Marguerite Moore (1849 - D?)

Irish patriot, writer,  orator, social activists and suffragette

Marguerite Moore was born in Waterford, Ireland on July 7, 1849 in the waning years of the Great Hunger. Although the Great Hunger was a calamitous event in the annals of Irish history, not every native Irish family suffered starvation, eviction, disease or any other one of the many man-made maladies that laid waste to the native Irish populace. By divine providence or station in life, she was not one of the 2 million victims who died, managed to immigrate or, enroute, succumbed to a watery grave.

Other than her involvement with the Ladies Irish National Land League, little else is known of her life in Ireland with respect to her childhood, education or marriage.  One newspaper account reported that she was married to a Waterford 'professional'. Irrespective, her later activism and body of work in the United States indicates that she was well educated, independent and financially secure.

What is known of her work for the Ladies Land League also indicates that, once committed to a cause, she was unafraid and willing to suffer the consequences of her advocacy.

Towards the end of 1880, the Irish National Land League, an agrarian organization founded in October of 1879, primarily to abolish landlordism and allow tenant farmers to own the land they toiled, was in peril of being suppressed by the British government. Before that happened, Michael Davitt, an Irish Republican, and founding member of the Irish National Land League convinced its other leaders including Andrew Kettle, Thomas Brennan and Charles S. Parnell to allow for the establishment of a Ladies Land League to carry on after their own impending arrest and imprisonment and the ensuing demise of the Land League.
In late 1880, Anna Parnell returned from the United States, at the behest of Davitt, to set-up the Ladies Land League in Ireland. While in the United States, Anna together her sister Fanny and her mother Delia had successfully established the Ladies Land League in New York that raised thousands of dollars for the relief evicted tenant farmers in Ireland. Anna  utilized that experience to setup and promote the Irish based organization.
Marguerite was one of the first women in Ireland to respond to Anna Parnell appeal for help to launch the Ladies Land League that came into existence on January 31, 1881.  Its stated purpose was 1) to stop the eviction of tenant farmers from their holdings and 2) provide relief to those tenant farmers already evicted.  When Davitt, Parnell, Brennan and other leaders of the Irish National Land League were imprisoned in October of 1881, the Ladies Land League took over responsibility for keeping the ongoing agrarian protests alive and for the distribution of grants to evicted tenants and their families. To the chagrin of the imprisoned men, it soon became evident that the women were doing a much better job overall,  processing applications, supplying money for relief purposes and distributing literature.  On finding that the records maintained by the Irish National Land League were, at best, inadequate, the women setup their own system that was later described by Davitt as ‘the most perfect system that can be imagined'.

Marguerite oratorical skills coupled with her knowledge of landlordism propelled her into the limelight as an effective advocate for the tenant farmers, the victims of  the corrupt landlord system.  She traveled extensively throughout Ireland, England and Scotland informing large crowds of the plight of tenant farmers; how they were dehumanized and subjected to the whims of absentee landlords and/or their callous agents. She likened their plight to that of the victims of the Great Hunger of 1845 thru 1851 who were portrayed by representatives of the British government, as inhuman, and deserving of the fate that befell them.  Her vocal condemnation of the imperial laws that sanctioned the wholesale eviction of families for the non-payment of rent they did not have owing to a bad harvest, illness or some other misfortune, inevitably brought her to the attention of British government agents.

In December of 1881, the Ladies Land League was banned and a number of their members were arrested and imprisoned including Marguerite who spent six months in Tullamore jail.  In describing what happened the Irish National Land League's newspaper 'United Ireland'  pointed out, 'while the men of the Land League had ‘melted away and vanished, the moment Mr. Forster’s policemen shook their batons’, the women ‘met persecution by extending their organization and doubling their activity and triumphing.’  

The demise of the Ladies Land League was a result of the so-called 'Kilmainham Treaty', an agreement between Parnell and Prime Minister Gladstone in May of 1882 wherein, Parnell agreed to quell agrarian protest, dismantle the Ladies Land League and support Gladstone's Liberal Party's agenda. Gladstone for his part  promised to release Parnell and his associates from prison and settle the 'arrears rent' question through access to the land courts.  As a result of  Parnell's questionable dealings with Gladstone, his sister Anna never spoke to him again, and the women, who succeeded where the men failed, gave up in disgust.

In 1884 Marguerite and her family of four girls and two boys emigrated to the United States.

For a number of years after the May 6, 1882 Phoenix Park assassination of Frederick Cavendish, the newly arrived Chief Secretary to Ireland, and Thomas H. Burke, the Permanent Undersecretary, by the Irish National Invincibles, the British government tried, unsuccessfully, to implicate Parnell by insinuating that he was somehow involved in the assassination plot.  To that end, Marguerite was high on their list as a potential witness who, under pressure, could be induced to implicate Parnell. The Times of London spent a year trying to locate her. Once located in New York, the British government tried to have her extradited on the pretext that she carried the knives used by the assassins from London to Dublin. What they overlooked was the fact that she was incarcerated in Tullamore Jail at the time they alleged she carried the knives. They did not succeed in their trumped-up attempt to have her extradited, nor, in their attempt to implicate Parnell. Killing was not Marguerite modus operandi.

After taking up residence in New York City, Marguerite became involved in the rough and tumble of the City's politics. Fresh from her Land League activities in Ireland, she found common cause with Henry George and his land reform agenda. Henry George was a land reformer and economist who in his 1879 book 'Progress and Poverty' advocated for a single tax system. She identified with his philosophy and concern for the beleaguered working poor, exploitative child labor laws and Women’s Suffrage, consequently, worked tirelessly on his campaign for mayor of New York in 1886. 

By the time Marguerite arrived in the United States, Women's Suffrage was well established, having emerged as a point of focus from the broader issue of the Women's rights movement of the  early 19th century. At the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the first women's rights convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton proposed a motion that women be granted the right to vote and participate in government. That proposal launched the Women's Suffrage movement, that in 1920 culminated in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, stating: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex".

Needless to say, Marguerite did not hesitate to engage in that struggle, having experienced the misogynistic and dismissive attitude of the male leaders of the Irish National Land League, particularly Parnell, towards women. That attitude prevailed despite the fact that it was the women of the Ladies Land League who succeeded where the men failed in forcing the British government to address the "arrears rent" issue. Her rhetorical skills and personal experiences made her one of the most sought after speakers at suffrage rallies, meetings and conventions. At one of her many speaking engagements she told one audience: “It is not for ourselves we plead. Most of us have brains enough to take what we want. It is for those who are helpless, poor, and oppressed. We are not asking for woman’s rights, but equal rights—equal pay for the men and women".  She remained steadfast in her commitment to that cause from the mid 1880's until victory was achieved in New York State in 1917 and the United States in 1920.

Women's Suffrage was not the only cause Marguerite fought for. When Fr. Edward McGlynn, the parish priest at St. Stephen’s Church, located, at that time, on Madison Avenue, got in trouble with the Catholic hierarchy for supporting Henry George single tax proposal and participating in his election campaign,  Marguerite along with Dr. Gertrude Kelly and other parishioners came to his defense.  McGlynn, who was born of Irish parents, also supported the aims of the Irish National Land League believing that the injustice that beset Irish tenant farmers mirrored the struggle faced by his poor tenement parishioners at the hands of preying politically protected landlords. 

When McGlynn was removed from his parish and excommunicated by Archbishop Corrigan, a vindictive action sanctioned by the Vatican, Marguerite together with Dr. Kelly organized and led protests outside St. Stephen’s and, in a  direct challenge to Corrigan, convinced parishioners to withhold their Sunday dues until McGlynn was vindicated and reinstated by the Vatican. After two years of nursing depleted coffers coupled with the  relentless adverse publicity generated by Marguerite and her fellow protestors, the Vatican reversed course, and quietly,  in 1992, voided the excommunication and reinstated Fr. McGlynn. 

Throughout her life in the United States Marguerite never forgot her Irish roots. She supported Ireland's quest for Home Rule in the 1890's and in the first decade of the 1900's by doing what she did best, using her pen and speaking out at Home Rule rallies and meetings and sponsoring visiting Home Rule advocates from Ireland.  As a member of the United Labor Party she was an outspoken and fearless spokesperson for the working poor, campaigning for better laws and conditions and confronting the Catholic hierarchy,  politicians and the capitalists of the so-called gilded age who felt entitled and comfortable benefiting from child labor and eighty-hour work weeks.

After the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, Marguerite joined forces with Dr. Kelly to raise funds for the dependants of the Irish Republican Volunteers who were executed, killed in action, or  imprisoned after the Rising. She spoke out against the executions and at one fundraising event compared Padraic Pearse to Robert Emmet, both of whom would be forever revered in Irish history. Both Marguerite and Dr. Kelly were prominent amongst the sponsor of the Irish Republican women who came to the United States to raise funds for the aforementioned victims of the Rising and to campaign for the recognition of the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916.  

On August 23, 1920, the eleventh day of Terence MacSwiney’s hunger strike, three women, Eileen Curran, Helen Crowe and Helen Merriam launched a protest vigil outside the British Consulate on Whitehall Street to effect MacSwiney's release. Soon afterwards, other women joined the vigil including Marguerite and Dr Kelly. 

On August 27th, the vigil spread to the Docks where the women pickets, including Marguerite, persuaded longshoremen, most of whom were Irish, to down tools and join the pickets. The ensuing job action was generally confined to British ships.  By the time MacSwiney died on October 20, as many as 2,000 dock workers, including African- Americans and some coal passers of British ships had joined the strike. Although the strike was mostly confined to the New York docks, a number of smaller strikes took place at numerous locations in New Jersey and as far north as Boston.

Terence MacSwiney, patriot, playwright, author and Lord Mayor of Cork,  died on October 20, 1920, after 73 days on hunger strike.

After a lifetime of activism on behalf of human rights, social equality and Irish freedom, Marguerite  gave way to the physical restraints brought on by advancing years, leaving the heavy lifting to others.  She had the satisfaction of having lived to see the passing of the 19th amendment to the Unites States, the end of landlordism in Ireland and the land they lorded over being returned to local farmers and, the beginning of the end of the British Empire by the actions of the brave men and women of the 1916 Easter Rising who, despite having lost that battle, severely damaged the invincibility surrounding the Empire, thus encouraging other captive nations to fight and break free from its despotic grip. 

 

Contributed by;  Tomás Ó Coısdealbha


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