Public debate on the ‘separation women’ of World War One
During the First World War, the payment of separation allowances to the dependents of servicemen was a powerful incentive to recruitment. Unemployed men, as well as those in casual employment, were assured that their wives and children would be able to keep a roof over their heads and have enough to eat if they joined the fight in Europe. But if soldiers were reassured by the allowances, others were alarmed at the idea that women were getting something for nothing, and a ‘moral panic’ ensued, with reports that the allowances were being wasted on drink and dissolution. In January 1916, a Galway magistrate scolded a woman ‘with a young family in Raleigh Row going down to the pictures and going home at 11.45 … and £1.5.0 going to waste in this manner.’ It was ‘only a person with a degenerate sort of mind who on a fine day with the sun shining, goes to see this rubbish at the pictures’, he told her. During the 1916 Rising in Dublin, and in other Irish cities throughout the period the separation women came into conflict with Irish republicans, including the women of Cumann na mBan.
On Thursday 14 January at 8 pm, in the Galway Mechanics Institute, Middle St., a number of historians will disentangle the myths from the facts in relation to the separation women. The featured historians are Dr Ann Matthews (author of The Irish Citizen Army), Mary Clancy (NUI Galway), and Dr John Borgonovo (UCC). This free event, under the auspices of the Irish Centre for the Histories of Labour & Class, will be chaired by Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley, and all are welcome.