm (n.d.). Maida's Little House Party (n.d.). Maida's Little Treasure Hunt (n.d.). Maida's Little Tree House (n.d.).

Bibliography:

Reference works:

NCAB. TCA, TCAS.

—LYNNE MASEL-WALTERS

AND HELEN LOEB

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