Constance Markievicz: The Forgotten First Woman Elected To Parliament

Callum James

Constance Markievicz was the first women elected to parliament, and her name and legacy has been forgotten.

If you were to google search "Who was the first woman MP in the UK", it would bring up the Wikipedia page of Nancy Astor, who was elected into parliament in 1919. In 2019 Theresa May unveiled a statue of Nancy Astor in her Plymouth constituency. May's praise for Nancy Aston is understandable, after all, she was a conservative MP, but Nancy Astor being the first female MP is not entirely accurate. Sinn Féin politician, activist, socialist, feminist and revolutionary, Constance Markievicz was the first women elected to parliament, and her name and legacy has been forgotten. Constance Markievicz was born at Buckingham Gate in London in 1868. Her father was Arctic explorer and adventurer Sir Henry Gore-Booth. She was brought up on her father's estate at Lissadell House in County Sligo. During the famine in 1879, her father provided free food for tenants on his estate. Their father's example inspired her and her sister, Eva Gore-Booth, to have a deep concern for working people and the poor. The Markievicz sisters were both childhood friends with poet W. B. Yeats, later in life Yeats describes his childhood friends in a poem "Two girls in silk kimonos, both / beautiful, one a gazelle." I have always wondered what Markievicz would have thought to be compared to a gazelle, but this is Yeats unique way of flattery. At four minutes past noon on Monday 24th April 1916, Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic outside the General Post Office in Dublin, a document that was ahead of its time. It stated "religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens". The idea was progressive for its time as most women in European countries did not have the right to vote. This would become known as the start of the Easter Rising, an attempt to establish Irish independence. Constance Markievicz was a member of the Irish Citizen Army and took part in the 1916 Easter Rising. During the Rising, Markievicz fought in St Stephen's Green. Markievicz supervised the setting up of barricades and was in the middle of the fighting all around Stephen's Green, wounding a British army sniper. She was one of 300 women who fought in the rising, names including Margaret Skinnider, Winifred Carney, Kathleen Clarke and Helena Molony, like Markievicz's were forgotten. Stephen's Green garrison held out for six days, and they were arrested and transported to Kilmainham Gaol. Markievicz was sentenced to death but was later shown mercy "solely and only on account of her sex" and was commuted to life in prison. When told of this, she was reported to say "I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me." After the government in London granted a general amnesty for those who participated, Markievicz was released from prison in 1917.
Constance Markievicz: The Forgotten First Woman Elected To Parliament
Constance Markievicz

The Historians Magazine

One of the fastest growing Independent history magazines in the UK, championing emerging historians.

Constance Markievicz: The Forgotten First Woman Elected To Parliament
Constance Markievicz

Markievicz was elected to serve Dublin St Patrick's constituency

During the 1918 general election, Markievicz was elected to serve Dublin St Patrick's constituency and became one of the 73 Sinn Féin MPs and the first woman elected to the House of Commons. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she never took her seat. She did take her seat in the First Dáil and served as Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922, becoming the first Irish female Cabinet Minister and only the second female government minister in Europe. During the War of Independence, Markievicz took an active role in the fighting and was jailed twice by the British. In January 1922, she left the government alongside others in opposition to the Anglo Irish Treaty, and when Ireland fell into civil war, Markievicz fought for the Republicans cause. She was elected in the 1923 general election, but she did not take her seat in the Dáil alongside other Republican candidates. She was arrested again in November 1923 for Republican activities and went on a hunger strike as a protest alongside other civil war prisoners. Within a month, she and other prisoners were released. Markievicz died aged 59 of complications related to appendicitis. She had given away all of her wealth and died in a public ward "among the poor where she wanted to be". She fought for her beloved Ireland until the end. After Markievicz's death, everything changed in Ireland, and by the 1930s, De Valera's Conservative government passed legislation that eliminated women's right to serve on juries or work after marriage, contraception was made illegal, and divorce was banned. Markievicz was the last woman cabinet minister in Ireland until 1979. Nancy Astor was the first women to take her seat in the UK parliament in 1919 and has her own fascinating story, but it would be a shame to forget about Constance Markievicz inspiring story and the first elected women in parliament.
Ancestry UK
Constance Markievicz: The Forgotten First Woman Elected To Parliament

Callum James

Callum wrote for Edition 2, The Forgotten Women of History.
Bataille_de_Zorndorf
Frederick the Great: Really So Great?
unnamed (4)
Touched by a Saint: Adorned body-part reliquary shrines in 12th-century Ireland and Europe
unnamed (33)
Life with Leprosy