Clarke, Kathleen

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Clarke, Kathleen

Kathleen Clarke (1878–1972), lifelong political activist, first woman lord mayor of Dublin, and one of the first women to be elected to any parliament worldwide, was born Kathleen Daly in Limerick city. Her mother ran a very successful dressmaking establishment; her father, a Fenian from the 1860s, died in 1890, leaving nine daughters and a son born posthumously. Kathleen, a dressmaker/shopkeeper all her life, gave up a successful business when she went to New York City in 1901 to marry Thomas Clarke. Clarke had spent fifteen years in prison for Fenian activities, and he continued to be active in Clan na Gael circles in the United States. On their return to Ireland in 1907 both Thomas and Kathleen became involved in revolutionary activity; Kathleen was not only a founding member of Cumann na mBan in 1914, but was also trusted with the Irish Republican Brotherhood plans before Easter Week of 1916. As a mother of young children (three boys under the age of fifteen), she took no active part in the Rising, but Thomas and Kathleen's brother Edward, who had commanded the garrison at the Four Courts, were executed for their involvement. In the months following the Rising she came to political prominence not only because of her bereavement but because of her management of the prisoners' dependents' fund. Arrested in 1918 for her involvement in the "German plot"—an attempt by the British government to link Irish nationalists with the Germans—she spent several months in Holloway gaol with Maud Gonne and Constance Markievicz. She was one of the "black women" (so called because they wore mourning dress) elected to the second Dáil in 1920. She was not re-elected in 1922, and like the majority of Cumann na mBan, she opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. A founding member of the Fianna Fáil Party, Kathleen sat in the Seánad from 1928 to 1936. Although she had never priortized the feminist struggle, she defended women's rights, speaking out against the Conditions of Employment Act (1936), which barred women from certain kinds of industry, and advocating equal pay. She also objected to the articles in Eamon de Valera's constitution (1937) that referred to women. At the end of a long career in local government, she became in 1940 the first woman lord mayor of Dublin and then retired from politics later in the 1940s.

SEE ALSO Conditions of Employment Act of 1936; Cumann na mBan; Equal Economic Rights for Women in Independent Ireland; Political Parties in Independent Ireland; Politics: Independent Ireland since 1922; Women and Work since the Mid-Nineteenth Century


Litton, Helen, ed. Revolutionary Woman: Kathleen Clarke, 1878–1972: An Autobiography. 1991.

Caitriona Clear

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Clarke, Kathleen

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