Haslam, Anna (1829–1922)

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Haslam, Anna (1829–1922)

Irish feminist who campaigned on many women's issues and founded the first women's suffrage society in Dublin (1876). Born Anna Maria Fisher in Youghal, County Cork, Ireland, in April 1829; died in November 1922; daughter of Abraham Fisher (a corn miller) and Jane (Moore) Fisher; educated at Newtown School, Waterford, and the Quaker School, Ackworth, Yorkshire; married Thomas Haslam, in 1854 (died 1917); no children.

Was a founder member of the Irish Society for the Training and Employment of Educated Women (1861); campaigned for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (1869–86); was a founder member of the Association of Schoolmistresses and Other Ladies Interested in Irish Education (1882); founded the Dublin Women's Suffrage Association, later the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association (1876), of which she was secretary (1876–1913) and life-president (1913–22).

The general election of November 1918, the first in which women in Great Britain and Ireland were entitled to vote, found Ireland in a state of political conflict and even suffragists divided on a number of issues. Nevertheless, on Election Day, all differences were forgotten. As the suffrage paper, Irish Citizen, noted:

The League was represented with its banners and colours at joint demonstrations organised by the various suffrage and women's organisations for Mrs Haslam, the veteran Irish suffrage leader. She recorded her vote in the midst of an admiring feminine throng to cheer her, was presented with a bouquet in suffrage colours for the occasion…. It speaks well for the broadmindedness of the new women voters that the women of all parties joined heartily to honour Mrs Haslam and suffrage.

It was the fitting culmination of a career spanning well over half a century, which had been dedicated to the betterment of women's condition. Born in 1829 into a middle-class Quaker family in Youghal, the young Anna Maria Fisher became aware at an early age of her responsibility towards her fellow citizens. Her parents were involved in a variety of reforming and philanthropic causes, and Anna took part in relief efforts during the Great Famine of 1845–49. As Friends, the Fishers placed a high value on education for both girls and boys, and Anna went first to the Quaker Newtown School, and then to the Quaker School at Ackworth in Yorkshire.

In 1853, she met Thomas Haslam, a fellow Irish Quaker, whom she married in the following year. The couple settled in Dublin, where Anna ran a stationer's shop and quickly became involved in a number of organizations campaigning for improved educational and employment opportunities for women. Thomas was as committed a feminist as his wife, and the support which he provided was essential to her activities. As she admitted late in life, she "could never have undertaken what she did in later years if it were not for his sympathy and help."

By the 1870s, Anna Haslam was a leading figure not only in efforts to improve female access to education and employment, but also in campaigns to achieve property rights for married women, and for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, which provided for the compulsory medical examination of any woman suspected of prostitution. As Haslam remarked wryly of this particular battle, "When it began, I remember one old friend saying, it was such an obviously just demand, that … it could not be possible that such things should endure more than a few months. It took us eighteen years."

Underlying the various injustices to which women were subject was their lack of a political voice. The first female suffrage petition submitted to the House of Commons in 1866 had 1,499 signatories, including 15 Irishwomen, among them Anna Haslam. In 1870, the first public suffrage meeting was held in Dublin, followed over the next few years by others throughout the country, and in February 1876 Haslam established the Dublin Women's Suffrage Association (DWSA), the first permanent suffrage society in Ireland, and only the third in the British Isles.

Over the next 20 years, the DWSA devoted itself to a policy of education and persuasion. Meetings were organized, signatures were collected for a series of parliamentary petitions, suffrage literature was distributed, and letters were sent to members of Parliament and to newspapers to solicit support for suffrage bills coming before Parliament. Initially the DWSA's growth was slow: in 1896, it had only 44 members. In that year, however, the movement gained its first victory, when women were permitted to stand for election as poor law guardians. In 1898, women achieved the local government franchise on the same terms as men, a move which Haslam hailed as "the most signal political revolution that has taken place in the history of Irishwomen."

The parliamentary vote, however, remained elusive. A number of younger members of Haslam's association (now renamed the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association, IWSLGA) were impatient with the slow progress made so far and, in 1908, broke away to form the militant Irish Women's Franchise League. Haslam, while disapproving of violence, nevertheless retained her links with the dissidents, and while her own association maintained its constitutional stance, she recognized that the militants could sometimes achieve what more peaceful means could not.

Although she resigned as secretary of the IWSLGA in 1913, Haslam continued to be active in the suffrage movement and on other women's issues. Her husband Thomas died in 1917, but she survived to witness the 1918 Representation of the People Act which offered limited female suffrage, and to vote in the General Election of that year. Before her death in 1922, at age 93, Haslam was conscious that the victory to which she had contributed so much was only the beginning of women's struggle for equality, but she was confident, too, that it was absolutely vital to any further advance. As she had told the International Suffrage Congress in 1908, "our parliamentary enfranchisement is only the first step … but it is the first, and the most indispensable to the realisation of the rest."

sources:

Cullen, Mary, "Anna Maria Haslam," in Women, Power and Consciousness in 19th-century Ireland. Edited by Mary Cullen and Maria Luddy. Dublin: Attic Press, 1995, pp 161–196.

Cullen Owens, Rosemary. Smashing Times. Dublin: Attic Press, 1984.

Rosemary Raughter , freelance writer in women's history, Dublin, Ireland

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Haslam, Anna (1829–1922)

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