Hayden, Mary (1862–1942)

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Hayden, Mary (1862–1942)

Irish historian, senator, and campaigner for women's educational rights. Born Mary Teresa Hayden in Dublin, Ireland, on May 19, 1862; died in Dublin on July 12, 1942; daughter of Thomas Hayden and Mary Anne (Ryan) Hayden; educated at Alexandra College, Dublin and Royal University of Ireland; awarded B.A. (1st class honors) in 1885, and M.A. (1st class honors) in 1887; never married.

Mary Hayden was born in Dublin, Ireland, on May 19, 1862, the only daughter of Mary Anne Hayden and Dr. Thomas Hayden, a distinguished Dublin doctor who was professor of anatomy at the Catholic University (founded by Cardinal John Henry Newman). Her father was a major influence in her life and his early death in 1881 dealt a considerable blow. Hayden graduated with honors in 1885 from the Royal University of Ireland (RUI) and was awarded a master's degree in modern languages in 1887. During the 1880s and 1890s, she was engaged to be married but her fiancé died after a lingering illness. She traveled extensively, visiting India, Egypt, America and, especially, Greece, to which she took parties of friends and students. Fluent in modern Greek, she also learned Hindustani and Sanskrit.

In 1888, Hayden was the first to sign Margaret Tierney Downes ' protest, The Case of the Catholic Lady Students of the R.U.I. Stated, which complained of the "curt and supercilious" attitude of the Royal University senate on the women's position. But little was achieved and in 1895, when Hayden was elected to a senior fellowship in History and English at the Royal University, she was forced to accept a demotion to junior fellowship because, as a woman, she could not deliver senior fellowship lectures at University College Dublin (UCD). The Royal University was only an examining body; students studied either at home or at special colleges, the most important of which was the Jesuit-run University College Dublin which had on its staff many of the examining Fellows of the Royal University. It was a major grievance of women students that they were refused admission to the Fellows' lectures at UCD.

In 1902, Hayden made a forceful presentation to the Royal Commission on university education which subsequently recommended that women should attend lectures, pass exams and obtain degrees on the same basis as men. Hayden was against separate women's colleges. In the same year, she was elected vice-president of the newly formed Association of Women Graduates. When the National University of Ireland was established in 1908, she was the first woman member of its senate, and three years later she was appointed Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD, now a constituent college of the new university, a post she held until 1938. "All her life," her friend Professor Mary Macken wrote after her death, "she preached and practiced a gospel of work for her sex—no less a work than full cooperation in all the business of living. That and nothing less, she held, was the right of every human being." Hayden considered it her duty to explode the fallacious arguments being deployed against women's rights.

Hayden was active in the cause of women's suffrage and was also involved in the Irish language movement through which she met Patrick Pearse. She became one of Pearse's closest friends, and they often went on holiday together. In 1910, she joined the board of governors of Pearse's school for boys, St. Enda's, but, to Pearse's annoyance, showed little interest in the girls' school, St. Ita's. Hayden wrote later that Pearse tended to idealize both women and children, and when Pearse told her that he would not marry and intended to dedicate himself to St. Enda's, she replied that "there is a part of human nature that asks for human relationships and human sympathies." Pearse's increasingly deep involvement in nationalist politics disturbed Hayden, and they saw less of each other after 1914. Macken noted that evolution rather than revolution was Hayden's watchword and that she loathed violence. In 1916, Pearse was one of the leaders of the Easter rebellion against British rule in Ireland and was executed. Hayden wrote that he was "heart and soul in a cause which, deeply as I sympathise with everything done for Ireland, I could not in conscience help."

In 1921, in the middle of the Irish war of independence, she published, with George A. Moonan, A Short History of the Irish People from the Earliest Times to 1920. In the preface, the authors declared that they wrote "from a frankly national standpoint" but their anti-British tone attracted criticism. Over the next 40 years, it became the most widely used school and college text in Irish history and went through several editions. In the view of Irish Historical Studies, the leading historical journal in Ireland, although it "combined a vigorous style with a high degree of objectivity … in subsequent editions, [Hayden's] strong personal feelings on more recent events somewhat obtruded into her narrative." An influential lecturer to generations of students at UCD, Hayden demonstrated her wide knowledge of history, literature and languages. She had, as Macken observed, a "penetrating gift of analysis and a remarkable clearness of observation allied to an interesting and forthright method of presentation."

Hayden continued to interest herself in women's causes, notably the appointment of women jurors (women were rarely appointed to Irish juries until the 1960s) and women police officers. She did voluntary police work in Dublin and became involved in the alleviation of child poverty. She also set up the St. Joan Club in Dublin for poor families and many of her coworkers were women staff and students from UCD. Weeks before her death, Hayden delivered her last historical lecture, on charity children in 18th-century Dublin.


Hayden, Mary. "My Recollections of Padraig Pearse" in Mary Brigid Pearse, The Home Life of Patrick Pearse, 1934; new ed. Dublin: Mercier Press, 1979.

Macken, Mary M. "In Memoriam: Mary T. Hayden," in Studies [Dublin]. Vol. 31. September 1942.

Obituary of Mary Hayden in Irish Historical Studies [Dublin]. Vol. 3, no. 12, 1943.

Deirdre McMahon , lecturer in History at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland

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