Deserters and White Slavers: Emigration in the Irish popular press

In August 1912 Julia Curran, a young Irish woman from Kilkenny, was brutally murdered in a New York brothel. Later that year the case would become a significant scandal when it emerged that corrupt police had tried to help the brothel cover up her death as being from ‘natural causes’, but long before then the story was widely reported in the Irish press. The victim (frequently described as being from a ‘good family’ and having worked as a governess in aristocratic homes in Ireland) had been travelling in America as a lady’s companion to a wealthy family when she made the acquaintance of a ‘foreign’ man and abruptly left her employment to travel to New York with him. She was later seen arriving at the brothel in his company in a visibly ‘drugged’ condition, her body being found in their room the following day (she had been strangled), her male companion having disappeared.

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This grim story would have seemed eerily familiar to many readers of the Irish press, where it was avidly reported in papers from the Kerry Reporter to the Strabane Chronicle under headlines such as ‘New York Horror’ and ‘Irish Girl’s Fate, Pretty Governess Murdered’. It read like an exact real-life example of the tales of ‘white slavery’ they had been hearing for years, but with a particular intensity around the time of Julia Curran’s death. ‘White slavery’ was the deliberately emotive term used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to warn young women of the reputed threat they faced of being seduced, tricked or even kidnapped into prostitution. These threats were, it was argued, especially great for young women who moved to big cities looking for work, away from the protection of their families and supposedly becoming vulnerable to the cunning wiles of procurers who would target them at train stations, ports and even in busy streets. As Katherine Mullin describes in her book on the Irish social purity movement, a pamphlet entitled The Horrors of the White Slave Trade: the Mighty Crusade to Protect the Purity of Our Homes, which was published in 1912, used a photo-story reconstruction of how unwary girls could be fooled into prostitution. In the first image, a charming stranger engages the innocent young woman in conversation in a city street. In the second image, he has persuaded her to accompany him to a restaurant where ‘the smooth-tongued villain tells of his affection and undying love for her’ while, of course, drugging her food. And in the final photo, she is seen dazedly following him into a building, now ‘incapable of self-control and is easily led to her ruin. Awaking she will find herself in a house of shame’. The following year not one but two films on the topic, Traffic in Souls and The Horrors of the White Slave Trade, were released into the increasingly-popular movie theatres. The international campaign to ‘rescue’ unwitting girls from the clutches of ‘white slavery’ was of course a close relative of the broader social purity movement which was previously discussed here on this blog in relation to its campaigns against ‘evil literature’. In Ireland, this had actually begun as a late-19thC campaign against the brothels in Dublin’s Monto district, involving street pickets and attempts to identify and shame male customers – but from around 1900 the focus of Irish purity campaigns moved to an emphasis on popular fiction, photographs, crime and divorce reporting. However, the moral panic about innocent young women being tricked into ‘white slavery’ did have considerable resonance in Ireland as a cautionary tale of what might result from emigration, especially emigration to big cities such as London or New York.

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The decades immediately before and after 1900 were periods of enormous emigration from Ireland – often from rural areas to the huge cities of Britain and the United States. Not only were Ireland’s emigration rates extremely high, but young single women constituted an unusually high proportion of those emigrants, and this made awful warnings of the moral dangers they faced a popular theme of anti-emigration rhetoric. Not that female emigrants were the only targets of warnings against leaving home, however. Ireland’s Own in particular maintained a steady flow of anti-emigration rhetoric through its fiction, factual articles and editorials from its earliest years, and many of these were aimed at young male readers as well as female. Ireland’s Own’s principal demographic, young working-class or lower-middle-class readers (both male and female) were of course also the principal demographic who were emigrating, and this was therefore a sensitive topic for the paper to raise. Nevertheless it did so regularly, and in ways which left no ambiguity about its editorial position on the subject. Within its first few months for example, an opinion column of December 1902 claimed that every day 108 people left Ireland ‘with much patriotism on their lips but not any in their hearts….there was a time when the word ‘emigrant’ was nearly synonymous with “martyr”. At the present day, in view of the arduous labour and risk of moral degradation that a life outside of Ireland entails and the obvious opportunities for work that await the willing hand at home, it is an abuse of the words to call deserters “emigrants”. Here emigration is painted not only as a moral risk to the individual emigrant, but also as such a significant loss to the national body politic that it can be characterised as unpatriotic or even as ‘desertion’, a highly emotive term. In another article in the same vein more than a decade later, the paper would rail against the ‘terrible drain on our resources that has been made by the constant emigration of the strong and the young to America’. Here then emigration was a betrayal of Ireland, and something of an accusation from the paper to its own readers, many of whom must have emigrated each year, or had siblings and friends who did. Perhaps aware that calls to remain in Ireland for purely patriotic reasons were unlikely to deter many potential emigrants, Ireland’s Own frequently invoked the difficulties and disappointments of life abroad, especially in the United States. This was an anti-emigration narrative particularly aimed at male emigrants, who were assured that ‘few, very few, ever earn more than a living wage’, along with warnings about the high cost of living in cities like New York, and the competition for jobs they would face from Russians, Swedes, Germans or Italians, who it was claimed were hired in preference to Irishmen and would work for less money. These points were reinforced in fiction as well, with stories about emigration gone wrong. In 1908 for example, the paper published ‘A False El Dorado’ by Thomas Geraghty, about a young man who leaves his family home in Ireland for New York, in part to search for his brother who had emigrated some years before and not been heard of since. Our hero struggles to make a living, but perseveres, until one day he rescues from the river a man attempting suicide – who of course turns out to be his brother, aged and defeated by his failure in New York, and too ashamed to stay in contact with his family. The story has a happy ending in which the brothers return to the family cottage in Ireland, but the moral for readers contemplating emigration was clear.

Nevertheless, for all the dire warnings of the economic hazards awaiting male emigrants, the fate conjured for young women was definitely even worse. In 1903 the paper’s women’s page warned of difficulties in finding work and lodgings, or even a suitable church to attend, concluding that it was ‘far better to stay at home and make the best of things’. More sensational warnings would follow in later years however, ones very similar to those contained in white slavery pamphlets such as The Horrors of the White Slave Trade: the Mighty Crusade to Protect the Purity of Our Homes. In 1915 a correspondent to Ireland’s Own from Montreal warned that girls who emigrated alone lacked moral guidance in their new life, and would spend their time going to movies on their nights off as well as reading ‘cheap literature which is very far from being up to standard. As time goes on she makes an acquaintance, and then what’s the result? In this way Ireland loses sight of the daughters she’s so proud of’. This warning was coy however by comparison to that from 1909, which had described Irish girls who emigrated to New York being forced to work in service for families ‘who have no God’, and associate with other girls ‘who mock purity, girls who are morally dead’. Ireland’s Own went on, ‘the rest of the story is too horrible. In very many cases the unprotected girl sinks lower and lower, until her condition is that of social outcast’. This it was argued would inevitably lead to arrest, imprisonment, alcoholism ‘to sustain her exhausted body, and then one night she runs to the river and goes to be judged’.

Such melodramatic predictions of the fate awaiting young Irish women in New York and other cities were sometimes tempered by more sober acknowledgements that female emigrants (in particular) had their reasons for leaving in such large numbers. It is noticeable that these acknowledgements tended to come from women journalists, who probably had personal experience of some of the limitations women faced in Ireland. In 1906 Ireland’s Own published a long article entitled ‘Country Homes and Home Makers’ by Mary EL Butler, which directly addressed the issue of young female emigration. Butler was one of the most successful women journalists in early 20thC Ireland, as well as being an active member of the Gaelic League. She had a long-running column in the Irish Independent, was regularly published in nationalist papers (she had a particular commitment to the Irish language and published in Irish), and also wrote at least one novel, The Ring of the Day in 1907. In her 1906 piece for Ireland’s Own, Butler acknowledged that for many young women a desire to escape from a dull rural life to something ‘gayer, more exciting’ was an important incentive to emigration. She argued that ‘distaste for country life with us amounts to a national danger’ because of its influence on emigration rates. While her tone is disapproving of these emigrants’ decision, she does go on to argue that ‘if the exodus which is bringing our country to its knees is to be stopped it is absolutely necessary to make home and village life attractive’. A similar attitude was displayed the following year in an article in Lady of the House by Mary Costello. Far less is known of Costello than of Butler, but she published at least one novel (Peggy the Millionaire in 1910) and several long pieces with Lady of the House over many years, including an investigative journalism series called ‘A Woman’s Life in the Dublin Slums’ during the 1890s which contained fierce denunciations of the social and political failures responsible for the city’s tenements. Her 1907 article for Lady of the House was called ‘Fore! The Modern Woman Demands the Clearing of the Way’ and was a bold assertion of Irish women’s new-found confidence, illustrated with a drawing of a Gibson girl playing golf. Costello argued that ‘in no other English-speaking part of the globe have women been more kept down than they have among us, more handicapped in education and in the means of earning an honourable livelihood.’ Noting the high levels of female emigration, she described them as starting ‘alone and dry-eyed across the Atlantic into the heart of life, undismayed by the pictures of hard work, failure, and loss of health which anti-emigrationists forcibly depict.’ While mourning the loss of such energetic young women, she added that nothing would be more likely to stop it than ‘giving Irishwomen an interest and a voice in all that goes on at home’.

None of this would have been much consolation to Julia Curran, whose death may have seemed like the (mainly invented) propaganda of the anti-white slavery campaign but which was for once all-too real. As a final indignity, her death was then used to sell Irish newspapers using sensational headlines like ‘How Miss Curran Was Lured to Death’, along with graphic descriptions of how she was killed. Even Ireland’s Own, which did not print such details, did discuss her death, the editor commenting that ‘it is a sad satisfaction to me to know that “Ireland’s Own” consistently and strenuously warned its readers against the dangers and pitfalls that await the unwary in the huge and seething attics of the New World’.

References

Katherine Mullin, James Joyce, Sexuality and Social Purity (Cambridge University Press, 2003)

The Inside of the White Slave Traffic (1913) available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZHihjo_eBQ

Traffic in Souls (1913) available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLZLhdqQXug

Clifford Griffith Roe, The Horrors of the White Slave Trade: the Mighty Crusade to Protect the Purity of Our Homes (London and New York, 1912).

Nannie Power O’Donoghue, 1843-1940

Nannie Power O’Donoghue was one of the first real doyennes of Irish journalism, and over a life so long that it stretched from the Famine to World War Two she wrote books, articles, opinion columns and worked as an editor. Born Ann Stewart Lyster Lambert, but always known as Nannie, she was the daughter of a minor (but wealthy) sprig of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Her family’s primary estate was Castle Ellen in Co. Galway, and Edward Carson was her cousin. She grew up there and in Dublin, part of the elite world of Castle social events in the city and the hunting, shooting and fishing life of the countryside.

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Her youthful interests focused on horse-riding and writing, two skills which would she would soon combine to form the basis of her career. Immediately before her marriage at the age of 26 to the composer William Power O’Donoghue (who was from a wealthy Cork business family) she published her first novel, entitled The Knave of Clubs. It appears to have been an entirely predictable mid-Victorian romance novel, and was followed in later years by a book of poetry, also of a generally sentimental variety. It was not until her late thirties however that she achieved any recognition for her writing, and that was for a very different kind of work. In 1881 she published a series of articles in the English magazine Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News offering advice on riding technique and etiquette for women. These were immensely popular and republished in book form as Ladies on Horseback, followed a few years later by another book entitled Riding for Ladies (1887). This was a best-seller, being translated into several languages and reprinted many times, and it established Power O’Donoghue as a writer and an authority on female equestrianism who is still cited today, even if her views on the requirement for ladies to ride side-saddle have disappeared. She continued to write novels (one of which, A Beggar on Horseback, had a Fenian theme), but also began to produce journalism for a variety of newspapers and periodicals.

Clearly Power O’Donoghue had been a committed writer since her youth, but by this time she also had other reasons to write commercially. She and her husband lost a substantial amount of their money in the crash of the Munster Bank in 1885, and it seems clear that from then on, her income from journalism and publishing became important to the family finances. By the 1890s she was a member of the Dublin branch of the Institute for Journalists, and was apparently one of the few women members at that time. It was around the same time that she began working for Irish Society, which described itself as having the ‘guaranteed Largest Circulation in Ireland of any Society paper published in the United Kingdom, and three times that of any Irish weekly journal or periodical.’ They published accounts of high society parties, Castle levées, upper-class ‘at homes’, engagement and wedding announcements and reviews of fashionable concerts, charity events, theatre performances and other activities of the small but wealthy social group which lived between their Dublin townhouses and country estates. This was the world which Power O’Donoghue had been born into, and she wrote for it with obvious ease and authority. Irish Society was owned and published by Ernest Manico from his extremely successful D’Olier Street offices, as discussed in a previous post here. But by 1900 (if not before) Power O’Donoghue was its de facto editor, and was the clear ‘voice’ of the paper each week via her editorial column. Entitled, with very Victorian long-windedness, ‘De Die In Diem. Or, Casual Jottings. By Candid Jane (Mrs Power O’Donoghue)’ it was a weekly catalogue of her views on topical issues for its readership, ranging from the management of charity bazaars to the ‘woman question’.

Power O’Donoghue’s editorial voice echoed very clearly from these columns, with strong (and occasionally controversial) views given with great confidence in her own authority. And the views which emerge were – for the most part – entirely in keeping with her class and background. She was deeply conservative in most matters, including the pressing political issues of the day when they arose. She was opposed to the promotion of the Irish language, for example, dismissing it (and the ‘so-called Gaelic League’) as just ‘gas’. She was also condemnatory of the 1913 Lockout, and of the ever-growing suffragette campaign. On social matters she had obvious sympathies with the social purity movement, expressing support for teetotalism and the condemnation of ‘racy’ novels. She also reported approvingly of the 1914 meeting of the Catholic Truth Society and their campaign against ‘immoral’ reading matter. In this respect – if perhaps no other – her views resembled the Gladstonian Liberalism of the Lord Lieutenant Lord Aberdeen, and his indefatigable wife Lady Aberdeen. Like them, she supported the generally Catholic and nationalist social purity movement despite being a member of the Protestant upper-classes, although unlike them all of her other politics appear to have been Tory and Unionist.

Disapproval was one of the most common tones of her editorials, and it is striking how often this was directed at other (and younger) women. Her coverage of high society (in both London and Dublin) was peppered with censorious remarks about young women’s dress, deportment, behaviour and expectations. Some of these cast a frankly surprising light on high society fashions from the years immediately before World War One, as she castigates women for wearing skirts split to the thigh, bare legs, wigs dyed in primary colours such as blue, green or scarlet, and even body paint. In early 1914 she described the presence of a ‘society lady, having a swallow painted on one cheek and a bee on the other and wearing a rose-coloured wig and skirt split to the waist’ at a recent London party. She also disapproved of a high-society fashion for exotic and eccentric pets, claiming to have met a woman at the famous Hydropathic Hotel in Blarney who kept a giant mulberry-eating caterpillar, which walked along her arms and shoulders as she sat in public. If these aspects of high society life on the very eve of war seem surprisingly modern to us (especially the tattoos and brightly-coloured hair), to Power O’Donoghue they seemed annoyingly so, and she called women who adopted such fashions ‘devoid of sense’. A couple of years earlier she had complained that ‘A few years ago young women were content with womanly occupations and recreations; now such things nauseate and pall. To act like men, dress like them, go in for their amusements, and do just as they do, without any sense of risk or fitness is the seeming aim of the inconsequent girls of today’, and she would go on to criticise suffragettes as well, approvingly citing a sentencing judge who referred to them as ‘demented creatures’.

In this respect, Power O’Donoghue was caught in the trap of other prominent conservative (and especially anti-suffrage) women of the era in that while she was uneasy at best and horrified at worst by ‘modern’ women’s assertiveness and increasing presence in the public sphere, she was herself both assertive and living very prominently in that very same public sphere. The most famous example of this contradiction was the British writer Eliza Lynn Linton, author of the influential 1868 essay ‘The Girl of the Period’, which condemned the modern girl in much the same tone as Power O’Donoghue would a generation later. Linton also condemned women’s suffrage campaigners and any women wishing to enter politics or pursue renown of any kind. And yet she herself was extremely well-known, had supported herself through her journalism and other writing since separating from her husband after only a few years of marriage, and was therefore hardly an example of the modest and retiring ‘angel of the house’ she advocated for other women. She also strongly supported some of the new rights women acquired during the nineteenth century, especially the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, presumably, one is forced to conclude, because as a separated woman it benefited her personally.

The limits of Power O’Donoghue’s own conservatism about women’s behaviour and lifestyles appear similarly self-serving, in the form of her vocal and enthusiastic support for women’s paid work. As a major contributor to her own family’s income after the loss of their money in the Munster Bank crash, this was an aspect of women’s emancipation which touched her personally, and she expressed typically strong views on the subject. She sometimes wrote approvingly of ‘bachelor girls’ who earned their own living and even lived independently, once referring to one who ‘has exactly a hundred a year’ but lived ‘as a lady…even though she does her own housework.’ The theme became more pronounced during World War One however, when more and more young women began replacing men in jobs they’d never been allowed to take before. Writing from London in August 1916, Power O’Donoghue commented that ‘The female carters, letter-carriers, ticket-checkers, and lift controllers, are a pleasure to look at and are nicely mannered to the public and to one another’, and the following month she asked Irish Society readers ‘I wonder whether you love, as I do, seeing women do something for themselves instead of being always dependent upon men, or on other members of their family’. As a woman of increasing independence after the first success of her books in the 1880s, she showed considerable sympathy and even quite boisterous support for other women of all classes who sought a similar life, going so far during World War One as to suggest mass conscription of men so as to ‘leave the field to women who are rapidly proving themselves fit and worthy workers’. If she ever saw the contradiction between her approval of women’s move into the world of work and her disapproval of their fight for the vote, she never showed it. In this respect she was a classic example of the privileged, instinctively conservative nineteenth-century women who were often best-placed to pioneer female access to the public sphere because of their social status and personal contacts, but who did not sympathise with the broader campaign for women’s rights, and indeed were sometimes among the harshest critics of the ‘new woman’.

Still working as Irish Society’s editor in 1916 (at the age of 73), Power O’Donoghue lived through the Easter Rising in the most literal fashion, as by then she was living in the Gresham Hotel and spent the week there, trapped inside the barricades and in considerable danger at times. She wrote about her experiences in an editorial shortly after the end of the Rising, including the occasions when she had tended to dying soldiers in her capacity as a Red Cross volunteer. She never tempered her imperialist Unionism however, condemning expressions of sympathy for the ‘brave boys’ among the rebels even during the week of their executions, sternly commenting that such feelings were ‘very creditable from a sentimental point of view, perhaps, but rather feeble from a logical and moral standpoint’.

Irish Society, with its emphasis upon the social and cultural world of the Castle, the Court and the aristocracy, did not last long after Irish Independence. But Power O’Donoghue did last, and she did so in Ireland, rather than departing for England as many of her class and political views did in the years after 1922. She lived in Dublin throughout the 1920s and 1930s, still pursuing her interests in animal welfare by serving on the committee of the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals when she was into her 90s, and she eventually died in the city in January 1940. Over her long career as a writer, she produced best-selling books, articles and columns for the Daily Express, the Evening Herald, Lady’s Pictorial and the Irish Times, as well as editing Irish Society for more than 20 years, making her one of the most visible women journalists in Ireland for several decades.

References

Dictionary of Irish Biography (Nannie Power O’Donoghue) dib.cambridge.org

Olga E Lockley, Nannie Lambert Power O’Donoghue: a biography (Preston: Bee Press, 2001)

Nannie Power O’Donoghue, A Beggar on Horseback (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1884)

Nannie Power O’Donoghue, Riding for Ladies: with hints on the stable (London: Thacker & Co, 1887).

Annie Colles 1860-1940

Annie Colles was among the first women in Ireland to work as a journalist and editor. She was also the wife of Ramsay Colles, profiled in the previous post here, and their working lives intersected at the Irish Figaro magazine, which they jointly owned and each edited at different times. However, her career in journalism pre-dated her marriage and indeed appears to have outlasted it. If Ramsay Colles is only ever now remembered because of his violent and litigious encounters with Arthur Griffith and Maud Gonne, then Annie Colles is entirely forgotten. Her life and career can only be pieced together from fragments of information which leave significant gaps in her story.

Annie Colles

She was born Anne Sweeney in Kerry in 1860, the daughter of a Church of Ireland clergyman, and according to a later British magazine profile of her, she was university-educated – this was most likely at the Royal University (the forerunner to the National University of Ireland), which was established in 1880 and was the first university in Ireland to award degrees to women, of whom she must have been among the earliest. No more is known of her early life, but in September 1890 she married a man named Ross (his first name is unknown) and two years later gave birth to their daughter Eileen, but later that year she was widowed and apparently left in very straitened circumstances. She was friends with Richard J. Mecredy, the cyclist and journalist (and editor of Irish Cyclist magazine, who would later pioneer automobiles in Ireland and was an organiser of the legendary Gordon Bennett motor race in 1903) who may even have introduced her to her first husband, since they appear to have shared a passion for cycling – at a later date, Mecredy would memorably state that ‘Ross left her nothing in the world but a bicycle’. Through his intervention, the professional and enthusiast cycling community in Ireland raised £500 for Annie and her daughter through a charity raffle, and Mecredy also secured Annie Ross journalism work at Irish Society (a society paper which this blog will post about at a later date). However, by the end of 1893 she had decided to invest most of her capital in Social Review (another society paper) making her its sub-editor (she shortly became editor) and a partner in the business, joined soon afterwards by Mecredy and his business partner Kyle.

The Social Review had its offices on Nassau Street in Dublin, close to the fashionable south side shops and restaurants as well as the city’s ‘clubland’ area of Kildare Street and St Stephen’s Green, as might be expected of a ‘society paper’ which published accounts of official and social events at the Castle and upper-class townhouses, as well as the concerts, theatre and charitable events attended by the city’s social elite. Like most other periodicals of the era, it also published short stories, fashion and beauty columns and a lot of advertisements, mainly for the fashionable shops and businesses located near the paper’s own offices. As such, Social Review was an entirely typical example of the ‘society papers’ published in Ireland and elsewhere, and Annie Ross (as she was then named) was therefore joining an identifiable branch of journalism in becoming its editor. And indeed by 1895 she had joined the Institute of Journalists, thus becoming one of its earliest women members. In March of that year she was profiled in the English society paper the Sketch (from which the photograph above is taken), which placed a great deal of emphasis upon her position as one of the first women periodical editors, explaining that ‘For some months past Mrs Ross has had sole charge of the editorial department of the Social Review, a growing weekly Dublin journal, which during its existence has advanced by leaps and bounds in public favour, and has, in consequence, been considerably enlarged…From a purely business point of view the increase in advertisements and circulation is pleasant, and disproves the charge that women do not possess the business aptitudes requisite for the successful guidance of a newspaper’. The profile concluded with the claim that, ‘As a worker, Mrs Ross upholds the vexed question of the day, Women’s Rights, but only in its highest and truest sense.’ This was a very typical of the way middle-class women’s increasing participation in public and business life, such as journalism, was described by its (very conditionally approving) supporters. A strong emphasis was put upon their ability to maintain a ladylike demeanour even while performing their jobs successfully, and they were clearly differentiated from suffrage campaigners, who were more or less universally vilified in the mainstream press.

1895 was an eventful year for Annie Ross – as well as being profiled in Sketch magazine, she also married again, this time to Ramsay Colles. It was also the year that her working relationship with Richard J. Mecredy irrevocably broke down, amid allegations that, contrary to the glowing profile in the Sketch, she was ‘difficult’ to work with and not financially astute. By June 1895 she had left the partnership, and the Social Review passed into Mecredy and Kyle’s sole ownership. The following year, Ramsay Colles bought the Irish Figaro, which as another ‘society paper’ was a direct competitor to the Social Review. While Colles was the Figaro’s editor, Annie also worked for the paper, and this appears to have provoked an open feud between the Colles’ and her former partners at the Social Review. In what they claimed was a response to attempts to ‘injure’ the paper, the Social Review published two statements in May 1896 which claimed that ‘the dissension between Mrs Ross and the other partners was crippling the development of the journal’, but that ‘we here state definitely that Mrs Ramsay Colles, late Mrs Annie Ross, nee Miss Sweeny, has now no connection whatever with the Social Review’. Perhaps not surprisingly, she then sued them for £10,000 damages (an enormous sum at the time, and also by comparison to her original £500 investment), arguing that these statements injured her professional reputation. The jury were unable to agree a verdict in the case and the judge dismissed it, simultaneously condemning ‘society papers’ in general but also underlining that there was in his opinion no evidence that Annie Colles had acted unprofessionally.

After this, Annie and Ramsay Colles worked together on the Irish Figaro magazine until sometime in 1901. This means that she was on the staff of the paper in 1900 when it published claims that Maud Gonne was in receipt of a British army pension, causing Arthur Griffith to attack Ramsay Colles with a horsewhip, and Gonne herself to successfully sue for libel. At the time of the 1901 census, the family were living on Wilton Terrace in Dublin, the household consisting of the couple, their son Edmund (who had been born in 1898), Annie’s daughter Eileen from her first marriage, and her sister Jane (who listed her occupation as ‘journalist’, and may have been a contributor to the Figaro), and one general servant. It isn’t clear what Annie’s role on the paper was during these years – Ramsay was officially the editor, and it never used by-lines for other columns. And because Ramsay makes no mention of either his wife or son in his biography (this was not unusual for memoirs of the era, especially those of upper-class men, because it would have been considered in very poor taste for women of that class to appear in the press), we have no other source of information about her degree of involvement with Irish Figaro prior to 1901. That year however, the paper was embroiled in another legal case, and during the hearing (which was not in itself very interesting), Annie and Ramsay both confirmed in court that he had formally transferred editorship of the paper to her, and had no further involvement with it. Indeed, as was mentioned in the previous post, it is possible that they had separated by this date, and certainly by 1904 he was living and working in London while she and her children remained in Dublin until after his death in 1919.

In April 1901, the Figaro changed its name (yet again), becoming the Figaro and Irish Gentlewoman. This presumably reflects Annie Colles’ editorial control, although no mention was made of this in the paper itself. Instead, the Figaro announced that, ‘Recognising the fact that the number of the Lady Readers has of late very largely increased, we have determined to supply the demand which undoubtedly exists in Ireland for a high-class Society Journal which will be of equal interest to the cultured of both sexes.   We accordingly issue this week the first number of the Figaro and Irish Gentlewoman, confident that we shall, as hitherto, satisfy the intellectual section of the male community, and also win the approval of such refined Women as are nauseated by the tone adopted by some Society Journals which exist merely to foster frivolity and vanity in women. This we shall accomplish, not by in any way deducting from the familiar features of the popular and old-established Irish Figaro but by supplementing them with others more particularly addressed to Gentlewomen.’

The line between ‘society papers’ and women’s magazines was often quite blurred (the equally strong focus in each upon high society events and fashions, as well as their shared reliance upon advertising from upmarket shops and brands made them very similar in tone and content), and the combined market for both in Ireland was often quite crowded. At the point when Annie Colles assumed editorial control of the Figaro, for example, it was in direct competition not only with Irish Society, which that very year had consolidated its own position by absorbing Colles’ former publication Social Review, but also with the very successful women’s magazine Lady of the House, and the less well-known Lady’s Herald. While their readerships were not identical (Lady of the House in particular had a wider market appeal than any society papers), this was a lot of choice for the small Irish upper-middle class market, and the Figaro’s change of name and emphasis was probably as much about jostling for position in this competitive field as it was about Annie Colles’ desire to put her own editorial stamp on the paper.

Aside from this change of name and slightly increased coverage of fashion, however, the Figaro did not notably change in content or (more importantly) tone once Annie Colles took over the editorship from her husband. The lengthy editorials continued and were frequently still intemperate. Indeed, the tone of these was so consistent with earlier years that it seems quite possible Ramsay Colles was still writing them. Occasional sideswipes at Maud Gonne seem to support this theory, but the Figaro’s otherwise unexpected support (expressed in 1903) for the campaign to admit women to Trinity College suggests the influence of university-educated Annie Colles. There were also moments of unintentional comedy, such as the attempt to run a readers’ competition in early 1904. Readers’ competitions (and the prizes that went with them) were less common or popular in society papers than those aimed at younger and poorer readerships, but they were not unknown, and in January 1904 the Figaro proposed a prize of three guineas for ‘the Best Idea for the Competition to commence on February 6th.’ Competitions to design competitions – while a very circular idea – were also not unknown in other publications, but few can have been run as incompetently as the Figaro’s. The announcement of a winner was first delayed and then withdrawn because the proposed competition would have been illegal – competitions of pure chance were outlawed as being lotteries by another name, something most other editors were keenly aware of. The competition was then re-run, after which another winner was announced and then withdrawn again because of confusion over the closing date, before a final (and presumably confused) third winner was eventually chosen a month later than had originally been intended. The Figaro appears to have ended its run only a year later (the last extant copy is August 1905), and the disastrous competition the previous year may well have been a symptom of a publication already in terminal decline. The most likely reason for this was the paper’s inability to compete with publications such as Irish Society and Lady of the House. Perhaps Annie Colles was not, as her former partners Kyle and Mecredy had argued in court nearly a decade earlier, a very effective or skilled editor, although it should also be remembered that the Figaro had been a rather odd publication under Ramsay Colles’ control too, prone to hectoring rather than charming its readers, and it was perhaps not well-placed to compete with more professionally-run papers.

Annie Colles was 45 when the Figaro ceased publication, and this seems to have been her last venture as sole editor of a journal. According to her entry in the Institute of Journalists membership roll, she was the social editor for the Irish Independent (which began publication in 1905, the year the Figaro folded) for several years, and also acted as a special correspondent for ‘several American daily newspapers’. In the 1911 census, she was living on Morehampton Terrace with her two children and a servant, but without her husband, who was resident in London. Intriguingly, she described herself at that point as a Christian Scientist, which would have been extremely rare in Ireland or Britain at that date, and seems a strange parallel to her husband’s equally unexpected interest in Buddhism. At some point after Irish independence (and also after her husband’s death), she moved to London, where she lived until her death in 1940.

Colles is an elusive figure at this historical distance, often obscured by her husband who was a better-known figure at the time and has also left a more detailed historical record behind him. It was Ramsay Colles who wrote an autobiography, and of course also became briefly notorious for his confrontations with Griffith and Gonne. By contrast, Annie’s working life can only be partially reconstructed, and often cannot be disentangled from that of her husband. It is even difficult to decide whether her career was a success – the two papers she edited both struggled at times and the Figaro actually folded under her management. But in the turbulent and fiercely competitive world of commercial publishing this was not unusual, and not necessarily an indication that she was not an effective editor. Some of the Figaro’s querulous tone must have been attributable to her as well as her husband, and more than one libel case was issued against publications under her editorial control. On the other hand, she was one of a tiny minority of women working as journalists (let alone as editors) in Ireland in the late 19thC and early 20thC and she undoubtedly faced considerable opposition when she did so. Some of the reported exchanges in her 1897 court case against Richard J. Mecredy give a salutary reminder of the obstacles she faced. When her solicitor stated as proof of her professional standing that she was a member of the Institute of Journalists, the judge asked (to laughter in court), ‘Has the new woman found her way there too? Are there female members of it?’, to which the defendants’ solicitor responded (to more laughter) ‘It will soon break up’. Later the same day, the defendants’ solicitor claimed that Mecredy had advised Colles against investing in the magazine, but ‘she was determined to go into the Social Review. It was like the itch that came upon women for cycling and bloomers (laughter). She had an itch for performing in the newspaper world, and she insisted on joining…But every man who did a generous act for a woman was repaid in the same way as Mr Mecredy had been repaid (laughter)’. In the end, it is impossible to tell if she was a valiant pioneer of women’s journalism in Ireland, or a difficult woman who fell out with business partners and had a somewhat chaotic editorial style. These are not mutually exclusive categories of course, and she may well have been both.

References

Freeman’s Journal, ‘Dublin Libel Action’, 12 & 13 May 1897, p.2.

Sketch, ‘Mrs Ross, of the Social Review, Dublin’, 13 March 1895, p366.