Genteel revolutionaries: the lives of Anna and Thomas Haslam

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Quinlan, Carmel
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University College Cork
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The lives of Thomas and Anna Haslam were dedicated to the attainment of women's equality. They were feminists before the word was coined. In an era when respectable women were not supposed to know of the existence of prostitutes, Anna became empowered to do the unthinkable, not only to speak in public but to discuss openly matters sexual and to attack the double standard of sexuality which was enshrined in the official treatment of prostitutes. Their life-long commitment to the cause of women's suffrage never faltered, despite the repeated discouragement of the fate of bills defeated in the House of Commons. The Haslams represented an Ireland which did not survive them. While they were dedicated to the union with Westminster, they worked happily with those who applied themselves to its destruction. Although in many ways they exemplified the virtues of their Quaker backgrounds, they did not subscribe to any organised religion. Despite living in straitened circumstances, they were part of an urban intellectual elite and participated in the social and cultural life of Dublin for over fifty years. It is tempting to speculate how the Haslams would have fared in post independence Ireland. Hanna Sheehy Skeffington who had impeccable nationalist credentials, was effectively marginalised. It is likely that they would have protested against discriminatory legislation in their usual law abiding manner but, in a country which quickly developed an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic ethos, would they have had a voice or a constituency? Ironically, Thomas's teaching on chastity would have found favour with the hierarchy; his message was disseminated in a simple and more pious manner in numerous Catholic Truth Society pamphlets. The Protestant minority never sought to subvert the institutions of the state, was careful not to criticise and kept its collective head down. Dáil Éireann was not bombarded with petitions for the restoration of divorce facilities or the unbanning of birth control. Those who sought such amenities obtained them quietly 'in another jurisdiction.' Fifty years were to pass before the condom wielding 'comely maidens' erupted on to the front pages of the Sunday papers. They were, one imagines, the spiritual descendants of the militant rather than the constitutional suffrage movement. "Once and for all we need to commit ourselves to the concept that women's rights are not factional or sectional privileges, bestowed on the few at the whim of the many. They are human rights. In a society in which the rights and potential of women are constrained no man can be truly free." These words spoken by Mary Robinson as President of Ireland are an echo of the principles to which the Haslams dedicated their lives and are, perhaps, a tribute to their efforts.
Social reform , Irish suffrage
Quinlan, C. 1999. Genteel revolutionaries: the lives of Anna and Thomas Haslam. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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