Report by Sandra Millsopp
The final meeting of the 2015-2016 season of Bangor Historical Society was held on 14 April in North Down Museum. The meeting began with the AGM when the current officers were re-elected, with Ian Wilson as chairman. Then a very interesting talk was given by Rebecca Ashton-Gordon, the project officer at the museum. Her talk was called ‘Home, politics and war: The changing lives of women in the early twentieth century’ and was based on an exhibition at the museum.
Women traditionally cared for the home, while some were employed in cottage industries such as embroidering linen goods. As the nineteenth century progressed more women worked in the mills in Belfast, giving them a sense of independence. By the beginning of the twentieth century fashions for women were changing and we were shown pictures of costumes from the exhibition. Another photograph showed the wedding of Clare Bingham of Bangor Castle in 1917.
Women were also becoming more involved in politics. The president of the Ulster Unionist women’s council of 1911 was Lady Theresa, wife of the 6th Marquis of Londonderry. Lady Clanmorris of Bangor Castle was president of the North Down women’s association.
During the First World War nurses from the Voluntary Aid Detachment received their training on the Clandeboye estate. Mount Stewart was used as a Red Cross hospital.
Women were also involved in the Easter Rising in 1916. Winifred Carney, a Belfast Trade Unionist, became a friend of James Connolly. She was arrested and spent time in Kilmainham Jail. In 1928 she married George McBride from the Shankill Road who had fought at the Somme.
Other women became involved with the campaign for votes. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies formed in 1897 pursued a policy of peaceful protest, but other women joined the more violent Women’s Social and Political Union of 1903. In Ireland the Irish Women’s Franchise League was set up in 1908. Local women were involved in more violent activities 1910 -1 914. In April 1914 they attempted arson at Bangor station. The Spectator published a scathing article about their activities. Once the First World War started most women abandoned their violence.
In 1917 the Irish News reported an abortive peace crusade in Bangor near Pickie. This event was not reported by either the Newtownards Chronicle or the County Down Spectator.
Women who wanted to help the war effort could become nurses in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. Rebeca read from the diary of Lucy Sinton Kelly who served as a nurse in France from October 1916. She kept an autograph book for patients to sign. Hermione Blackwood of Clandeboye served as a VAD nurse in France. Other women were employed on the home front making munitions and uniforms. These women enjoyed greater freedom than in the past.
The chairman thanked Rebecca and reminded members about the outing on 28 May when we would follow the 1798 trail from Downpatrick. Our guide, Linda McKenna, had earlier given a talk to the society.
The first meeting of the 2016-2017 season is due to be held on 8 September with a talk by Trevor Parkhill on the local nurse, Emma Duffin, whose war diary he had edited.