Animal Souls and Votes for Women: vegetarianism and suffrage in the work of fin-de-siele Irish feminists.



On 23rd November 2016, at University College Cork, Dr Maureen O’Connor presented a paper entitled, ‘Animal souls and votes for women: vegetarianism and suffrage in the work of fin-de-siecle Irish feminists’. O’Connor explains the paper originates from early stage research for a forthcoming book. The paper engages in feminist vegetarian critical theory, building on works such as Carol J Adams 1990  work, The Sexual Politics of Meat,, new materialism, and Stacy Alimo’s concept of ‘transcorporeality’.

The Sexual Politics of Meat

The Sexual Politics of Meat

Adams’s work explores the connections between masculinity, misogyny, carnivorism, and militarism. Adams argues women and animals are objects available for consumption; because the individual is rejected they are subject to fragmentation and their collective power is quelled. Adams contends a system that values any beings, human or non human, exploited only for money will never be one that can be a foundation for women’s equality. Stacy Alimo focuses on concepts of new materialism, material feminism, environmental science studies and the concept of transcorporeality.  This concept deals with, “the movement across human bodies and non human nature, which profoundly alters our sense of human subjectivity, environmental ethics, and the individuals relation to scientific knowledge”. O’Connor’s interest is in exploring how these concepts revise our understanding of the relationship of feminists and vegetarians. Irish feminists at the turn of the century deploy anti-imperialism and green issues to challenge and contribute to the dismantling of imperialist patriarchal structures.

punch 1852

punch 1852

Vegetarianism had its roots in the reforming spirit of the nineteenth century, when the concept emerged that eating meat was a brutalising force and engendered aggression. According to Rev William Cowherd, an early advocate of non meat eating, “if God had meant us to eat meat then it would have come to us in edible form, as is the ripened fruit” ( The Vegetarian society is formally founded in 1847. O’Connor points out the degree of alarm about the movement at the end of the nineteenth century, some saw it as a threat to the empire, as it is involved in the Boer war and there are concerns it could affect the state of the male population. In some quarters it is viewed as anarchic and that food reform is a counterculture movement. Vegetarianism is associated with nature and as Kate Soper points out, “Nature is opposed to culture, to history, to convention, to what is artificially worked or produced, in short, to everything which is defining of the order of humanity” (15). Vegetables are seen as female food, and, interestingly, as O’Connor highlights, many feminists involved in the suffragette movement are vegetarians and involved in animal activism, such as anti-vivisection, for example Eva Gore Booth.

Eva and Constance

Eva and Constance

O’Connor points out that first wave Irish feminists, such as Gore Booth and her sister Constance were seeking not only cultural and economic revolt, but exploring alternative means of being. Gore Booth, is attracted to Theosophy, as many feminists at the time are, they perceived it offered greater spiritual freedom. It was concerned with reversing society’s traditional valuation and placed feminine qualities of intuition and spiritual knowledge above masculine ones of intellect and rational knowledge. It was also free from the patriarchal symbolism associated with Christianity and was more receptive to feminist theories concerning matriarchal foundations of society and the role of Goddess. Theosophists syncretize elements of the spiritual, religious and scientific. Gore Booth was an activist all her life, she was leader of the North of England society for woman’s suffrage and  founded Urania a sexual politics journal, challenging society’s gender norms.



by Unknown photographer, halftone postcard print, 19 August 1909

Margaret Cousins

Margaret Cousins

Other prominent vegetarian Irish feminists that O’Connor draws attention to are two co-founders of  the Irish Women’s Franchise League, Margaret Cousins (1878-1954) and Charlotte Despard (1844-1939) and pro-nationalist Alice Stopford-Green (1847-1939 ). O’Connor argues these women were all dedicated social feminists who, in their individual ways, were attempting to dismantle and challenge the patriarchal and imperialist structures they found themselves in, inevitably they were drawn to nationalist and, in Despard’s case, eventually communist ideologies. They are, unquestionably, radicals, pushing and challenging boundaries. Margaret Cousins, another theosophist, was interested in eastern studies particularly in a select Hindu concept which offered a subversion of the hard and fast logic of completely separate spheres of masculinity and femininity, arguing each individual comprises even shares of masculinity and femininity, an idea she termed ‘femaculine’. O’Connor argues these women understood the body is political. Ireland and the Irish had often been associated with animal and female in order to reinforce the British, imperialist, male, superior position. Women were placed outside, excluded from the system, inhabiting different spheres from men, mainly the domestic. It is not difficult to see why these first wave Irish feminists, who wanted to re-balance or disrupt the status quo, were drawn to concepts and ideologies that were deemed as ‘other’, such as vegetarianism.

Works cited.

Adams, Carol J. Web 28th January 2016.

Alice Stopford-Green. Digital Image. Yahoo. Web. 28th Jan. 2017.

Alimo, Stacey. Web 28th January 2016.

Charlotte Despard and Anne Cobden Sanderson, ‘Waiting for Mr Asquith’. Digital Image. n.d.  Yahoo. Web. 28th Jan. 2017.

Eva and Constance Gore-Booth. Digital Image. Yahoo. Web. 28th Jan. 2017.

O’Connor, Maureen. ‘Animal souls and votes for women: vegetarianism and suffrage in the work of fin-de-siecle Irish feminists”. Department of English Research Seminar, 23rd November 2016. University College Cork.

Punch 1852: Grand Show of Prize Vegetarians. Digital Image. Yahoo. Web. 28th Jan. 2017.

Soper, Kate. What is nature? Culture, Politics, and the non-Human. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995. Print.

Vegetarians. Digital Image. n.d. Yahoo. Web. 28th Jan. 2017.

Vegetarian Society. Web 28th January 2016.


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