Ladies' Land League

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Ladies' Land League

Realizing that the leaders of the Land League in Ireland were likely to be arrested, Michael Davitt proposed the establishment of a Ladies' Land League modeled on the Ladies' Irish National Land League that had been organized as a fund-raising body in New York in March 1880. His proposal was "vehemently opposed" by a number of his colleagues in the Land League, with many fearing public ridicule if the organization was seen to place women in a political role. However, the imprisonment of the Land League leaders led to the hasty establishment of the Ladies' Irish National Land League in Dublin on 31 January 1881.

The president of the new organization was Anne Deane, but its effective leader from the beginning was Charles Stewart Parnell's sister, Anna. During the first few months of its existence the Ladies' Land League took over the administration of the Land League, including the processing of applications for relief and the providing of grants to evicted tenants. By July 1881 there were 420 branches throughout the country. Anna Parnell traveled extensively in Ireland, England, and Scotland to explain the aims of the Land League. In October, with the Land League leaders jailed, the organization proclaimed, and a considerable level of agrarian militancy evident throughout the country, the Ladies' Land League effectively took responsibility for carrying on the land war.

From the beginning Anna Parnell viewed the Ladies' Land League as a political rather than a charitable organization and had a more radical expectation of the policies of the Land League than its leaders. With the release of the Land League leaders from prison in May 1882 Anna Parnell was anxious to dissolve the Ladies' Land League, deeming it impossible to work with the hostility displayed toward them by the Land League. The dissolution of the Ladies' Land League was finally achieved with much bitterness between Anna and her brother in August. Throughout the period of its existence the Ladies' Land League attracted considerable publicity. The press and the clergy displayed their unease with the presence of women in the land movement. The women were ridiculed as the "screaming sisterhood." Archbishop Edward McCabe of Dublin castigated the women for forgetting the "modesty of their sex and the high dignity of their womanhood." Much of the hostility toward the Ladies' Land League revolved around the public participation of women in political life. The Ladies' Land League proved to be a significant force in maintaining pressure during the land war. It also proved to be an important vehicle for women's political involvement in the late nineteenth century; many of its supporters were to remain active in nationalist politics well into the twentieth century.

SEE ALSO Davitt, Michael; Home Rule Movement and the Irish Parliamentary Party: 1870 to 1891; Land Acts of 1870 and 1881; Land War of 1879 to 1882; Parnell, Charles Stewart; Women in Nationalist and Unionist Movements in the Early Twentieth Century


McL. Cote, Jane. Fanny and Anna Parnell: Ireland's Patriot Sisters. 1991.

Parnell, Anna. The Tale of a Great Sham. Edited by Dana Hearne. 1986.

Maria Luddy