Green, Alice Stopford (1847–1929)
Green, Alice Stopford (1847–1929)
Historian and nationalist, whose studies of the Irish past justified claims to political independence. Name variations: Mrs. Stopford Green. Born Alice Sophia Amelia Stopford on May 30, 1847, in Kells, Co. Meath, Ireland; died on May 28, 1929, in Dublin; daughter of Edward Stopford (rector of Kells and archdeacon of Meath) and Ann (Duke) Stopford; educated at home and attended lectures at College of Science, Dublin, 1873–74; married John Richard Green, in 1877 (died 1883); no children.
Henry II (1888); Town Life in the Fifteenth Century (1894); The Making of Ireland and Its Undoing (1908); Irish Nationality (1911); The Old Irish World (1912); Women's Place in the World of Letters (1913); The Irish National Tradition (1917); Loyalty and Disloyalty: What It Means in Ireland (1918); Ourselves Alone in Ulster (1918); The Government of Ireland (1921); Studies from Irish History (1926).
Describing her upbringing to a friend, the adult Alice Stopford Green claimed that she had been "bred up in a remote part of Ireland, in a poverty-stricken home" and had "struggled at self culture in every imaginable adverse circumstance." The account, as her biographer remarks, is "highly colored." Nevertheless, Alice's version of events does convey her dissatisfaction with the options available to her as a middle-class woman at that time, and her wish to put a distance between her past and the career and convictions which she was subsequently to adopt.
Born in 1847, Alice Stopford was the seventh child and third daughter of Archdeacon Edward Stopford and Anne Duke Stopford . Alice, educated at home, had access to her father's considerable library, and began to teach herself Greek, German, and metaphysics. When she was about 16, financial difficulties forced a number of changes in the family's way of life, and at around the same time Alice was attacked by an eye ailment which prevented her from reading for a number of years. However, her thirst for learning did not diminish, and when the family moved to Dublin in 1873 she managed to obtain permission from the authorities to attend lectures in physics at the College of Science.
Following Edward Stopford's death in 1874, Alice, her sister, and her mother moved to England, and in 1877 she found a new role with her marriage to the historian John Richard Green. The partnership was to bring her not only great personal happiness but also a profession as her husband's research assistant and collaborator, and when John died in 1883 after a long illness, Alice took on the task of producing a revised edition of his Short History of the English People. She followed this with a life of Henry II (1888) and a two-volume study, Town Life in the Fifteenth Century (1894). In 1913, she made a brief excursion into the field of women's history with Women's Place in the World of Letters, in which she expressed her belief in women's potential to "open new horizons where men's vision has stopped short."
As a celebrated hostess, Stopford Green entertained some of the leading politicians and artists of the day. Her friends included the Fabian reformer Beatrice Webb and the traveler and anthropologist Mary Kingsley , who kindled her interest in African affairs. In 1900, she traveled to St. Helena to visit the camps in which Boer prisoners of war were being detained and, in 1901, helped to found the African Society, with which she was closely involved for over a decade.
Stopford Green's African studies left her critical of aspects of colonial policy and impacted on her relationship with her own country. Discarding her family's allegiance to the political union between Britain and Ireland, she became a supporter of the Irish nationalist cause, and this commitment was increasingly reflected in her work. The approved version of Irish history was, she believed, "a political myth," designed to validate English aggression, and she determined to produce a new account which would celebrate the Gaelic inheritance and justify nationalist aspirations. The Making of Ireland and Its Undoing appeared in 1908, followed in 1911 by Irish Nationality. Though criticized for her partisanship and for romanticization of Gaelic culture and society, she won the admiration of nationalist scholars: as her friend Eoin McNeill declared, she inspired "the people of Ireland with the spirit and hope of a sound future development."
Stopford Green also took an active part in nationalist politics. In 1913, she joined her friend Roger Casement in an unsuccessful effort to rally Protestant support for home rule, and in the following year chaired a committee which raised funds for the importation of arms from Germany into Ireland. Despite her involvement in this affair, she was essentially a constitutionalist, and for that reason disapproved of the republican uprising of 1916. Nevertheless, her nationalist commitment was unshaken: she took a leading part in the campaign for the reprieve of Casement, sentenced to death for treason, and in the following year made the decision to move back to Ireland.
In Dublin, Stopford Green quickly established herself as a central figure in political and cultural life. A supporter of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which ended the War of Independence, she was a member of the pro-Treaty women's organization Cumann na Saoirse (League of Freedom) and a founding member of the political party, Cumann na nGael. Nominated to the first Irish Senate as one of four women members, she served on a committee to establish a scheme for the publication of Irish-language manuscripts, and supported W.B. Yeats' call for the retention of the right to divorce. Meanwhile, she continued her researches in Irish history, her last work, Studies from Irish History, appearing in 1926 when she was 79. Three years later, on May 28, 1929, she died in Dublin following a short illness, leaving behind her a body of work which, for good or ill, shaped the version of Irish history which predominated during the formative years of the new state.
McDowell, R.B. Alice Stopford Green: A Passionate Historian. Dublin: Allen Figgis, 1967.
Thirsk, Joan. "The history women," in Chattel, Servant or Citizen: Women's Status in Church, State and Society. Edited by Mary O'Dowd and Sabine Wichert. Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, 1995, pp. 1–11.
Alice Stopford Green Papers, National Library of Ireland, Dublin.
Rosemary Raughter , Freelance Writer in Women's History, Dublin, Ireland