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Women re-enact 1937 protests about Article 41.2

Published: Tuesday, March 05, 2024

“The feminists are getting angry and are moving into action. They seem stung by the suggestion that the normal place for a woman is the home.”  

-John Charles McQuaid memo to DeValera, undated.   

Women gathered outside the Mansion House Dublin today to re-enact a 1937 protest at the insertion of Article 41.2 into the Constitution. Article 41.2, commonly known as the ‘woman in the home’ clause, is the subject of the care referendum on Friday.  

Ailbhe Smyth, narrating the event, said: 

“The Mansion House was the location of a significant women's protest at the insertion of Article 41.2 in 1937. Despite the revolutionary origins of our State, the period that followed saw several anti-women policies come into force, and Article 41.2 was seen as the culmination of that rowback on women’s rights. Women from all different classes, regions, and walks of life came together to protest it, and we’re continuing their fight today.” 

In 1936 De Valera drafted a constitution containing elements which feminists described as “sinister”, relegating women to “permanent inferiority”. In the decade before this, restrictive policies were implemented to limit women’s access to public life and employment. Measures like the Juries Act made it difficult for women to participate on juries and the Marriage bar forced women to resign their positions within the civil service upon getting married.  

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council, one of the leading organisations calling for a YesYes vote, said:  

“De Valera never intended Article 41.2 to support women. It was intended to put women in their place and keep them there. On Friday we have our first and last chance to rid the Constitution of this sexist language and to finish the work of the women who came before us. We are walking in their footsteps here at the Mansion House. 87 years later we are calling, loudly and proudly, for a Yes Yes Vote in the referendums on 8 March.” 



What: Re-enactment of 1937 Constitutional debates  

When: Monday 4 March, 10:30am, with photo call at 11:30am.   

Where: Mansion House, Dawson St, Dublin 2  


For comment: Ailbhe Smyth, Orla O’Connor  

For more information, please contact Sinéad Nolan, NWC Communications and Social Media Coordinator, 085 8619087 or sineadn@nwci.ie 



Hanna Sheehy Skeffington said Article 41.2 relegated women to “permanent inferiority”. The Women Graduates’ Association described the draft constitution as sinister and retrogressive. 


Full script of the re-enactment: 

Storyteller: For centuries, Irish women on this island have spearheaded the political, social, and cultural development of our society.  

In the twentieth century they played an active role, in the fight for Irish independence through their involvement in the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil war.  

Despite the revolutionary origins of the state, and the active feminist movement in Ireland, there was a deeply regressive and conservative counter agenda  pioneered by the Catholic church.  

In 1936 De Valera set about drafting a new constitution containing elements which many feminists described as “sinister”, relegating women to “permanent inferiority”.  

In the decade before this, restrictive policies were already being implemented to limit women’s access to public life and employment through  measures like the Juries Act which made it difficult for women to participate on juries and through the Marriage bar which forced women to resign their positions within the civil service upon getting married.  

Right across post war Europe a very clear agenda was set out, ensuring “jobs for the boys” and forcing women back into the domestic sphere. Here in Ireland, the Conditions of Employment Act (1935) gave the Minister for Industry and Commerce the right to limit the number of women working in any industry. 

This stripping away of women’s rights was intended to keep women silent and subservient, locked in the private sphere, with limited opportunity to participate in public life. . The 1937 insertion of Article 41.2 copper-fastened  this regressive notion, giving it a place in the highest document of the land – the Constitution.    

There was no disagreement or pretence from De Valera that anything else was meant by Article 41.2 – it was never intended to provide support. It was intended to put women in their place, and keep them there. 

The relationship between state and church at that time is well documented. The Irish Catholic newspaper on the publishing of the Constitution declared, “Irish Catholics will rejoice in the fact that the fundamental principles of the new Bunreacht are in close accord with Catholic social teaching.” 

If there were any doubts about the intertwining of church and state De Valera even had the Irish Constitution draft sent to the pope himself for his benediction. 

Women were not asleep to these attacks on their rights.  

Here, at the Mansion House in the year 1937, women from all walks of life came together to protest article 41.2.  Reports from the time paint a picture of women from different classes, political organisations, regions, and backgrounds speaking in unanimity against the regressive Article.  

One journalist described it the scene here as “Wonderful. They kept coming in droves, old women, middle-aged women, young women, working women, professional women, girls from the Sweep and the Civil Service, girls out of shops and offices … They filled every seat in the Round Room, they thronged the balconies, they sat on the steps of the stage … and some had to stand all the time.’ (Gaffney) 

A series of speeches were given, and the women did not hold back…. 


Feminist Protester- ‘Mr de Valera has always been a reactionary where women are concerned. He dislikes and distrusts us as a sex and his aim ever since he came into office has been to put us into what he considers is our place and keep us there.’  

‘We are to be no longer citizens entitled to enjoy equal rights under a democratic constitution’. 

Sisters, wake up- this Constitution is a rejection of the 1916 proclamation. ‘As the constitution stands, I do not see how anyone holding advanced views on the rights of women can support it, and that is a tragic dilemma for those who have been loyal and ardent workers in the national cause’ 


Storyteller: The women there were suspicious of the supposedly “well intentioned” nature of the draft constitution  


Academic protestor: ‘Let not the empty promises of needless ‘safeguards’ and vague declarations of the value of ‘her life within the home’ blind our women to the fact that’ … this proposed Constitution will affect ‘her  opportunities of earning, her civil status, her whole position as a citizen. 

‘We regret to find clauses in the proposed constitution which might be a directive to future governments to pass legislation worsening the economic and social status of women’. 

We are locking in wording that ‘will depend on the judgement of, perhaps, a single minister or a single state department’ who ‘are not always infallible or unprejudiced’. 

It is our position that ‘if the constitution is aiming through these clauses at remedying the unemployment of men and the exploitation of women, we suggest that the application of the fundamental principle of social justice, equal pay for equal work, would go far to maintain a satisfactory balance’.  

Storyteller: It is recorded that the women’s protests surprised De Valera and caused clerical concern. Father John Charles McQuaid, later to be Archbishop McQuaid, in an undated note to de Valera, observed: “The feminists are getting angry and are moving into action. They seem stung by the suggestion that the normal place for a woman is the home’. 

They simply couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, these feminists must be “confused” – not about what the intention of the constitution but about their rightful place.  

McQuaid explains in the letters that it is ‘an unreality to imagine that the possession of an electoral vote abolishes for either men or women or for both diversity of social function. Nothing will change in law and fact of nature that woman’s natural sphere is in the home’. 

The women who protested here were not confused- they were very clear….. 


Trade Unionist protester: The ‘death knell of the working woman is sounded in this new constitution’  

‘I lay stress upon the insidious nature of the threats we are faced with being disguised as benefits or safeguards for women. These seemingly innocent phrases intend’ to relegate us from the workplaceThis Article should be ‘amended to acknowledge ‘women’s work for the home’ rather than within it’.  It is invidious to have a clause that makes it ‘appear that only the women within the home can contribute to the common good’.  

 ‘The tribute to women in the home is superfluous.’ ‘A constitution is hardly the place for the expression of vague and chivalrous sentiments.’  

Mothers want concrete commitment to fair wealth distribution. ‘Abolish poverty and unemployment and the need to protect mothers disappears’. 

Make no mistake about it sisters, those advocating this constitution aim to make these ‘seemingly innocent phrases a very stern reality for working women and for the daughters of many working class families’ 


Storyteller:The 1937 Constitution was passed by a low majority. It is hard to know the extent of the impact that the women’s protest made.  

Women continued to work outside of the home after 1937. Huge numbers Irish women continued to emigrate to  distant shores  and send money home. Facing much adversity, Irish women continued to fight for rights and representation,organising in their unions and in their associations. 

However, women were right to fear Article 41.2 – it copper fastened regressive policies such as the marriage bar and the jury ban that took women’s rights campaigners until the 1970s to repeal!  

We know that women have not been treated well by the Irish State. We have endured a dark past of institutional abuse, stigma and neglect.  

Women have faced – and continue to face – poverty, homelessness, income inadequacy, violence and inequality, and Art. 41.2 has done nothing to tackle these inequalities for any woman. Pitched by its architects as a way to give recognition and privilege to women, it has instead served as a way for the State to excuse itself from supporting care in the home and relegate women to that role instead. Our State never valued the unpaid care work done by women in their homes and communities. And it saw no role for men in contributing to care. Instead, Article 41.2 has resulted in our State and our society ignoring the work done by women, taking us for granted and making us invisible.  

Article 41.2 doesn’t reflect the reality of women’s lives, the choices women are faced with and diminishes the diverse contributions that women make to Irish society, including but not only care within the home.     

We have a once in a generation opportunity to finish the work of the women who came before us. We are walking in their footsteps here at the Mansion House. 87 years later we are calling, loudly and proudly,  for a Yes Yes Vote in the referendums on March 8th. 

A woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be. Vote YESYES on Friday!   


About NWC  

The National Women’s Council is the leading national representative organisation for women and women’s groups in Ireland, founded in 1973. We have over 190 member groups and a large and growing community of individual supporters. 

The ambition of the National Women’s Council is an Ireland where every woman enjoys true equality and no woman is left behind. This ambition shapes and informs our work, and, with our living values, how we work.  

We are a movement-building organisation rooted in our membership, working on the whole island of Ireland. We are also part of the international movement to protect and advance women’s and girls’ rights. Our purpose is to lead action for the achievement of women’s and girls’ equality through mobilising, influencing, and building solidarity. Find out more on www.nwci.ie