In 1911,The Ladies School Dinner Committee or the LSDC organized a free lunch for every poor child in Dublin regardless of religion, parents political backgrounds, or race.
Before this time, the School Meals Act of 1906 allowed government money to be allocated for the provision of meals to school children in England. It had not been extended to Ireland however. In early 20th century Dublin hundreds of children went to school without any breakfast. They did not bring lunch with them either. At this time, Dublin had one of the highest poverty rates in all of Europe! One free lunch could make all the difference in the world.
In November of 1911, Helen Laird, a teacher at Alexander College and Maud Gonne MacBride addressed the monthly meeting of Dublin Corporation, explaining the poor health conditions of school children and how a free lunch every day would keep their minds strong and their bodies fit, preventing them from living off the government in the future. Dublin Corporation referred the matter of whether money could be dispensed toward school lunches to their law agent. The law agent’s recommendation was to neglect any money at all toward school lunches.
Lady Ishbel Aberdeen, founder of the Women’s National Health Organization and wife of the lord lieutenant in Ireland came under extreme criticism by the Nationalist movement.By 1910, the WNHA was the main children’s charity of the country.
The Ladies School Dinner Committee accused her of patronizing the poor in Ireland and setting up the WNHA because she hoped to influence Queen Victoria to give her a title. She was seen as meddling in Irish affairs.
The meals were cooked in a communal kitchen and had to be carried by the ladies to each school.
Some children paid and some did not. It was left up to the teachers to know who was not able to pay. This was kept secret and no one was allowed to know who did or did not pay for the food. This way it kept all politics and favoritism out of the pot
An added benefit of having meals in the school was that it kept them inside the building. Previously, they left to go a communal kitchen on Meath St. (the same kitchen that would provide the free meals now) When they left at lunch time, often the boys and girls did not return to class.
As is today, the Ladies School Dinner Committee came under attack from the media who claimed the free lunch program was simply a ruse for nationalist propaganda though I doubt the children cared at all.
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