O'keeffe, Katharine A.

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O'KEEFFE, Katharine A.

Born 1855, Kilkenny, Ireland; died 2 January 1918, Lawrence, Massachusetts

Daughter of Patrick and Rose O'Keeffe; married Daniel J.O'Mahoney, 1895

Katharine A. O'Keeffe could qualify as one of the famous Irish women about whom she lectured and wrote. Her parents emigrated to Lawrence, Massachusetts, when O'Keeffe was a child. After a parochial education, she graduated at the top of her class from Lawrence High School in 1873 and two years later was the first Irish Catholic to be appointed to the Lawrence faculty; she taught history and speech.

O'Keeffe first became prominent as a lecturer during Fanny Parnell's visit to Boston at the time of the Irish Land League. She continued to lecture on a variety of topics—historical, literary, and Irish—throughout New England. In 1892 O'Keeffe delivered the Memorial Day oration in Newburyport, Massachusetts; that summer she lectured at the Catholic Summer School in New London, Connecticut.

When the Catholics of Lawrence moved to establish a Catholic paper in New England, the New England Catholic Herald (1880), O'Keeffe was elected to its board. A correspondent for the Boston-based Sacred Heart Review and an associate member of the New England Woman's Press Association, O'Keeffe also owned and published a Catholic Sunday paper, the Catholic Register. Later, O'Keeffe was active in the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, serving as its first president in 1904.

Her early writing includes a local history, Sketches of Catholicity in Lawrence and Vicinity (1882), and two dramatic entertainments: Moore's Anniversary: A Musical Allegory (1887), a frame for a program of Thomas Moore's songs presented at the Moore Centennial Celebration in Lawrence in 1879, and a similar program for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Longfellow Night: A Short Sketch of the Poet's Life with Songs and Recitations from His Works for the Use of Catholic Schools and Catholic Literary Societies (1898).

Famous Irishwomen (1907), a collection of O'Keeffe's lectures, begins with the disclaimer that the chapters are not original research but retellings. This is true of most of O'Keeffe's Irish entries; however, when she turns to contemporary Irish-American women like Eleanor Donnelly, Louise Imogen Guiney, and Katherine Conway, O'Keeffe's account becomes an invaluable description of prominent Irish-American women from the point of view of a sympathetic contemporary. She also provides important information about Irish women in earlier American history: women who fought in the American Revolution and in the Civil War, founders of Irish or Irish-American religious orders, and writers, educators, and philanthropists.

Like most Irish-Americans, O'Keeffe identified Catholic with Irish: "We Americans of Irish-blood—millions of us—have kept that sublime Faith of our Fathers." She exhorted her Irish-American listeners and readers to be conscious of their Irish past, to be steadfast in their faith, and to be anti-English. Her sentimental and filiopiestic style lends itself better to the lecture hall than to the printed page; however, by her own example and by illustration, O'Keeffe provided a range of role models of active Irish women for young Irish-Americans.


Reference works:

AW. The Poets of Ireland (1912).


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O'keeffe, Katharine A.

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