Margaret Cousins

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Margaret Elizabeth Cousins, née Gillespie, also known as Gretta Cousins (1878–1954) was an Irish-Indian educationist, suffragist and Theosophist, who established All India Women's Conference (AIWC) in 1927.[1] She was the wife of poet and literary critic James Cousins, with whom she moved to India in 1915. She is credited with composing the tune for the Indian National Anthem "Jana Gana Mana" in February 1919, during Rabindranath Tagore's visit to the Madanapalle College.[2]

Life[edit]

Margaret Gillespie, from an Irish Protestant family,[3] was born at Boyle, County Roscommon, and educated locally and in Derry.[4] She studied music at the Royal University of Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1902, and became a teacher. As a student she had met the poet and literary critic James Cousins, and she married him in 1903. The pair explored socialism, vegetarianism, and psychical research together. In 1906, after attending a National Conference of Women meeting in Manchester, Cousins joined the Irish branch of the NCW. In 1907 she and her husband attended the London Convention of the Theosophical Society, and she made contacts with suffragettes, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, and occultists in London.[3]

Cousins co-founded the Irish Women's Franchise League with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1908, serving as its first treasurer.[5] In 1910 she was one of six Dublin women attending the Parliament of Women, which attempted to march to the House of Commons to hand a resolution to the Prime Minister. After 119 women marching to the House of Commons had been arrested, 50 requiring medical treatment, the women decided to break the windows of the houses of Cabinet Ministers. Cousins was arrested and sentenced to a month in Holloway Prison.[3]

Vacationing with W. B. Yeats in 1912, Cousins and her husband heard Yeats read translations of poems by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1913, breaking the windows of Dublin Castle on the reading of the Second Home Rule Bill, Cousins and other suffragists were arrested and sentenced to one month in Tullamore Jail. The women demanded to be treated as political prisoners, and went on hunger strike to achieve release.[3]

In 1913, she and her husband moved to Liverpool, where James Cousins worked in a vegetarian food factory. In 1915 they moved to India. James Cousins initially worked for New India, the newspaper founded by Annie Besant; after Besant was forced to dismiss him for an article praising the Easter Uprising, she appointed him Vice-Principal of the news Madanapalle College, where Margaret taught English.[3]

In 1916, she became the first non-Indian member of the Indian Women's University at Poona.[4] In 1917 Cousins co-founded the Women's Indian Association with Annie Besant and Dorothy Jinarajadasa. She edited the WIA's journal, Stri Dharma.[3] In 1919–20 Cousins was the first Head of the National Girls' School at Mangalore. In 1922, she became the first woman magistrate in India. In 1927, she co-founded the All India Women's Conference, serving as its President in 1936.[3]

In 1932, she was arrested and jailed for speaking against the Emergency Measures.[4] By the late 1930s she felt conscious of the need to give way to indigenous Indian feminists:

I longed to be in the struggle, but I had the feeling that direct participation by me was no longer required, or even desired by the leaders of India womanhood who were now coming to the front.[6]

A stroke left Cousins paralysed from 1943 onwards. She received financial support from the Madras government, and later Jawaharlal Nehru, in recognition of her services to India.[4] She died in 1954. Her manuscripts are dispersed in various collections across the world.[7]

Works[edit]

  • The Awakening of Asian Womanhood, 1922
  • The music of Orient and Occident; essays towards mutual understandings, 1935
  • Indian womanhood today, 1941
  • (with James Cousins) We Two Together, Madras: Ganesh, 1950

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ History AIWC website.
  2. ^ http://www.hindu.com/fr/2009/05/15/stories/2009051551360500.htm
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Kum Jayawardena (1995). The White Woman's Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule. Taylor & Francis. pp. 147–155. ISBN 978-0-415-91104-7. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d Jennifer S. Uglow, ed. (1999). The Northeastern Dictionary of Women's Biography. Maggy Hendry. UPNE. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-55553-421-9. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  5. ^ Peter Gordon; David Doughan (2005). Dictionary of British Women's Organisations. Taylor & Francis. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7130-4045-6. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  6. ^ Margaret Cousins and James Cousins, We Two-Together, 1950, p.746. Quoted in Jayawardena.
  7. ^ Alan Denson, ed. (1967). James H. Cousins (1873–1956) and Margaret E. Cousins (1878–1954): A Bio-bibliographical Survey. Kendal: published by the author. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

Ramusack, Barbara N, ‘Cousins, Margaret Elizabeth (1878–1954)’,Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.

Ramusack, Barbara N, "Catalysts or Helpers? British Feminists, Indian Women's Rights, and Indian Independence." In The Extended Family: Women and Political Participation in India and Pakistan. Edited by Gail Minault. Delhi: Chanakya, 1981.

Ramusack, Barbara N, "Cultural Missionaries, Maternal Imperialists, Feminist Allies: British Women Activists in India, 1865-1945." Women's Studies International Forum, 13, no.4, 1990.

Ramusack, Barbara N, "Embattled Advocates: The Debate Over Birth Control in India, 1920-1940." Journal of Women's History I, no.2 (Fall 1989): 34-64.


  • Catherine Candy, 'Relating Feminisms, Nationalisms, and Imperialisms: Ireland, India and Margaret Cousins's Sexual Politics', Women's History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4 (1994), pp. 581–94.
  • Catherine Candy, The occult feminism of Margaret Cousins in modern Ireland and India, 1878–1954, 1996.
  • Catherine Candy (2001). "Margaret Cousins 1878–1954". In Mary Cullen. Female activists: Irish women and change 1900–1960. Maria Luddy. Woodfield Press. pp. 113–141. ISBN 978-0-9534293-0-1. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 

Catherine Candy, “Mystical Internationalism in Margaret Cousins’s Feminist World.” Women’s Studies International Forum 32, no. 1 (2009): 29-34.

Catherine Candy, “‘Untouchability’, Vegetarianism and the Suffragist Ideology of Margaret Cousins.” Irish Women and the Vote: Becoming Citizens, ed. Louise Ryan, Margaret Ward, 154-171. Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2007.

Catherine Candy, “The Inscrutable Irish-Indian Feminist Management of Anglo-American Hegemony, 1917-1947.” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 2, no.1 (2001):1-28.

Catherine Candy, "Competing Transnational Representations of the 1930s Indian Franchise Question.” Women’s Suffrage in the British Empire: Citizenship, Nation, and Race, ed. I.C. Fletcher, P. Levine, L.E.N. Mayhall, 191-207. London, Routledge, 2000.