Encyclopedia Womannica

Warriors: Constance Markievicz

Episode Summary

Constance Markievicz (1868-1927) was an Anglo-Irish political activist who was the first woman elected to British Parliament and refused to take her seat. She was also the first and only woman to service in the first Irish Assembly.

Episode Notes

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 Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica 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.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins.

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Episode Transcription

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

Today’s warrior was an Irish revolutionary and suffragist, who reshaped British politics. We’re talking about Constance Markievicz. 

Constance was born in 1868 in London, England. Her father was a wealthy philanthropist by the name of Sir Henry Gore-Booth. His activism inspired Constance and her younger sister Eva who also became a suffragist. 

Constance’s childhood circle was filled with politicians, intellectuals, and creatives. She was even friends with the poet W.B. Yeats, who became one of the most important figures in 20th century literature. 

The political and artistic energy in Constance’s network trickled down to Eva and Constance. Eva was first to become involved in the women’s suffrage and labour movement. While Constance was initially resistant, she soon joined Eva in the fight for equality.

 But Constance’s path to politics wasn’t linear. 

At the age of 24, Constance studied painting at an art school in London. After that, she enrolled at a prestigious school in Paris. There, she met her husband, with whom she had one child. 

In 1903, Constance moved to Dublin with her husband where she surrounded herself with the creative elite. While she still painted and used her artistic prowess, her focus transitioned to politics.

In 1908, Constance joined the revolutionary women’s movement Daughters of Ireland. She also joined Sinn Fein, which still exists as a left-wing Irish republican political party. 

Three years later, Constance was arrested for protesting against King George V’s visits to the country. During the demonstration, she threw stones at pictures of the King and Queen and was arrested. It was the first of several arrests for Constance. 

But the possibility of jail time didn’t stop her political activism. 

A few years later, Constance participated in the Easter Rising—an insurrection launched by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland. Constance was imprisoned for her participation and was sentenced to death. But because of her gender, her sentence was reduced to life in prison. When she found out about this shift, Constance said to her captors: 

“I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” 

In prison, Constance was held in solitary confinement. She nearly starved to death and was forced to do strenuous labor. Constance was released a year later, but was imprisoned again shortly thereafter. 

In 1918, when Constance was still in prison, she was elected to the House of Commons as the representative for Dublin’s St. Patrick’s division, a UK parliamentary constituency in Ireland. She became the first woman elected to the United Kingdom House of Commons. But Constance refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the king, and did not take her seat.

 Instead, she—along with other Irish republicans—organized a new government called the Dail Eireann. 

When Constance was released from prison, she served in the first Dail Eireann as the minister of labour from 1919 to 1922. She became the first woman to be an Irish Cabinet Minister. She was the only woman to hold that position until 1979.  

In 1926, Constance left her political party to join another. She was re-elected to the Dail the following year but never took her seat. A month after her reelection in 1927, Constance died.  She was 59 years old. 

Constance is best remembered for her roles as a revolutionary, a politician, a socialist, and an undaunted activist. 

Join us tomorrow to learn about another warrior!

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

Talk to you tomorrow!