Petticoat Rebels in Medicine/ Kathleen Lynn

Petticoat Rebels in Medicine and Doctor Kathleen Lynn

The most unlikely Petticoat Rebel after the Easter Rising was Doctor Kathleen Lynn. Appointed Chief Medical Officer of the Irish Citizen Army she  trained the rebels in first aid and was active in smuggling arms before the Easter Rising ever took place but her accomplishments go far beyond these simple facts.

Kathleen Lynn 2After the Easter Rising two things  continued. Sinn Fein, the new Provisional Government of Ireland and only one in Europe to include women on its board of trustees, gained massive political and pubic support especially with its anti-conscription bill.

The second big task among Ireland’s leaders was the continued the fight toward poverty and disease especially in Dublin. It wasn’t enough to feed the children in Dublin’s schools but  children afflicted with venereal disease had reached epidemic proportions.

WWI Propaganda poster ConscriptionWWI continued to rage. With less Irishmen enlisting in the fight, England was desperate so they introduced the Military Service Bill to the House of Commons.

They sought to squelch any anti-conscription propaganda and  looked in Sinn Fein’s direction. They were right. Irish society had unified against conscription. Their sentiments read:  The passing of the Conscription Bill by the British House of Commons must be regarded as a declaration of war on the Irish nation.

To be clear, the bill did not impose conscription on Ireland but the rebels may have thought that this was just a matter of time before they did.

Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

Conscription or the public opposition of such, gave Sinn Fein more support. The British government’s answer to this? They accused Sinn Fein of plotting with the Germans although there is no evidence of this.

In danger of being arrested and the government shut down, the Sinn Fein candidates came up with a solution and it worked. Each person designated another to take his or her place in the event he or she was arrested. This way the Republican government continued almost without pause.Fortunately, Kathleen Lynn escaped capture by the British because she was tipped off and slipped out the back door of Sinn Fein headquarters. She was arrested later however.

Kathleen Lynn and Dorothy Price at St UltansAnother casualty of WWI  was an epidemic of venereal disease brought home by British and Irish soldiers. Kathleen Lynn and Thomas Hayes, Sinn Fein’s directors of health estimated that of the 100,000 Irish and British soldiers returning to Ireland 15,000 were infected.

Irish hospital childrenBabies and children were  the biggest population and Kathleen Lynn was most concerned about babies born with syphilis.

Often these children had no medical care and were placed with families where the disease spread easily, according to the medical  knowledge of the time. Pamphlets were spread to educate the public, claiming the disease was more serious than tuberculous and spread through the sharing of cups, baths, hair brushes and the like.

Maude GnomeMaud Gonne MacBride also joined the crusade in education the public about venereal disease. She presented a letter testifying Artaine Village was crowded with ‘war babies’ and that the hospitals would not take them in, boarding them instead with unsuspecting families.


St-Ultan’s-a-women’s-hospital-for-infantsAfter some difficulty in gaining support for a hospital for infants with venereal disease, it was decided that a general hospital for all infants designating one wing for the syphilitic infants would garner wider support which it did.

A woman who wished to remain anonymous purchased a building which would later be named St Ultan’s. Her name was Ethel Rhodes and she was a member of the Society of Friends (a Quaker) and a friend of Kathleen Lynn who was on the run at the time.

Women of the Irish Citizen Army arrived one Sunday to clean 37 Charlemont St. where the top floors were full of pigeon poop and filth.


St. Ultan’s was one of the first children’s hospitals in Ireland. Kathleen Lynn was the first ever female surgeon in Ireland.

Excerpt from Petticoat Rebels of 1916 to be published at the end of 2015. Add your name in the comments to any of these posts if you would like a Free Review copy.


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