Gertrude Kelly

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Gertrude Kelly
Gertrude Kelly.jpg
Born Gertrude Brice Kelly
Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland
Died 24 February 1934 (aged 71–72)
New York, United States
Occupation Surgeon
Nationality Irish, American

Gertrude Brice Kelly (1862 – 24 February 1934) was a prominent New York City surgeon and suffragette, labour and social activist, Irish independence supporter, and anarchist.

Early life[edit]

Born Gertrude Brice Kelly to teachers Jeremiah Kelly and Kate Forrest of Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland, in 1862, Kelly emigrated with her family to the United States in 1868, settling in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her father went back into teaching in the public school system, becoming a principal of a New Jersey school in 1872.[1][2] Her older brother was electrical engineer John Forrest Kelly.

After graduating from high school, Kelly studied medicine in the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, graduating in 1884 and went on to practice as a doctor. Despite being in America, Kelly remained interested in the situation in Ireland and her work in the tenements gave her insight into the lives of the poor.[3][4][5]


An ardent anarchist and republican, Kelly published frequent articles in the periodicals Liberty and the Irish World. She was the foremost woman contributor to Liberty and hugely praised by the editor Benjamin Tucker.[6] She was a member of the Ladies' Land League in America. She believed in the No Rent Manifesto published by the Irish National Land League in 1881.[3][4] She was also a supporter of freedom for other nations – she was a member of the Friends of Freedom for India and Friends of New Russia.[7][8]

In 1914 Kelly founded the American chapter of the Cumann na mBan in the Hotel McAlpin. She was president of the association and arranged new chapters around the country as well as arranging speakers and fundraising. However she did not support Irish Volunteer leader John Redmond's move to support the British armed forces in the First World War. Kelly was a pacifist who believed in non-violent protests. She was arrested during an anti-war demonstration during the war.[8] In 1917 she co-founded the Irish Progressive League (IPL). During the war, organisations which criticized British policy were put on the government watch list. As a result of the members of the earlier organisations being listed, the IPL believed they were better positioned to lobby for the Irish Republic in Washington.[3][4][5][9][10]

Kelly claimed to have been a member of almost every Irish association in New York.[5] Her main local causes were in support of women and poor families. She founded a medical clinic in Chelsea as well as being on the surgical staff at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children for over 30 years. She was also secretary of the Newark Liberal League.[4] She wrote numerous papers on surgical and medical procedures, and on social health issues.[3][10]

One of her main objections was with capitalism, which she believed caused the poverty she saw. She spoke against the practices of teaching women embroidery and art rather than making them self-sufficient.[3][4] She saw herself as an anarchist in the beginning but began to identify as a socialist in later years.[11]

In her writings she made statements which were rare for a feminist of the day. She made the point,[4][10] "There is, properly speaking, no woman question, apart from the question of human rights and human liberty".[12]

Unlike the image of the nationalist Irish woman, Kelly was an atheist who referred to herself as an unredeemed pagan. She never married but lived with her companion Mary Walsh.[11]

The Irish Patriotic Strike[edit]

In September 1920 Kelly was one of the organizers of the American Women Pickets for the Enforcement of America's War Aims which blockaded the British Embassy in Washington in response to their actions in Ireland. They also organized a strike at Chelsea Piers, which lasted three and a half weeks, in protest of the British Prime Minister's actions in relation to Irish Archbishop Daniel Mannix and the arrest of the Cork Mayor Terence MacSwiney. The strike spread to Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Boston and included Irish, Italian, and African-American workers.[3][4][5] The strike at Chelsea Piers was termed "the first purely political strike of workingmen in the history of the United States" by The New York Sun.[13][5]


Kelly died on 24 February 1934. Two years later, on 16 May 1936, New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia dedicated a playground to her in the Chelsea district, the Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground.[3][4]


  1. ^ "Kelly, Gertrude Brice". Dictionary of Irish Biography – Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Schooled in Radical Social Thought—Portraits of Three Irish-American Women in the Late-nineteenth Century".
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Tomás Ó Coısdealha. "Dr Gertrude B. Kelly". Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Wendy McElroy (October 1998). "Gertrude B. Kelly: A Forgotton Feminist: Newsroom: The Independent Institute". The Freeman. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e Doyle, Joe (30 July 1997), "Striking for Ireland on the New York Docks", in Bayor, Ronald H.; Meagher, Timothy, The New York Irish, JHU Press, pp. 357–, ISBN 978-0-8018-5764-5
  6. ^ William O. Reichert (1976). Partisans of Freedom: A Study in American Anarchism. Bowling Green State University Popular Press. ISBN 978-0-87972-118-3.
  7. ^ "New Albany Daily Ledger, October 1, 1891, Page 3". Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  8. ^ a b David Brundage (7 March 2016). Irish Nationalists in America: The Politics of Exile, 1798–1998. Oxford University Press. pp. 154–. ISBN 978-0-19-971582-4.
  9. ^ "1916 Letters indicating censorship". Letters 1916 maynooth university. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  10. ^ a b c Wendy McElroy (1 January 2001). Individualist Feminism of the Nineteenth Century: Collected Writings and Biographical Profiles. McFarland. pp. 164–. ISBN 978-0-7864-0775-0.
  11. ^ a b Bruce Nelson (2012). Irish Nationalists and the Making of the Irish Race. Princeton University Press. pp. 227–. ISBN 0-691-15312-4.
  12. ^ Debra Satz; Rob Reich (2009). Toward a Humanist Justice: The Political Philosophy of Susan Moller Okin. Oxford University Press. pp. 78–. ISBN 978-0-19-971403-2.
  13. ^ James T. Fisher (23 February 2011). On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York. Cornell University Press. pp. 22–. ISBN 0-8014-5734-3.

Further reading[edit]