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Dr. Gertrude Kelly

Waterford's Revolutionary Women 1916-1922

6. Dr. Gertrude Kelly
Ballyneale, County Waterford b1862 - d1934
Cumann na mBan, New York, 1914

In 1914, Irish born Dr. Gertrude Kelly issued a call for "women of Irish Blood" to organise an American chapter of Cumann na mBan (the Irish Women's Council) to collect funds for Irish Volunteers fighting in the Great War. (Barr S, 2012). Dr. Gertrude B Kelly was a New York Surgeon, suffragette, Irish republican and supporter of social injustices. In 1914, she founded the American chapter of Cumann na mBan in New York, was co-founder of the Irish Progressive League, prominent member of the Irish Women's Council, Secretary of Newark liberal league and involved with numerous more associations and groups.

Gertrude was born in Ballyneale, County Waterford in 1862 to parents Jeremiah Kelly and Catherine Forrest. Both parents were school teachers and in 1873 the Kelly-Forrest family emigrated from Waterford to New York. Gertrude graduated from the Women's Medical College of New York. Her passion for social injustice led her to establish a medical clinic for New York's poorer communities that she ran for over three decades. Gertrude and her brother, John Forest Kelly wrote for several anarchist publications including 'Liberty' from 1885 until 1887. Benjamin Tucker, editor of the pivotal individualist periodical Liberty, "Gertrude B. Kelly, . . . by her articles in Liberty, has placed herself at a single bound among the finest writers of this or any other country." McElroy, 1998

On July 31st 1920, she was a leading organiser of a dramatic rally at the White Star Lines Docks on Manhattan's West Side. The rally was organised as a send-off for Daniel Mannix on passage to Ireland in defiance to Lloyd George's refusal to his entry to the country. Mannix was an Irish born Archbishop of Melbourne, Sydney and strong critic of English rule in Ireland. During June and July, hundreds of thousand's turned out to hear Mannix speak at massive rallies" (Bayer et al, 1996). Gertrude Kelly organised many events during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War periods, including a Dock strike that lasted three and a half weeks in September 1920. The women pickets persuaded 3000 longshoremen working on British ships to join their protest at the imprisonment of Terence MacSwiney and the refusal of Archbishop Mannix entry to Ireland. Dr. Kelly spoke to the masses and paid tribute for their support and protest against the British Government. The strike grounded many British freight and passenger liners and was the first political strike held in New York.

Dr Gertrude Kelly died 24th February 1934, Newspaper 'The Irish World' paid tribute to her "as a foremost figure for the Irish republic, a pioneer women surgeon and a champion of women's rights". On May 16th 1936, the lifetime achievements of an Irish Immigrant to America were recognised when Robert Moses officially opened "The Dr Gertrude Kelly Playground", W 17th St, New York.

Barr S, 2012, Irish Women: Forgotten First Wave Feminists, University of Missouri- St Louis, p60 2-1.
Bayor R, T.J Meagher, 1996, The New York Irish, John Hopkins University Press, Maryland, p364, 371
Irish World, 24th February 1934, Obituary of Dr Gertrude Kelly.
McElroy W, October 1998, Gertrude B. Kelly: A Forgotten Feminist, the Freeman, Copyright 8, the Foundation for Economic Education.

Author: Chrissy O'Connor Knight & Eddie Cantwell

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