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This Waterford woman's diary shows us what life was like in Ireland 100 years ago

It was written by Rosamond Jacob, a feminist and suffragist.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

IN THE NATIONAL Library of Ireland, there is a pile of diaries written by a Waterford woman which give a fascinating look at Ireland 100 years ago.

They were written by Rosamond Jacob, a Quaker woman who recorded her daily life in minute detail – and importantly for us, in legible handwriting – while growing up in the Deise.

We took a trip to the National Library of Ireland (NLI) on Dublin’s Kildare St to see one of her diaries, and outreach officer at the NLI, Katherine McSharry, explained why Jacob was so important when we look back at the year of 1918.

“Rosamond Jacob is a really fascinating figure from this time, she was born to a Quaker family in Waterford, so it’s great to get the perspective of somebody from outside of Dublin,” said McSharry.

“She was involved in nationalist politics, she helped found the Sinn Féin club down there in 1906. She was a very strong feminist and suffragist.”

That’s important as 100 years ago on Tuesday, Irish women (over 30) got the vote for the first time. As Jacob was involved in the campaign for votes, she not only recorded what the campaigning was like but also what it was like to cast a vote in December of 1918.

“She’s writing here about the 14th of December, which is the day of a momentous election that changes the complexion of the Irish parliament, and also is the first day on which women can vote on UK elections,” said McSharry as she showed us the diary.

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“One of the great things about having a diary that runs – we have all of Rosamond Jacob’s diaries running over many years – for a very long time is that you do tend to get this really interesting detail,” said McSharry. “And maybe the details that mightn’t have been as fascinating at the time, they seem very every day, now they are fascinating when you’re trying to figure out what did campaigning look like, and what did people do.”

In the entry above, Jacob wrote about the election:

It was a very fine day, I went down to the club early and got sealing wax etc from Mrs Clancy for the ballot boxes.

“So she’s talking about those kind of details. And then as she goes through, she’s always talking about going out and trying to get people out to vote,” said McSharry.

She writes:

We got a list of women who were to be looked up, and I went after them. Some said they had voted, one I brought to the poll, and she had to wait some time to get in, as there was a great crowd and all going in and coming out by the same door.

Reading Jacob’s description of that day “really brings you into that moment, that day of huge excitement”, said McSharry.

Even the seemingly trivial incidents take on new meaning when viewed a century later.

“One of the things I really like about this diary entry is that alongside that, she says: ‘I dropped my purse getting into the trap with club money in it and I never found it again.’ So tied up with the enormity of what’s happening for the country you have what is for her personally a big deal, that she’s lost her purse,” said McSharry.

So you have this sense of a real person on this extraordinary day, living both an ordinary and an extraordinary life.

When we think about the fight for suffrage, and about women in Irish history, it’s often the same names we think of. But there were many women like Rosamond Jacob who deserve our attention too.

“With Rosamond Jacob, it’s hard not to have a great deal of love for someone who writes really clearly, but she’s also someone who speaks to the importance of what libraries and archives do,” said McSharry.

“[And] what we do here at the National Library, which is to keep the widest amount of material we can, to collect the material, to bring out the contribution of women who aren’t as well known, who don’t have immediate name recognition but who did play a really important role and who tell us a huge amount about the complexity and the breadth of what life was like.”

McSharry believes we will see more of this as this centenary year goes on and we approach December, when Countess Markievicz was elected to parliament. Just like with the 1916 centenary celebrations, women will finally begin to reclaim their space in the Irish history books (and the government has planned an entire year of celebrations, called Vótail 100, to help make sure that happens).

“I think we’re going to see a lot of that. I think that is both really important from the point of view of women seeing themselves represented in history but also because everybody makes that story that bit deeper and more complex,” said McSharry.

So it’s hard to understand history in a simple way when you have all these different voices.

You can read more about Rosamond Jacob here and here.

Read: On this day 100 years ago, Irish women got the vote>

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