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Michael Davitt: A Early Pioneer of Women’s Suffrage and Equal Rights

posted Jun 6, 2019, 12:47 PM by Bernard O'Hara

The Michael Davitt sculpture in front of the
Davitt Museum, Straide, County Mayo, Ireland.
When Ireland celebrated the centenary of women’s suffrage in 2018, one early pioneer was overlooked. Michael Davitt, 1846-1906 ‘The Father of the Land League, was the first Irish public figure to promote equality for women in society. He also became the first Irish leader to promote the leadership of women in political life through the Ladies’ Land League.
During the land war of 1879-82 in Ireland, it became obvious that the arrest of the Land League leaders was only a matter of time, and Michael Davitt was determined that their work should be continued in their absence. He asked the Land League executive to authorise the formation of a provisional committee of ladies to carry on the work. The proposal was vehemently opposed, but Davitt persevered and secured their passive assent. Prior to that, numerous women were involved with the Land League, but not in a leadership role. On January31, 1881, Anna Parnell (a sister of Charles Stewart Parnell, the Land League President) presided at a meeting in 39 Upper Sackville Street( now O’Connell Street), Dublin, at which the Ladies’ Land League was formally established. It organised about 400 branches around the country and became the first political association to be led by Irish women. Thus, Michael Davitt became the first Irish leader to encourage Irish women to participate and take a leadership role in political affairs. The Ladies’ Land League built up a very efficient organisation within a few months and became quite radical in its approach. This was illustrated early in 1882 when the imprisoned Land League leaders ordered the ladies to call off the then “no rent campaign”(which ordered the tenant farmers to pay no rent) and they refused, as well as taking a more aggressive stand at evictions. When Archbishop McCabe of Dublin denounced the Ladies’ Land League, on the grounds that it was not appropriate for women, his intervention was greeted with contempt and it was also criticised by Archbishop Croke of Cashel. The Ladies’ Land League was suppressed on December 16, 1881, and some members were imprisoned for their activities.
In his book, Leaves from a Prison Diary (1885), Davitt deplored the limited educational opportunities then provided for girls and strongly recommended that the system at all levels should provide equal opportunities for both genders. He strongly supported equal political rights for women, including the right to vote and stand for election. Unlike many of his contemporaries, including Charles Stewart Parnell, he did not believe that the proper place for women was in the home, or that their only other work should be benevolent activities, and in this, as in so many aspects of his life, he was way in advance of his time. His pioneering role for equality deserves to be remembered.

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The print version of Bernard O’Hara’s book Exploring Mayo can be obtained by contacting also sell the print versions of Killasser - Heritage of a Mayo Parish , Anseo and Davitt.
Bernard O'Hara's book entitled Killasser: Heritage of a Mayo Parish is now on sale in the USA and UK as a paperback book at, or Barnes and Noble
It is also available as an eBook from the Apple iBookstore (for reading on iPad and iPhone), from and (Kindle & Kindle Fire) and from (Nook tablet and eReader).
An earlier publication, a concise biography of Michael Davitt, entitled Davitt by Bernard O’Hara published in 2006 by Mayo County Council , is now available as Davitt: Irish Patriot and Father of the Land League by Bernard O’Hara, which was published in the USA by Tudor Gate Press ( and is available from and It can be obtained as an eBook from the Apple iBookstore (for reading on iPad and iPhone), from and (Kindle & Kindle Fire) and from (Nook tablet and eReader).