Yes vote in referendum would remove article that sought to ‘put women in their place’

Campaigners for Yes-Yes in Friday’s referendums host re-enactment of 1937 speeches opposing Article 41.2

The so-called “women in the home” provision in the Constitution was as controversial when it was first revealed as it is today.

When taoiseach Éamon de Valera proposed Article 41.2, he claimed it would give women a privileged position in Irish society, but women’s organisations baulked at the real-life consequences of the clause which says: “The State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”

Women’s civil society organisations at the time were united in opposition to the proposal, which they saw as an assault on their right to work. In 1924, the Irish State, in one of its first acts, introduced the notorious marriage bar which banned married women from working in the public service.

Their opposition culminated in a meeting at the Mansion House on June 21st, 1937, which was attended by more than 1,000 people and heard from a veritable who’s who of significant women, many of whom had played an important part in the revolutionary years.


Dr Mary Hayden of the National Council of Women declared that women did not want flattery, “they wanted liberty to work”. Speaker after speaker urged the public to reject the referendum on the Constitution, which they saw as an erosion of women’s rights. The referendum was held on July 1st, 1937, and was approved by 56.5 per cent to 43.5 per cent.


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The council’s successor, the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), enacted some of the speeches of the 1937 meeting in advance of Friday’s referendum, which proposes to repeal Article 41.2 and replace it with a provision recognising carers in the home without mentioning gender.

Veteran campaigner Ailbhe Smyth said Article 41.2 was never intended by de Valera to be anything other than a clause to “put women in their place and keep them there”. The then Fr John Charles McQuaid, later to be the Archbishop of Dublin, stated in a note later found in De Valera’s papers: “The feminists are getting angry and are moving into action. They seem stung by the suggestion that the normal place for a woman is the home.”

McQuaid wrote to de Valera that, irrespective of the outcome of the Constitution, “nothing will change in law and fact of nature that woman’s natural sphere is in the home”.

Ms Smyth said the State never valued the work women did in the home and saw no role for men in contributing to care.

Instead, she suggested Article 41.2 has resulted in our State and our society “ignoring the work done by women, taking us for granted and making us invisible”. Friday was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to “finish the work of the women who came before us. We are walking in their footsteps here at the Mansion House.”

The NCWI is advocating for a “yes, yes” vote in the referendum.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times