School Resource Packs: Cork 1912-1918

Resource Pack 4: 1914 Suzanne R. Day

2 Cork City & County Archives: Through War and Rebellion: Cork 1912-1918

Year 1914: BG69/A/140 Cork Board of Guardians (extract from minutes of 16 March 1914)

Boards of Guardians were created by the Poor Law (Ireland) Act 1838. Each board administered a a workhouse and poor relief services within a defined poor law union consisting of a group of parishes or townlands. People who had no work would either go to the workhouse or be sent there by a Relieving Officer whose job was to go around the district and ensure that nobody was starving in the area. The Board levied (charged) the landowners in their area a poor rate (tax) to feed and clothe the people in the workhouse. When there were a lot of poor people in the area, eg, times of famine, the rate was higher. Each board was composed of guardians who came from and were elected by the owners of land. Depending on the value of the property an elector had one to three votes. In Ireland District Electoral Divisions were formed to create Poor Law Unions. We still use these today for elections but the Poor Law is long gone. The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1899 changed the system. The members of the Rural District Councils became the guardians for their areas and poor law elections were limited to urban areas. Property qualifications were abolished, multiple votes were ended and women could become guardians. The term of office of a guardian was increased to three years, with all guardians elected with no ex officio or nominated board members. Boards could co-opt (bring in) a chairman, vice-chairman and up to two other members. This was the first time that women could be elected to any government body but as the electorate were almost all male then few women even ran for election or got elected. At the time only 60% of men over 21 could vote in General Elections under the 1884 Reform Act and women were demanding equal rights for women in the United Kingdom through the Suffragette movement. Susanne Day helped form the Irish Women’s Franchise League in Cork and co-founded the Munster Women’s Franchise League, with writer Edith Somerville. She was one of the first women elected to the Cork County Borough (Cork City) Board of Guardians, in 1911. Appalled by the state of the workhouse (now St. Finbarr’s Hospital), especially the overcrowded conditions in the children’s ward, she started a campaign inside the Board to change this. She was obstructed at every stage by some members of the Board who did not want to spend money on improving things. She wrote an article on ‘The Workhouse Child’ in 1912, and later she wrote a thinly disguised satire called “The Amazing Philanthropists. Being extracts from the letters of Lester Martin ’ published in 1916. She left Ireland for France in 1916 and worked at the war front. She wrote Round about Bar-le-Duc in 1918 about her experiences during the battle of Verdun. She returned to Cork after her mother died and lived at Myrtle Hill House on Lover's Walk. However by the early 1930s she had returned to France. She also wrote plays with Geraldine Cummins, a noted spiritualist, two of which ( Broken Faith and Fox and Geese ) were staged at the Abbey in Dublin. Later plays The Dark Horse and Sixes and Sevens were staged in Manchester. During the Second World War she worked for the London Fire Service. She died in London on 26 May 1964. Her father, Robert Day was one of the most important people in the study of Irish pre-history as he purchased many of the artefacts that have found their way into museums across the world. Her nephew Alec R. Day , also an antiquarian and historian, founded the Cork Camera club in 1932. A collection of his papers is held at Cork City and County Archives. You might like to arrange a visit

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