Irish Women in the 1937 Constitution

You can’t study women in 20th century Irish literature without examining the sexist values perpetuated by DeValera’s 1937 Irish Constitution. Amid detailing what would be DeValera’s ideal Independent Ireland, it is made clear what role women were seen to occupy in society at the time. Specifying the desire to protect the family-unit as the basis of society, the constitution recognises women’s contribution to the State through her position in the household. While I do believe it’s important to value the work many women have undertaken in running a household throughout history, an issue lies here in the relegation of women purely to the home.

The 1937 Constitution creates no space for women outside of the home. This need to ‘protect’ women as mothers and wives could be seen in Irish society throughout the nineteen-hundreds. Not only did it perpetuate the societal norm of a nuclear family with a patriarchal head, but laws which banned women from working in the civil service after marriage stood until the 1970s.

These issues did not come unchallenged. Before the creation of the Irish Free-State, many women fought in the battle for Independence. These women, who were integral to the republican movement, were suddenly being limited to housewives. Many people outwardly opposed DeValera’s constitution, including author Dorothy Macardle. The change Macardle and others requested was simple: include a place for women both within and outside of the home in the Irish Constitution.

The State would not comply. The women of Ireland had their role and that was it. Much of the literature of the time reflects the ideal of a ‘woman’s place’, with female characters existing only in the kitchen. Feminist authors, however, continued their fight – producing works which challenged the perceived place of women in Irish society at the time. Do you, reader, think these discussions still have merit today? I invite you to comment on whether or not you believe the values upheld in the 1937 Constitution still hold influence on Irish society.

If you’d like to learn more about the 1937 constitution, History Ireland has a comprehensive article on the subject:  It details the creation of the new Free State document, paying particular regard to the influence of the Catholic Church on Irish values at the time.