Sarah Persse: Pioneering woman candidate withdrew from politics before polling day

Vote 100: Galway supporter of education and nursing left Ireland after father’s death

 

Sarah Henrietta Persse was born in Glenarde, Galway, third eldest child in the family of 10 of Eleanor and Henry Persse. Her mother was active in local philanthropy; her father was high sheriff, and a large employer and owner of Persse distillery in Nun’s Island. Augusta Gregory – formerly Persse – was a distant relative.

Persse was somewhat typical of women of her class who lacked formal political rights. She expressed her social and political interests through supporting royal events, such as the 1887 jubilee, and, mostly, through philanthropy.

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She was honorary secretary for Galway of the Stewart Institute – the Dublin foundation that, as Stewarts Care, still educates and looks after children with mental disabilities – and supported district nursing. Persse visited the local workhouse to bring gifts and observe conditions.

After legislative changes in 1896 and 1898 allowed women to contest local elections, she and Esther Jesson were nominated as the first women candidates in Galway. She was well situated to win, given a certain regard for the Persse family, but the death of her father before polling day led her to withdraw, ending her political career.

Her brother, William, and his family moved into the family home, and Persse left Glenarde and Galway, eventually settling in London, where she died in 1927.

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