Margaret Cousins

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Margaret Cousins
Margaret E. Cousins, 1932
Margaret Elizabeth Gillespie

(1878-11-17)17 November 1878
Died11 March 1954(1954-03-11) (aged 75)
Adyar, Madras, India
(now Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India)
Occupation(s)Theosophist, educationist, suffragist, writer
Known forFounder and 11th president of All India Women's Conference
SpouseJames Cousins

Margaret Elizabeth Cousins (née Gillespie, also known as Gretta Cousins; 7 November 1878 – 11 March 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 preserving the tune of the Indian National Anthem Jana Gana Mana based on the notes provided by Tagore himself in February 1919, during Rabindranath Tagore's visit to the Madanapalle College.[2] She was a member of the Flag Presentation Committee which presented the National Flag to the Constituent Assembly on 14 August 1947.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Margaret Gillespie, from an Irish Protestant family,[4] was born at Boyle, County Roscommon,[5] and educated locally and in Derry.[6] 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.[4]

Cousins was a vegetarian and was a speaker for the Vegetarian Society in 1907. She was also involved with the Irish Vegetarian Society.[7] Cousins co-founded the Irish Women's Franchise League with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1908, serving as its first treasurer.[8] 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.[4]

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 Mabel Purser, Barbara Hoskins and Meg Connery were arrested and sentenced to one month in Tullamore Jail.[9] The women demanded to be treated as political prisoners, and went on hunger strike to achieve release.[4]

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 new Madanapalle College, where Margaret taught English.[4]

In 1916, she became the first non-Indian member of the Indian Women's University at Poona.[6] In 1917 Cousins co-founded the Women's Indian Association with Annie Besant and Dorothy Jinarajadasa. She edited the WIA's journal, Stri Dharma.[4] 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.[4]

In 1932, she was arrested and jailed for speaking against the Emergency Measures.[6] 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.[10]

She was a member of the Flag Presentation Committee, which was a committee of 74 Indian women led by Hansa Mehta at the Constituent Assembly. The committee presented the National Flag of India on behalf of the women of India to the House on 14 August 1947.[11][3]

A stroke left Cousins paralysed from 1944 onwards. She received financial support from the Madras government, and later Jawaharlal Nehru, in recognition of her services to India.[6]

She died in 1954. Her manuscripts are dispersed in various collections across the world.[12]


  • 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]


  1. ^ History Archived 18 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine AIWC website.
  2. ^ "Home". 1950.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Irish Genealogy". Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Leneman, Leah (June 1997). "The awakened instinct: vegetarianism and the women's suffrage movement in Britain". Women's History Review. 6 (2): 271–287. doi:10.1080/09612029700200144. ISSN 0961-2025. S2CID 144004487.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ ""You never saw such excitement" - Richmond Barracks". Google Arts & Culture. Retrieved 6 April 2024.
  10. ^ Margaret Cousins and James Cousins, We Two-Together, 1950, p.746. Quoted in Jayawardena.
  11. ^ "Flag presented". The Hindu. 14 August 2015.
  12. ^ 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]