European HerStory: Kathleen Lynn

, by Rebecca Wenmoth

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

European HerStory: Kathleen Lynn
The library at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1909 where Lynn studied. Photo credit: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)

History is not merely a question of fact but of how it is recorded and how we interpret it. What is remembered, and how we remember it, is shaped by our socially constructed understandings of the world as it was at the time and as we know it today.

With the feminine history of our continent often sold short under the weight of enduring patriarchal structures, women’s contributions to science, art, politics and beyond are often at best overshadowed or at worst forgotten.

The following article is part of our fortnight-long feature, “European HerStory”, during which we are presenting inspiring stories of women who have contributed to Europe. With this feature, we hope to help rectify the imbalance stemming from our collective prism of history, and inform ourselves and our readers about female achievements and innovations.

You can read the full presentation of the feature here.

Kathleen Lynn (28 January 1874 – 14 September 1955) was a doctor who dedicated her life to welfare reform, reducing poverty, improving conditions in prisons and for workers, promoting women’s suffrage and freeing Ireland from British rule.

Kathleen was born to a priest in County Mayo, Ireland in 1874 and was very struck by the effects of the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1852) as she was growing up. As a result, she decided to become a doctor. To avoid discrimination she faced trying to practice medicine as a woman, she undertook postgraduate studies overseas in the United States. She then returned to Ireland and had a successful medical career, becoming a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1909.

Kathleen’s life was also dedicated to political causes, a member of suffragette groups in Ireland. She also organised and worked in soup kitchens following the 1913 Dublin lock-out strikes and worked with many trade unions. She was appointed as Chief Medical Officer of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) where she provided medical training to recruits and led medics during the 1916 Easter Rising. For her part in the rising she was imprisoned, during which time she kept meticulous diaries.

Kathleen was a Teachta Dála (TD) (Irish equivalent of a Member of Parliament) for the nationalist party Sinn Féin between 1923 and 1927. Some historians believe she was in a long-term lesbian relationship with Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, who she lived with until her death in 1955.

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