When Roscommon girls were ‘useless for cooking or anything else’

There was fury at an educational committee meeting in the 1930s about women training to enter the workforce

Welcome to March, month of International Women’s Day (March 8th) and two referendums (next Friday also) which – if passed – will make it clear, once and for all, that a woman’s place in Ireland is wherever she wants it to be.

Should that happens, I anticipate serious upheaval across the graveyards of Ireland as men of other days spin in furious outrage.

Men such as the late “Mr Ansboro”, who told a 1930s meeting of Roscommon County Council’s Vocational Education Committee that girls who worked for two or three years were soon “useless for cooking or anything else”. He warned against a popular one-year course in shorthand and typing provided in the county’s vocational schools, which led the girls to jobs, leaving them useless for “anything else.”

A Roscommon Herald report on the meeting had the slanderous headline (bloody media!) “Roscommon girls useless for cooking or anything else” with the subheading “Committee member’s harsh judgment in committee debate”. The committee member was Mr Ansboro, so important he had no first name.


The committee discussed results from commercial courses offered in its schools over the previous six years and found that, while the longer “continuation course” was not so popular, when offered a first-year commercial course “[women] came out in force”.

The county chief executive, a Mr Mescal (no first name either), gave an insight into Department of Education thinking at the time. “It was the feeling in the department that everything possible should be done to shade down the importance in the minds of the pupils of shorthand and typing,” he said. The better to keep them in the home, it seems.

But, all was not lost. Such “useless” girls, particularly if big, strong, and, well, “agricultural”, could join London’s Metropolitan police force. They was looking for “hefty” girls. Philip Game, police commissioner in London from 1935, made “a special appeal” for “spinsters and widows, girls in universities and public schools, and girls with training in nursing and social work” to join.

They had to be at least 5ft 4in, with “a high standard of intelligence, tact and physique” and “hefty enough to withstand a `rough and tumble’ ”. But they “must be fairly good-looking” and “married women need not apply.”

Ah, the good old days.

Hefty, from Old English hebban, “to lift, raise”.