Saturday, 5 January 2019

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5 January 1941: The death of Jennie Wise Power, Revolutionary and campaigner for Women's Rights on this day. Born Jane O'Toole in Baltinglass Co Wicklow in 1858, the daughter of Edward O'Toole and Mary Norton. When she was only two years old her father sold the business and moved to Dublin, yet before she was twenty she and her four siblings lost both their parents to illness.

In 1881 she became involved in politics for the first time by joining the Ladies Land League  that year and was an associate of Anna Parnell - the sister of Charles Stewart Parnell and the leading light of the LLL. After the death of C.S.Parnell in 1891 she published Words of the Dead Chief, with an introduction from Anna Parnell, containing a selection of extracts from Parnell's speeches. 

During this time she met her husband, John Wyse Power the then editor of the Leinster Leader  newspaper and a member of the IRB. He was also one of the founder members of the GAA. They married on 5 July 1883 and lived in Naas Co Kildare. The family moved to Dublin in 1885 after John secured a position with the national newspaper The Freemans Journal. They must have some impact on Dublin’s social scene as The Wyse Powers appear as the Wyse Nolans in Ulysses by James Joyce.
Jennie Wyse Power operated a restaurant and shop (The Irish Farm Produce Company) at 21 Henry Street. Her shop the Irish Farm Produce Company where she sold eggs, butter, cream, honey, confectionery and all-Irish produce. The business included a restaurant with tea and luncheon rooms. She lived above it. In 1908 she expanded her business by acquiring new premises at 21 Lower Camden Street, again emphasising the sale of solely Irish produce.

Jennie's age on the 1911 Census is recorded as 47 years old, but other sources (such as the Houses of the Oireachtas) state that she was born in 1858 which would mean that she was 53 in 1911. The return is filled out by Jennie’s husband, Séaghan, but perhaps he got his wife’s age incorrect. The Census return is filled out in Irish. Her daughter Máire aged 20 is recorded as having a BA. Another daughter Aine, aged 21, is recorded as is her son Charles Stewart and Cathal mc Seáin who was aged 12.

 By 1912 Wyse Power was a Vice-President of Sinn Féin: on 5 April 1914 at Wynne's Hotel, Dublin she became a founder member of Cumann na Ban and was an active member of the Central Branch. On 31 October 1914, she was elected the first President of Cumann na mBan. The signing of the 1916 Proclamation took place in her house in Henry Street.

Jennie Wyse Power took the Pro-Treaty side in 1921/1922, extremely uncommon within Cumann na mBan, and she helped to found Cumann na Saoirse which became the Pro-Treaty women's movement. She was gutted that the split occurred and wrote that:

It is to be regretted that this splendid force of women should have been the first body to repudiate the National Parliament, and thus initiate a policy, which has had such disastrous results. The decision had the further effect of limiting Cumann na nBan to purely military work.

The Civil War marked a falling out of many comrades who had led the struggle against the British and none more so than amongst the women who had stood up for Ireland at that time. Her premises in Camden St Dublin were attacked in December 1922 and much damage done. However she was appointed to the Free State Senate and was one of only four women to sit in it. Her time there saw her become more disillusioned with how things were drifting and after the Debacle of the Boundary Commission in December 1925 she sat as an Independent and not as a Cumann na nGaedheal (pro Treaty member). 

When Fianna Fail entered constitutional politics in 1927 she started to drift towards them and struck up a working relationship with Sean T O’Kelly. O'Kelly was probably the one who persuaded Wyse Power to join Fianna Fáil that year and stand for the party in the 1934 Seanad Election where she was re-elected for nine years and would serve until that Seanad was abolished in 1936.

On 5 January 1941, aged 82, she died at her home in Dublin, and was interred in Glasnevin Cemetery with her husband and daughter, Máire (who predeceased her). Her funeral was attended by many from both sides of the Dáil and old revolutionary comrades.

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