Rebels: Kathleen Lynn

Episode Summary

Kathleen Lynn (1874-1955) fought for her own right to practice medicine, and fought for her peoples’ right to self-govern.

Episode Notes

Kathleen Lynn (1874-1955) fought for her own right to practice medicine, and fought for her peoples’ right to self-govern.

You’re probably familiar with rebels without a cause, but what about rebels with a cause? This month on Womanica, we’re talking about women who broke rules that were meant to be broken. From the “Godmother of Title IX” Bernice Sandler, to the most prominent figure of the People Power Revolution, Corazon Aquino, to the “Queen of Civil Rights” Ruby Hurley, these women took major risks to upend the status quo and create meaningful change. 

History classes can get a bad rap, and sometimes for good reason. When we were students, we couldn’t help wondering... where were all the ladies at? Why were so many incredible stories missing from the typical curriculum? Enter, Womanica. On this Wonder Media Network podcast we explore the lives of inspiring women in history you may not know about, but definitely should.

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know–but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Educators, Villains, Indigenous Storytellers, Activists, and many more.  Womanica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures. 

Womanica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Grace Lynch, Maddy Foley, Brittany Martinez, Edie Allard, Lindsey Kratochwill, Adesuwa Agbonile, Carmen Borca-Carrillo, Taylor Williamson, Ale Tejeda, Sara Schleede, Abbey Delk, and Alex Jhamb Burns. Special thanks to Shira Atkins. 

Original theme music composed by Miles Moran.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Womanica.

This month, we’re talking about Rebels WITH a cause: women who broke rules that were meant to be broken. These women took major risks to upend the status quo and create meaningful change. 

Today, we’re talking about a woman who fought for her own right to practice medicine, and fought for her peoples’ right to self-govern. She rose up the ranks of the Irish Nationalist Movement and gave life-saving care to infants. 

Let’s meet Kathleen Lynn.

Kathleen Lynn was born January 28, 1874 in County Mayo, Ireland. She was born into an Ireland still feeling the effects of the Great Famine. While her family was well-off, many in her community were impoverished and facing hunger. 

This early awareness may have influenced Kathleen’s future aspirations. When she was sixteen years old, Kathleen decided she wanted to become a doctor. She studied medicine and graduated with a degree in 1899. After conducting post-doctorate work in the U.S., she had amassed an impressive resume. But, her gender presented a problem when it came to getting hired as a doctor.  Back in Ireland, she was appointed a resident position  at the Adelaide Hospital, but the staff opposed it because she was a woman. 

None of this stopped  Kathleen. She eventually worked as a doctor at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear hospital, as well as the Rotunda hospital. She also set up her own private practice out of her home in Rathmines. 

By 1913, Kathleen’s medical work started mixing with political work. She took in Helena Molony, a political activist who was ill. As Kathleen cared for Helena, the two would have long discussions about suffrage, labor rights, and Irish independence. Helena inspired Kathleen to join the Nationalist Movement, which supported Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom.

That same year, Kathleen gave free medical treatment to workers during the Dublin Lockout – one of the largest general strikes in Irish history. Soon after, she joined the Irish Citizen Army and taught first aid to the other members. Kathleen also taught  members of the Irishwomen’s Council, which was in response to women getting marginalized from the Republican movement.

Kathleen’s own way into the Republican fight for independence was spurred by her work in the suffrage movement. And she quickly became an important figure in this fight. For weeks in the spring of 1916, she began driving guns to Dublin. 

Then, came Easter Monday 1916. It marked a critical moment in the fight for Ireland’s independence. The Irish rebels, including the Irish Citizen Army, launched a revolt against British rule. Kathleen served as chief medical officer at Dublin City Hall while her comrades attempted to fight off the British army. The battle, which came to be known as the Easter Rising, would last nearly a week, and result in hundreds of people dead and wounded. 

For Kathleen, the rebellion was much shorter-lived – by evening time on Easter Monday, the British army took control of City Hall back from the Irish rebels. Kathleen was arrested and thrown into Kilmainham Jail. She shared a cell with fellow Irish Citizen Army member, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen. The two women formed a close relationship. Madeleine wrote about the experience in her diary, saying, “as long as we are left together, prison was somewhat bearable.” Kathleen was soon transferred to a different prison. Conditions there were better, but to Kathleen, the first prison was preferable. In her diary, she wrote, “I would give 10,000 pounds to be back in Kilmainham with Madeleine.” 

Over the course of her imprisonment, Kathleen wrote detailed diary entries documenting her life while incarcerated. Upon her release more than a month later, she was deported to England, where she worked with a doctor near Bath. 

Kathleen was able to return to her home in Ireland by the end of the year. She re-opened her medical practice that she ran out of her home and continued to be involved with the Nationalist movement. In 1917, Kathleen was elected vice-president of the Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican political party.

In 1919, Kathleen and Madeleine founded St. Ultan’s Hospital, Ireland’s first all-female staffed hospital for infants. This came at a time when infant mortality rates in Dublin were incredibly high, and ventilation and conditions in tenement housing was poor. Kathleen and her colleagues focused on providing support for impoverished mothers and their children. 

By 1927, Kathleen had left politics. She spent the rest of her days working in children’s medicine. She also encouraged important medical research. By the late 1930s, a doctor at St. Ultan’s began pioneering a new tuberculosis inoculation – a big step toward eradicating the disease that was still raging in Ireland.  

Kathleen and Madeleine also maintained a close relationship – they lived together in Rathmines until Madeleine’s death in 1944. Although it was never explicitly proven, many historians today believe Kathleen and Madeleine were a romantic couple. . 

Kathleen retired in the spring of 1955 and passed away a few months later, on September 14. She was 81 years old. Kathleen was buried with full military honors in deference to her contribution to the War of Independence. People lined the streets of Dublin to memorialize her.

All month, we’re talking about rebels with a cause. For more information, find us on Facebook and Instagram @womanicapodcast. 

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator. 

As always, we’ll be taking a break for the weekend. Talk to you Monday!