Louie Bennett memorial bench in St Stephen's Green, Dublin.
Temple Hill, Dublin
|Died||November 25, 1956
|Known for||Her work as a suffragette, trade unionist, journalist and writer|
|Resting place||Deans Grange Cemetery, Dublin|
|Religious beliefs||Church Of Ireland|
|Parents||James Cavendish Bennett (father)
Susan Elizabeth Bennett(née Boulger) (mother)
Louie Bennett (Louisa Elizabeth Bennett; 1870 - 1956) was an Irish suffragette, trade unionist, journalist and writer. Born and raised in Dublin, she began her life in the public arena with the establishment of the Irish Women's Suffrage Movement in 1911. She authored two books prior to this, "The Proving of Priscilla" (1902) and "A Prisoner of His Word" (1908), and would continue to contribute to newspapers regularly as a freelance journalist. She played a significant role in the Irish Women Workers' Union once it was established in 1911. Bennett became Organising Secretary of the Irish section in the Union of Democratic Control (UDC) in 1915.
Bennett was born in Temple Hill, Dublin into a Church of Ireland family. The eldest of ten children, she had four sisters and five brothers. Her father, James Bennett, ran the family business as a fine art auctioneer and valuer on Ormond Quay. Her mother, Susan Boulger came from a family of some social standing in Dublin. Little of her life is known up until 1911, she appears to have had a happy childhood, growing up with the comforts associated with a privileged background. She was initially educated at home with her brothers and sisters, but later went to a boarding school in England, and for a time, Alexandra College in Dublin.
Suffrage movement and The Irish Citizen
The Suffragettes wanted the right for women to vote. The term suffragette is used to describe those who campaigned for the rights of women to vote in the elections in the United Kingdom. Louie Bennett and Helen Cheneviz absorbed the Irishwomen’s Suffrage and Local Government Associatiom (IWSLGA) and scattered local suffrage societies into the Irish Woman’s Suffrage Federation (IWSF), an umbrella group for most of the non-militant suffrage societies. How she became involved in the suffragettes movement was unknown but from the late 1800s suffragette societies were emerging in Ireland in response to changing social and political times. In 1911, the year when women refused to participate in the census in protest of their lack of a vote, Louie joined with Helen Chenevix to establish the IWSF. Literature appeared to have been the incubator of Bennett’s work on behalf of woman began with her involvement in the Suffrage movement in 1911. After Carrie Chapman Catt and Jane Addams formed a Women’s Peace Party in the United States in January 1915, the suffragists were divided on the correct stance for women towards war. People with strong English/Unionist connections abandoned or postponed all suffrage work. In the Irish Citizens Bennett stated unequivocally that “Woman should never have abandoned their struggle for justice, war or no war”.
Involvment with The Irish Citizen
In 1920 Bennett took over financial and editorial control of the Irish Women's Franchise League's paper: the Irish Citizen. It was founded in 1912 as a way to further the cause of the suffragettes and feminists in Ireland. It was first edited by James Cousins and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. In March 1913 James left to work in England and later India, leaving Francis as the sole editor. Francis Sheehy-Skeffington was executed in 1916 by firing squad for involvement in the Easter rising (even though he was trying to prevent people from looting). Control of the paper was then given to Francis's wife Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, with the help of Bennett. Bennett seemed like an odd choice[according to whom?], and as an editor was outspoken against the policy of the Irish Citizen in the past and she had actually withdrawn her subscription to the paper the previous year. In 1916 Hanna had relinquished her role in order to travel to America and publicise the death of her husband. This left Bennett as the joint editor of the paper, with fellow IWFL member Mary Bourke-Dowling. During the time that Bennett took over, the paper had a number of debts, and had shrunk from its original eight pages to four pages with one of these pages consisting entirely of advertisements. In order to combat this, Bennett wanted more space to be given towards trade unions (in order to increase sales) and in 1920 the IWWU and the Irish Nurses' Organisation started using the paper as their official journal. This despite Skeffington writing in it that it needed to stay distinctively non party affiliated. In 1920 Bennett then told Skeffington that she would like to take over control of the paper and turn it into a feminist labour paper. This proved the last straw for Skeffington, who then ended their agreement. Skeffington's own interests started to shift away from the paper as a member of the Sinn Féin in 1920. Bennett was then left in control of the paper until its demise. Ultimately this was because of funding decreasing due to its dwindling support and the actual dispute of the ethos of the paper changing from a suffragettes paper towards a trade union paper, the printing press itself was also destroyed by the Black and Tans. The paper did not recover from this, and the final issue was published in September 1920.
Trade Union Work
Irish Women's Workers Trade Union
The Irish Women Workers’ Union was founded at a public meeting held on 5 September 1911 in the old ancient Concert Hall on Great Brunswick Street (later the Academy cinema on what is now called Pearse Street). Following her attendance of the Trade Union Congress in Sligo 1916, Bennett became publicly identified with the Irish Women's Worker's Union. The union would not only give women a greater voice in the workplace but would also help to win them the vote and improve their status in society. On 20 November 1935, the Irish Women Workers' Union under Bennett staged street protests against discriminatory sections of Seán Lemass's Conditions of Employment bill. Helena Molony subsequently approached the pacifist Louie Bennett to become involved and they, along with Helen Chenevix and Rosie Hackett became key figures in the establishment of a re-organised, independent IWWU after 1916. Many of its battles centered on traditional attempts to win improved pay and conditions for women, its particular role as a voice for women was also at the heart of its work and so it often found itself fighting for parity with male workers or, as in the printing trade, the right to apply for the same jobs and be accorded the same status as men. In 1945, however, the union organised a successful three month strike for improved conditions and won the entitlement, subsequently enjoyed by all Irish workers, to two weeks paid annual holidays. On the political front, the union was also an effective lobbying organisation that sought to make progress on a range of issues of direct relevance to Irish women by working to influence the wider trade union movement as well as successive governments.
Work with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions
Louie Bennett began a long association with the IWWU in 1916 alongside Helen Chenevix. Bennett served a long thirty-eight years as the General Secretary in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ITUC). Bennett served as Irish Trade Union Congress executive committee member 1922-1931 and 1944-50. In 1932 she was elected as the first woman of the Irish Trade Union Congress, and was elected to the position again in 1948
Personal Life, Death and Legacy
Bennett died on 25 November 1956, aged 86. Her funeral was attended by many trade union and Labour figures including William Norton. She is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery, sharing a grave with her mother, father and brother Lionel Vaughan Bennett.
In the year following her death, R.M. Fox published a book based on her reminiscences to him in the final year of her life titled "Louie Bennett, Her Life and Times".
- Bennett, Louie (1902). The Proving of Priscilla. Dublin: Harper Bros.
- Bennett, Louie (1908). A Prisoner of His Word. Dublin: Maunsel.
- "History of Ireland". www.historyireland.com. Retrieved 20 November 2014.
- Fox, R.M. (1958). Louis Bennett: Her Life and Times. Dublin: Talbot Press.
- Cullen Owens, Rosemary (2001). Louie Bennett (1870 - 1956). Dublin: The Woodfield Press. p. 45. ISBN 0-9534293-0-X.
- Cullen Owens, Rosemary (1984). Smashing Times : A History of Irish Women’s Suffrage Movement 1889-1922. Dublin: Attic Press. ISBN 9780946211081.
- "The Suffragettes". HistoryLEarningSite.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-11-25.
- Ryan, Louise (1996). Irish feminism and the vote : an anthology of the Irish Citizen newspaer, 1912-1920. Folens. p. 11. ISBN 0861217098.
- Dean, Carpenter, Williams: Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. V, p. 131
- "A brief history". Irish Women's Workers Union. Retrieved 2014-11-14.
- "Louie Bennet and Helen Chenevix". Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Retrieved 2014-11-14.
- O'Donnell, Katherine (2003). Lesbianism. Gill and Macmillan.
- "FUNERAL MISS LOUIE BENNETT". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2014-11-24.
- "Memorial to Louie Bennett". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2014-11-24.
|Secretary of the Irish Women Workers' Union
|President of the Irish Trade Union Congress
|President of the Irish Trade Union Congress
James Larkin, Jnr