Tag Archives: Woodrow Wilson

U.S. opinion on Ireland, 1919: the view from Rome

Msgr. John Hagan

Monsignor John Hagan became rector of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome during the Irish War of Independence. The County Wicklow native, who had been vice-rector of the Catholic seminary since 1904, succeeded Michael O’Riordan in late 1919. Both priests were staunch Irish nationalists. Hagan was in close contact with Irish separatists and used the May 1920 beatification of Oliver Plunkett (1625-1681) as a propaganda coup that became known as “Sinn Féin Week in Rome.”

In summer 1919, shortly before O’Riordan’s death, Hagan drafted an article for Vatican officials that sketched his views on Irish affairs abroad since the end of the First World War. Below are excerpts on how public support for Ireland in the United States was unleashed after the November 1918 armistice. It is unclear whether any of Hagan’s material was ever published. Reader beware: the monsignor wrote sprawling sentences.

Till the signing of the armistice, and indeed for some months after, it could with truth be asserted that outside Ireland there was no such thing as an Irish question, or if there was anything in the shape of feeling on the matter it was one of hostility or indifference or coolness. … Even in the United States where the program of Irish independence had always reckoned millions of supporters, sympathy had been dimmed considerably after the (spring 1917) intervention of that country in the European arena; and naturally enough English propaganda had left no stone unturned to foster feelings of hostility or indifference, partly by the old methods of defamation, partly by periodic discoveries or inventions of alleged German plots, and partly by making it appear that as far as England was concerned there was no difficulty in the way of a solution of the Irish question and that if any difficulty existed it was due to the failure of the Irish themselves to formulate anything in the shape of a substantial claim supported by practical unanimity. …

(In the United States) public expression of opinion could be cooled by the ardor of war, and could be retarded or perverted by English control of the ocean cables, and could be rendered impossible by an iron discipline imposed on the country by President (Woodrow) Wilson and an army of English propagandists, but only as long as hostilities lasted. The moment hostilities ceased the previous attitude of indifference or aloofness gave way as if by magic to an outburst of enthusiasm and to a loud-voiced demand that to Ireland first of all should be applied the principles in defense of which the President had led his country into war. As early as December (1918) the country was ablaze; and a series of meetings, culminating in a huge gathering of the Friends of Irish Freedom at Philadelphia, brought the United States into line and led to an active program which has admittedly brought Ireland out of the purlieus of a simple question of English domestic policy into the forefront of international considerations affecting the immediate outlook and the future good understanding that has to be arrived at if England is to face the financial and commercial burthens arising out of the five years’ struggle that is just drawing to a close.

In the 10-page typescript, Hagan also described the activities of the American Commission on Irish Independence; Bishop Michael Gallagher of Detroit’s outspoken view on the Irish question (quoted extensively); and Eamon de Valera’s then month-old tour of the United States, including his July 13, 1919, address in Chicago (also quoted extensively). Hagan’s papers have been digitized by Georgetown University. I’ll have more about this valuable source in a future post.

In 1926 Hagan moved the Irish College at the Church of St Agata dei Goti to its present site on the Via dei S.S. Quattro. Photo from my April 2024 visit. (I got inside the gate.)

St. Patrick’s Day 1924 in the U.S. press: serious to saccharine

UPDATE: The Washington Post describes how Irish anger over Gaza may make for a tense White House St. Patrick’s Day at this year’s bilateral gathering. The New York Times explains “the deep roots of Ireland’s support for Palestinians.”

ORIGINAL POST:

March 1924 brought the first St. Patrick’s Day in a decade that the Irish were not fighting on the continent or at home; first against the British, then against each other. “We have been loosed from the charted world that preceded the Great War into the trackless jungle that has followed it,” wrote Irish author James Stephens. Below are some examples of how the U.S. press cast the first post-war celebration of Ireland’s patron saint. The content ranged from the serious to the saccharine.

Cosgrave’s message:

Many U.S. papers published Irish President William T. Cosgrave’s call for unity and peace, which was distributed by International New Service. The Irish needed to follow the spirit of St. Patrick to “form our deliberations and regulate our actions so that differences of opinion may always be discussed without rancor, as they may be adjusted without violence,” Cosgrave wrote. He offered the “hand of welcome to our separated countrymen in the northeast.” This referred to the six partitioned counties of Northern Ireland, “which refused to accept the Free State and have an independent government,” the wire service explained. [1]”President Cosgrave Appeals To Irishmen” Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, March 17, 1924, and other papers.

Stephens’ essay:

Irish author James Stephens wrote a column that began: “There is nothing more astonishing than the speed with which Ireland has forgotten her subjection.” Later in the piece, he continued: “To claim that we wish to go our own way implies that we know the way we wish to go and that we are willing and eager to take the path. But we have been loosed from the charted world that preceded the Great War into the trackless jungle that has followed it.”[2]”Sees Wall Of Brass Erected About Ireland”, The Buffalo (N.Y.) News, March 17, 1924.

Magazine cover:

March 13, 1924, Life magazine cover by Fred G. Cooper. The issue featured other illustrations related to St. Patrick’s Day, including “Ireland and Peace” by Charles Dana Gibson.

Tumulty’s revision:

Joseph Tumulty, who had been a top aide to former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, wrote a front-page story for The Boston Globe to rehabilitate Wilson’s reputation among the Irish. Wilson had died six weeks earlier, aged 67, after years of illness and paralysis from an October 1919 stroke. He had ostracized Tumulty near the end of his life in a political dispute.

Wilson favored home rule for Ireland up until the start of the First World War. But he became increasingly agitated with Irish republicans from the 1916 Easter Rising through the 1919 Paris peace conference. He especially resented the efforts of John Devoy, Daniel Cohalan, and other Irish American activists to scuttle the League of Nations.

Tumulty waved off the division:

The only disparity of opinion between Woodrow Wilson and those who ardently advocated for Ireland’s freedom in this country was as the method of approaching this great goal. It was the case of different men seeing the same thing in a different way and approaching a settlement of it from different angles. … He did not feel himself openly to espouse the cause of Ireland for, to have done so might have added difficulties to an already chaotic world situation.[3]”Wilson Ideals Freed Ireland”, The Boston Globe, March 17, 1924.

Coolidge’s draw:

At the White House, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge made the first draw of the 23-nation Davis Cup lawn tennis tournament. He picked Ireland, “much to the amusement of those gathered for the ceremony, who immediately recalled that today was St. Patrick’s Day,” according to a wire service report. Ireland lost its match against France, played in Dublin later that year.

St. Patrick’s platitudes:

But the most common content found in American newspapers were saccharine poems, prose, and party ideas about St. Patrick and the Irish. The full-page newspaper display below is from the fantastically named Unterrified Democrat of Osage County, Missouri. The American contributors include Mary Graham Bonner, an author of children’s books; Willis F. Johnson, a New York Tribune and North American Review editor and author; and Blanche Elizabeth Wade, a poet and author.

Double click the image for closer viewing. You will not find anything related to the previous decade of trouble in Ireland.

Page of St. Patrick’s Day content in Unterrified Democrat (Osage County, Missouri), March 13, 1924.

References

References
1 ”President Cosgrave Appeals To Irishmen” Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, March 17, 1924, and other papers.
2 ”Sees Wall Of Brass Erected About Ireland”, The Buffalo (N.Y.) News, March 17, 1924.
3 ”Wilson Ideals Freed Ireland”, The Boston Globe, March 17, 1924.

Reporter vs. reporter: Part 2, London confrontations

The is the second installment of a four-part series about the 1920 confrontation between American journalists Carl Ackerman and Charles Grasty as they covered the war in Ireland. This series is part of my ongoing exploration of American Reporting of Irish Independence. See Part 1. © 2024.

State Department pressure

“…in present state affairs in Ireland large rumors grow from very tiny seeds.”

The U.S. State Department denied that Charles Grasty of The New York Times was on a diplomatic or official mission to Ireland for President Wilson. In a next-day follow up to Carl Ackerman’s original story, the  government “acknowledged that he might have gone to Dublin under a ‘special’ form of passport such as is issued often by American embassies or legations to messengers charged with the duty of conveying diplomatic papers to consular agents.” Ackerman also reported that British officials told him Grasty’s “mission to Ireland is purely one of observation on behalf of President Wilson.”[1]“England’s Irish Policy Outlined as Parlays Fail”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 1920, and “Britain Decides To Increase Military Forces In Ireland”, St. Louis Star and Times, June 2, … Continue reading

On June 3, U.S. Ambassador Davis privately cabled Grasty about Ackerman’s story. In the clipped language of such communications, the ambassador wrote:

Have just received dispatch from Washington saying information reached department to effect that by reason your possession special passport wholly erroneous impression gotten abroad in Ireland you there on some sort mission for president. Of course possession of special passport is rather slender peg on which to hang such report but in present state affairs in Ireland large rumors grow from very tiny seeds. Department seems to regard this one as unfortunate and dangerous and direct me you give me change when you come London.[2]Charles H. Grasty to Carr V. Van Anda, June 8, 1920 (telegram), Adolph Ochs papers, New York Public Library. NOTE: Grasty quotes Davis; this is not taken directly from the ambassador’s cable to … Continue reading

Grasty was no stranger to the State Department. He had applied for and obtained several passports for Atlantic voyages in both directions over the previous decade. On June 10, he stopped at the U.S. Embassy in London to surrender the “special” passport and complete an “Emergency Passport Application.” Grasty stated his occupation as “journalist” and “journalistic work” as the reason for his travel.[3]National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Emergency Passport Applications, Argentina thru Venezuela, 1906-1925; Volume #: Volume 168: Great Britain.

Front page of Grasty’s June 1920 emergency passport application. Note that he has lived outside the United States since 1914, but made six trips to America.

Back of Grasty’s June 1920 emergency passport application. Note the “surrender” of “special passport number 30” from April 1920. Also note his two references: Adolph Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, and Dr. Carey Grayson, personal physician and advisor to President Wilson.

The emergency passport was signed by Williamson S. Howell, second secretary of the embassy. Davis thanked Grasty in a follow up cable for his “prompt and courteous compliance” in exchanging the special passport; which he considered evidence of the journalist putting his civic duty above personal convenience. The ambassador told Grasty he was “quite sure that this rumor did not originate in any indiscretion of your own,” which is contrary to Ackerman’s allegation that Grasty boasted about the special passport while aboard the Baltic.[4]Charles H. Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920 (telegram), in Ochs papers, New York Public Library. NOTE: As above, Grasty quoted Davis; this is not taken directly from the ambassador’s cable.

Grasty & Wilson

Grasty was a known supporter and confidante of Wilson. Both men were born in Virginia towns about 70 miles apart, Wilson being seven years older. The journalist described the president as “endlessly interesting” in a January 1920 magazine profile, shortly before his April 1920 return to Europe.[5]Charles Grasty, “The Personality Behind the President“, The Atlantic Monthly, January 1920. The story does not mention that Wilson suffered a stroke in October 1919, or anything about Ireland.

Eight years earlier, as publisher of the Baltimore Sun, Grasty backed Wilson as the Democratic presidential nominee at the party’s national convention in that city. The newsman championed the candidate in his successful campaign against Republican incumbent President William Howard Taft and progressive former President Theodore Roosevelt. Four years later, Grasty supported Wilson’s re-election.

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

From 1912 to 1922, Wilson and Grasty exchanged at least four dozen letters, though none of the correspondence listed in two archives dates from 1920, the period at the heart of this series.[6]Index to the Woodrow Wilson Papers, Vol. 2, G-O, Presidents’ papers index series / Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, and Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Library & … Continue reading The president and the journalist “were in intimate contact” during the 1919 Paris peace conference and in Washington, D.C., the Times reported at Grasty’s death in January 1924, just two weeks before Wilson’s passing.[7]”Charles H. Grasty Dies In London”, The New York Times, Jan. 20, 1924. Grasty “enjoyed the former president’s highest respect and confidence and was a warm personal friend of both Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.”

The Times‘ obituary also said that Grasty held the trust and confidence of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who relied on their relationship to send important messages to America during and after the Great War. And the Times noted Grasty’s frequent interviews with London newspaper magnate Lord Alfred Northcliffe. Though native to Ireland, Irish separatists on both sides of the Atlantic viewed the conservative Northcliffe as a pro-British propagandist. (See Part 3.)

It’s unclear if Grasty and Ackerman had met in person before June 1920. They certainly knew of each other through their mutual contacts. Grasty wrote to Ackerman in 1917 on behalf of Adolph Ochs, the Times publisher, to ask for information about German newspaper operations. Ackerman had just returned to America after two years in Germany as a correspondent for United Press.[8]Grasty to Ackerman, May 3, 1917, and Ackerman to Grasty, Undated 1917, in Carl Ackerman papers, Box 122, Library of Congress. Ackerman also knew Ochs. In 1918 and 1919 wrote dispatches from Russia and China for the Times. Both reporters also corresponded with Edward House, a top Wilson advisor. (See Part 4).

Grasty confronts Ackerman 

Within a day or two after changing his passport at the U.S. Embassy in London, Grasty confronted Ackerman at the Public Ledger’s foreign office at Charing Cross. The men “argued” for about 90 minutes over the June 1 story, Ackerman told John J. Spurgeon, his editor in Philadelphia.[9]Ackerman to Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England. Ackerman wrote that Grasty showed him a copy of his own letter to Spurgeon “denying that he was in Ireland on official business.”

Carl Ackerman, 1920.

Grasty told Ackerman said that Wilson; Dr. Carey T. Grayson, the president’s personal physician and confidant; and U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, who replaced Robert Lancing in February 1920; asked him to undertake a special mission to Europe, including Ireland. This is interesting. Wilson had suffered a debilitating stroke in October 1919 and was seeing few visitors by the time Grasty left for Europe. The plan hit a roadblock, however, when Grasty informed Oches, who objected to the arrangement while he represented the Times, at least according to Ackerman.

Here is the key portion of Ackerman’s three-page letter to Spurgeon:

Grasty states that he told Mr. Ochs that he would not accept the President’s offer and that he wrote a letter to Mr. Colby refusing to undertake the work. Grasty admits, however, that he did accept a special diplomatic passport from Mr. Colby.

When my article was published Mr. Ochs cabled Grasty for an explanation. Grasty cabled the Times to look up his letter to Mr. Colby which Mr. Ochs did. Then Mr. Ochs cabled the text of the letter to Grasty and asked Grasty to show it to me and ask me to send a correction to the Public Ledger.

Mr. Grasty showed me this cablegram but I explained to him that while I was willing to send the text of that letter and his statement that he did not represent the government that I would, of course, add that he had a diplomatic passport; that he obtained diplomatic immunity in Liverpool and that he told reliable witnesses on the Baltic that he was on a government mission.

To this Grasty objected on the ground that he could not afford to have the question of his special passport discussed in the press and then he added that he had cabled Secretary Colby to instruct the Embassy here (London) to give him an ordinary passport and that he would give up the special which he possesses.

Ackerman repeated that Grasty informed “several fellow passengers on the Baltic” of having a confidential mission for the government. Ackerman did not rename his wife, as he had done in the letter to Spurgeon before the story was published. Ackerman also relayed that Grasty told him the Times accused him of “double-dealing and that Mr. Ochs is ‘sore.’ ”

Grasty cabled Ochs about his meeting with Ackerman. He said Ackerman was “convinced of his error but unwilling to make corrections” without restating that he had crossed the Atlantic with the special passport. Grasty declined the offer, he told Ochs, “because I thought it would involve matters in new muddle.” Grasty quoted exculpatory passages of his cables from Ambassador Davis. He did not mention anything about the Colby letter or Mrs. Ackerman, at least in the surviving communications.[10]Gasty to Van Anda, June 8, 1920, and Grasty to Ochs, June 10, 1920.

At the time, the U.S. government was just beginning to standardize how it issued passports in the aftermath of the First World War.[11]Giulia Pines, “The Contentious History of the Passport” in National Geographic. Published online May 16, 2017. Grasty’s “special” passport would have provided him with more access to U.S. and British government officials than other reporters. It also would have given him some measure of protection in Ireland if he encountered Irish rebels or the British military, which each were suspicious of visiting journalists. This might have been why Grasty wanted to keep the matter out of the press.

“I am told confidentially that Colby is issuing quite a number of diplomatic passports,” Ackerman wrote to Spurgeon. “If he keeps this up his is going to get the diplomatic service in ‘hot water.’”

It seems that Colby already had.

NEXT: Irish-American reaction

References

References
1 “England’s Irish Policy Outlined as Parlays Fail”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2, 1920, and “Britain Decides To Increase Military Forces In Ireland”, St. Louis Star and Times, June 2, 1920.
2 Charles H. Grasty to Carr V. Van Anda, June 8, 1920 (telegram), Adolph Ochs papers, New York Public Library. NOTE: Grasty quotes Davis; this is not taken directly from the ambassador’s cable to him.
3 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Emergency Passport Applications, Argentina thru Venezuela, 1906-1925; Volume #: Volume 168: Great Britain.
4 Charles H. Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920 (telegram), in Ochs papers, New York Public Library. NOTE: As above, Grasty quoted Davis; this is not taken directly from the ambassador’s cable.
5 Charles Grasty, “The Personality Behind the President“, The Atlantic Monthly, January 1920.
6 Index to the Woodrow Wilson Papers, Vol. 2, G-O, Presidents’ papers index series / Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, and Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Library & Research Center Digital Archive.
7 ”Charles H. Grasty Dies In London”, The New York Times, Jan. 20, 1924.
8 Grasty to Ackerman, May 3, 1917, and Ackerman to Grasty, Undated 1917, in Carl Ackerman papers, Box 122, Library of Congress.
9 Ackerman to Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England.
10 Gasty to Van Anda, June 8, 1920, and Grasty to Ochs, June 10, 1920.
11 Giulia Pines, “The Contentious History of the Passport” in National Geographic. Published online May 16, 2017.

Reporter vs. reporter: Part 1, President’s envoy?

This four-part series details the 1920 confrontation between American journalists Carl Ackerman and Charles Grasty as they covered the war in Ireland. In addition to their published reporting, it includes research from the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, and other sources. It is part of my ongoing exploration of American Reporting of Irish Independence. MH © 2024

Special passport

“News from Ireland … has been anything but dull and desultory; it has bristled with violence and bulged with rumblings of impending bloodshed on a widespread scale.”

As the Irish insurgency against British rule entered its second year, more American journalists grabbed their notebooks and traveled to Erin. There was plenty to write about in 1920. As one U.S. correspondent explained in an op-ed for The New York Times:

Events of the utmost significance are crowding upon one other so rapidly in Ireland at the present time that it is frequently difficult to assess any or all of them at their true relative value or to discern their precise cause and effect beyond, of course, the daily generalization that the situation is still more serious and nearer a calamitous climax. Every day the first pages of the newspapers contribute further complexities to this age-old and bitterest of modern political dramas. News, as such, coming from Ireland for weeks and months past has been anything but dull and desultory; it has bristled with violence and bulged with rumblings of impending bloodshed on a widespread scale.[1]Truman H. Talley, “Sinn Fein’s Provocative Martyrdom”, The New York Times, Aug. 29, 1920.

In addition to writing their first-page dispatches for U.S. newspapers, a few journalists also worked behind the scenes to help resolve the Anglo-Irish War. They shuttled messages between rebel leaders and the British government or huddled with U.S. government officials in London and Dublin. Some did this out of a sense of civic duty, others simply to get an edge on their competitors. When these private actions occasionally surfaced in public, it impacted the political negotiations and perceptions of the news coverage from Ireland.

A remarkable example of this occurred in June 1920. Carl W. Ackerman, the London-based chief of the Philadelphia Public Ledger foreign news service, reported that a prominent American newsman had come to Ireland on mission for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

Ackerman’s June 1, 1920, story mentioned Grasty in the fourth paragraph.

“One of the most significant, undoubtedly, of all the recent developments in the Irish situation is the arrival in Dublin of Charles H. Grasty … a well-known journalist, a member of the staff of The New York Times, was frequently during the (First World) war an observer for the president,” Ackerman wrote. Grasty “is in confidential communication with the White House, and probability is that the president has followed his war custom of commissioning some journalist to make a special investigation for him, while ostensibly representing an American newspaper.”[2]“President Wilson Has Special Envoy In Ireland Now”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, June 1, 1920.

Ackerman was correct that Wilson had previously used journalists as his personal scouts to foreign hot spots, including Ireland. The president sent pioneering muckraker Ray Stannard Baker (McClue’s and American magazines) there during the spring 1918 conscription crisis and widening divisions between pro-British unionists and Irish republicans. “The extreme Ulsterman, it seemed to me, was exactly matched by the extreme Sinn Feiner, both for themselves alone,” Baker wrote years later. “There seemed to be no spirit of give and take: no desire anywhere for what Mr. Wilson called accommodation.”[3]Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle; The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker. [David Grayson] (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1945). See, “A Rebellious Ireland And My Report of … Continue reading

Wilson also dispatched George Creel to Ireland in early 1919, shortly after the establishment of Dáil Éireann. Creel (Kansas City World, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News) had just finished his duties as head of the U.S. government’s Committee for Public Information during the Great War. In a March 1, 1919, memorandum to Wilson, he described the Irish in Ireland as more politically practical than the Irish in America. Creel said that Sinn Fein‘s December 1918 election success had finished off the 40-year-old Irish home rule movement. He believed Ireland would accept dominion status, like Canada, if offered quickly. Otherwise, popular sentiment would harden in favor of an Irish republic. Creel also warned Wilson of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s duplicity and stressed that a settlement would help placate the Irish in America, with positive implications for domestic politics.[4]George Creel, Rebel at Large, (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), pp. 216-22, and Creel, The War, The World, and Wilson, (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1920), p 202.

U.S. State Department officials stamped “SPECIAL” on Grasty’s passport on April 8, 1920, a week before he boarded the White Star liner RMS Baltic to cross the Atlantic. “Editor,” Grasty answered the ship’s officer who asked for his occupation and recorded it in the manifest without any indication of special diplomatic status. The Baltic arrived at Liverpool, England, on April 27.[5]The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 669. “Mr. Grasty admitted at the time, when questioned by customs officials, that he was on a special appointment by President Wilson,” Ackerman wrote in his June 1 story.

Then 57, Grasty had enjoyed a successful career as a newspaper publisher and executive. He moved to London during the First World War and worked as an emeritus correspondent for several U.S. publications, including the Times. His dispatches typically blended news reporting and editorializing, with strong opinions about the role of the press in America and the U.S. government in international affairs.

Charles H. Grasty, passport image from at least 1918.

Grasty had been in the United States on a lecture tour in early 1920. He was scheduled to deliver a speech titled “The New Balance of Power” during a mid-April business convention in Des Moines, Iowa. His sudden withdrawal from the event indicates the haste of his return to Europe, which also at least partially explains his special passport.[6]“Iowa Business Congress Draws Big Business Men” by Associated Press, Webster City (Iowa) Freeman, April 12, 1920, and “Business Congress To Open Tomorrow”, Des Moines Register, April 13, 1920.

Aboard the Baltic, Grasty used some of his time to write a letter to Times owner Adolph Ochs about proposed changes to the paper’s news and advertising layout. Grasty divided five pages of ship’s stationary into two typewritten columns: pros on the left side, cons on the right. Making any changes to the newspaper risked disrupting “the habits of the devoted reader,” he warned Ochs. “A paper like the Times has a personality, and even if there are some ugly points, the reader comes to like them with the rest.”[7]Charles H. Grasty to Adolph Ochs, “On board RMS Baltic,” April 22, 1920, with handwritten note dated April 28, 1920, London, at bottom, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.

Ackerman’s source

Grasty apparently also found time during the 11-day crossing to converse with his fellow first-class passengers. Among them: Ackerman’s wife, Mabel, traveling with the couple’s young son. “He came over on the Baltic with Mrs. Ackerman and told her that he was on such a mission,” the London bureau chief alerted his Philadelphia editor, John J. Spurgeon, a week before the story about Grasty appeared in the Public Ledger and its affiliated newspapers. “He had a diplomatic passport and said that he intended to remain in London one week and then go ‘somewhere else.’ ”[8]Ackerman to Spurgeon, May 25, 1920. Carl W. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England.

Carl Ackerman, 1920.

Ackerman told Spurgeon that he contacted London-based U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain John W. Davis to ask about Grasty’s mission to Ireland. The ambassador claimed he didn’t know anything about it.

During his first weeks back in Europe Grasty kept busy writing about ongoing efforts to recover from the Great War. He filed a May 1 dispatch from Paris about the just-concluded San Remo conference in Italy.[9]”Germans Must Act on Terms of Pact at Spa Conference”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1920. In another story he reported that Americans in Europe were taking “keen interest” in the warming U.S. presidential race back home.[10]“Yankees Abroad Closely Watch Politics in U.S.”, Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1920. And in a long opinion piece from London, Grasty insisted: “The United States is in greater danger today than at the time of the German offensive in March 1918. … The feeling in Europe against America has grown, as the feeling in America against Europe has grown.”[11]“Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe”, The New York Times, June 13, 1920.

He dated the story June 1, the same day he was named in Ackerman’s dispatch, though Grasty’s piece was not published until several weeks later.

Grasty also had visited Ireland during the last week of May. He “tea’d & supped” in Dublin with Sir Horace Plunkett, the Irish agricultural reformer and home rule supporter wrote in his diary.[12]May 26, 1920, Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Transcribed, annotated and indexed by Kate Targett. December 2012, National Library of Ireland. The two men had known each other for years. “Wherever he goes he makes friends through his gentle optimism and sturdy character,” Grasty wrote in his 1918 book, Flashes from the Front. “For British patriot that he is, he is an Irishman to his heart’s core. His life has been a labor of love for Ireland.”[13]Charles H. Grasty, Flashes from the Front, (New York, The Century Co., 1918.), pp. 136-139.

Grasty would barely mention Plunkett in his subsequent reporting about Ireland. It appears the correspondent stayed there for about a week and limited his travel to the island’s two major cities. “If I had to choose a place of residence, I would prefer Dublin with all its shootings to Belfast with its grimness and monotony,” he wrote in one of his stories.[14]”Ulster Men Look For Future Union”, The New York Times, Aug. 17, 1920.

The June 1 publication of Ackerman’s story about Grasty, more than a month after the Times correspondent walked down the Baltic’s gangway in Liverpool, makes more sense in the context of the late May visit. And as the Ackerman’s story proves, he was doing his own reporting about Ireland, including reaching out to Plunkett and other insiders.

NEXT: London confrontations

References

References
1 Truman H. Talley, “Sinn Fein’s Provocative Martyrdom”, The New York Times, Aug. 29, 1920.
2 “President Wilson Has Special Envoy In Ireland Now”, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Daily Eagle, June 1, 1920.
3 Ray Stannard Baker, American Chronicle; The Autobiography of Ray Stannard Baker. [David Grayson] (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1945). See, “A Rebellious Ireland And My Report of What I Saw”, p. 337.
4 George Creel, Rebel at Large, (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), pp. 216-22, and Creel, The War, The World, and Wilson, (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1920), p 202.
5 The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 669.
6 “Iowa Business Congress Draws Big Business Men” by Associated Press, Webster City (Iowa) Freeman, April 12, 1920, and “Business Congress To Open Tomorrow”, Des Moines Register, April 13, 1920.
7 Charles H. Grasty to Adolph Ochs, “On board RMS Baltic,” April 22, 1920, with handwritten note dated April 28, 1920, London, at bottom, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.
8 Ackerman to Spurgeon, May 25, 1920. Carl W. Ackerman papers, Library of Congress, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence, London, England.
9 ”Germans Must Act on Terms of Pact at Spa Conference”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1920.
10 “Yankees Abroad Closely Watch Politics in U.S.”, Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1920.
11 “Why Europe Must Be Cured To Keep America Safe”, The New York Times, June 13, 1920.
12 May 26, 1920, Diary of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Transcribed, annotated and indexed by Kate Targett. December 2012, National Library of Ireland.
13 Charles H. Grasty, Flashes from the Front, (New York, The Century Co., 1918.), pp. 136-139.
14 ”Ulster Men Look For Future Union”, The New York Times, Aug. 17, 1920.

The Irish harp in Woodrow Wilson’s drawing room

An Irish harp sits in the drawing room of the Washington, D.C. house once occupied by former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. The three-story, red brick, neo-Georgian structure at 2340 S St. NW in the city’s fashionable Kalorama neighborhood is two miles northwest of the White House, where Wilson held office from 1913 to 1921. He died at the private residence on Feb. 3, 1924, aged 67, nearly five years after he suffered a stroke.

At 3-feet tall, the Irish harp is smaller than models of the instrument typically played in orchestras. It is more decorated, too, with green and gold Celtic knots, zoomorphic motifs, medallions, and clovers, as seen in two images in this post. The crown bears the name of the manufacturer, “Clark Irish Harp, ” and 1914 and 1915 patent dates.

The harp belonged to Margaret Wilson, the president’s eldest daughter, an accomplished singer and pianist. It was either given by, or purchased from, Melville Clark of Syracuse, New York, the instrument’s creator. Clark performed at the White House during Wilson’s first term of office, when Margaret served as a “social hostess” after the death of Ellen Axson Wilson, her mother and the president’s first wife.[1]Meghan Drueding, “How Margaret Wilson’s Harp Reaches People On A ‘Visceral’ Level” in National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017; and Aug. 28, 2023, … Continue reading

Clark (1883-1953) designed the portable Celtic-style harp that bears his surname after a 1905 trip to Europe, including a stop in Ireland, where for centuries the instrument has been considered a heraldic and nationalist symbol. Clark said he “learned much of the romantic part the instrument has played in that country’s history. It was while doing so that the idea of developing a small harp was something I wanted to do.”[2]Linda Pembroke Kaiser, Pulling Strings: The Legacy of Melville A. Clark. (Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 2010), p. 31, citing Clark, “Music: My Hobby, My Profession, and Business,” … Continue reading

Clark met Cardinal Michael Logue (1840-1924), primate of Ireland, on the steamer from the United States, and he visited the prelate’s residence in Queenstown, now called Cobh. Clark recalled they had several “animated conversations” about harps, including Logue’s own instrument, which the cardinal “cherished exceedingly.” Clark purchased several Irish-made harps to bring back to Syracuse, including one that had been owned by Irish poet and composer Thomas Moore (1779-1852). It influenced Clark’s design in the characteristics of size, shape, and construction.[3]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 31, citing Clark, “How I Came To Invent the Clark Irish Harp”, 1942.

The Clark Irish Harp “became his most important contribution to the world of music,” biographer Linda Pembroke Kaiser has written.[4]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 5. While regular concert harps were too big, too expensive, or too difficult for most amateur musicians, Clark’s instrument was affordable and could be learned by nearly any adult or child. The first handcrafted models began to appear in 1908 and used rock maple instead of the bog oak of traditional Irish harps. Mass production began in 1911, three years before Clark performed for the president and his daughter.

White House performances

Clark played at the White House on March 27, 1914. The invitation developed through his association with John McCormack (1884-1945), the Athlone, County Westmeath-born tenor. They became acquainted when the singer performed concerts in Syracuse and purchased one of Clark’s harps for one of his children. Clark returned to the White House on May 27, 1914, specifically to accompany Margaret Wilson.[5]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 104-110.

After one of these performances, Clark recalled decades later, the president invited him to bring his harp to a rear portico. The musician wrote that Wilson:

… suggested one song after another—Scottish and Irish songs and those of Stephen Foster. He sang easily and with faultless diction. It was nearly midnight when he stood up to go, amazingly buoyant, relaxed and unworried.”[6]Melville Clark, “I Played the Harp for Wilson”, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1945.

Wilson had a complicated relationship with Ireland and the Irish. His two paternal grandparents hailed from Strabane, County Tyrone, in today’s Northern Ireland. In 1912 he touted this heritage to appeal to the Irish-American voters who gravitated to the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the presidency. But Wilson grew agitated with pro-independence Irish activists during the First World War and subsequent Paris peace conference. “Your attitude on the matter is fraught with a great deal of danger both to the Democratic Party and to the cause you represent,” warned one of the president’s closest aides.[7]Joseph Tumulty to Wilson, cited in John Morton Blum, Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1951), p. 176. Irish Americans in turn lobbied Congress to reject Wilson’s post-war plans and helped tip the 1918 midterm and 1920 presidential elections to the Republicans.

Clark met Wilson again in 1917 to present his idea of dropping messages from balloons to counter German propaganda. The president was enthusiastic about the idea, and the plan was eventually adopted by the Allies. The first balloon offensive launched over German airspace occurred in March 1918.[8]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 99-103. About the same time, Clark and Margaret Wilson began to perform together for troops at U.S. military camps in New Jersey.

Afterward

Wilson made the first nationwide remote radio broadcast from the S Street house on Nov. 11, 1923, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. A few weeks earlier, former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the war-time leader and a key negotiator of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, paid a visit to Wilson at the house. The two men discussed “the world conditions of today rather than memories of yesterday,” according to a news report.[9]”Lloyd George Lays Wreath On Unknown Soldier’s Tomb In Arlington Today”, Associated Press report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1923. One can only imagine if the conversation included the newly created Irish Free State and partitioned Northern Ireland.

Clark returned to the White House to perform for presidents Warren G. Harding, Wilson’s successor, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also acquired for his collection a harp that once belonged to the Irish patriot Robert Emmet (1778-1803).[10]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 132. By coincidence, President Wilson attended the 1917 unveiling of the Emmet statue in Washington, D.C. by Kerry-born sculpture Jerome Connor. The statue was relocated 50 years later to a small park a block from the Wilson house, where it stands today.

Margaret Wilson died in 1944, aged 57. Clark died in 1953, aged 70. His papers at Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center contain correspondence from Woodrow Wilson and Margaret Wilson dated between 1914 and 1922. I’ve reached out to the archive for more information about this material and will update this post as appropriate.

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, the president’s second wife, bequeathed the S Street house and its furnishings, including the harp, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She died in 1961, aged 89. The mansion has been open to the public since 1963.

References

References
1 Meghan Drueding, “How Margaret Wilson’s Harp Reaches People On A ‘Visceral’ Level” in National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017; and Aug. 28, 2023, email reply from President Woodrow Wilson House staff to my questions.
2 Linda Pembroke Kaiser, Pulling Strings: The Legacy of Melville A. Clark. (Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 2010), p. 31, citing Clark, “Music: My Hobby, My Profession, and Business,” notes for public lectures, 1948.
3 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 31, citing Clark, “How I Came To Invent the Clark Irish Harp”, 1942.
4 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 5.
5 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 104-110.
6 Melville Clark, “I Played the Harp for Wilson”, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1945.
7 Joseph Tumulty to Wilson, cited in John Morton Blum, Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1951), p. 176.
8 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 99-103.
9 ”Lloyd George Lays Wreath On Unknown Soldier’s Tomb In Arlington Today”, Associated Press report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1923.
10 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 132.

Remembering Emmet at midsummer blogiversary

I hope regular readers and occasional visitors to this blog are enjoying their summer. This post concludes our eleventh year, which included a temporary relocation to Boston and return to Washington, D.C. Here, one of my regular walks takes me by the statue of Irish patriot Robert Emmet.

Since 1966–the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising–the statue has been located in the 2400 block of Massachusetts Avenue, known as “Embassy Row.” It’s a 5-minute walk from the Embassy of Ireland on Sheridan Circle, and a block from the historic Woodrow Wilson House. As a second-term U.S. president, Wilson attended the June 1917 unveiling of the statue by Kerry-born sculpture Jerome Connor. “Heckling suffragettes” briefly disrupted the ceremony as they unrolled a banner that asked: “Why laud patriotic struggles of the past and suppress struggles for freedom at your gates?”[1]”Two Arrested With A Banner at Emmet Statue Exercises”, The Washington Post, June 29, 1917. American women secured the right to vote three years later as it became clear that Wilson was no supporter of Irish independence.

I continue to pursue my research about how American journalists reported the Irish struggle, both in Ireland and in America. More posts ahead. Thanks for your continued support of the blog. MH

 

References

References
1 ”Two Arrested With A Banner at Emmet Statue Exercises”, The Washington Post, June 29, 1917.

U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day, updated

U.S President Joe Biden this week issued the annual proclamation to declare March as Irish-American Heritage Month. “As I said when I visited Dublin in 2016, our nations have always shared a deep spark — linked in memory and imagination, joined by our histories and our futures,” he says. Due to lingering concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this year’s St. Patrick’s Day meeting in Washington, D.C. between U.S. and Irish leaders will be a virtual affair, The Irish Times reports.

In 2016 I wrote a five-part series on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day leading up to the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. I explored 1916 and 25 year increments afterward: 1941, 1966, and 1991, plus a post about St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial. Here are short descriptions of the series with links to the original posts:

Part 1: St. Patrick’s Day 1916 arrived in the second year of the Great War and a month before the Easter Rising. President Woodrow Wilson wore “a bright green necktie and a little shamrock fresh from the ‘ould sod,’ a present from  John Redmond, the Irish nationalist leader,” The Washington Post reported.

Iconic image of the General Post Office in Dublin after the 1916 Easter Rising.

Part 2: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not recognize St. Patrick’s Day 1941 with any Irish guests or events. As war raged in Europe, Irish leader Éamon de Valera said in a radio address broadcast on both side of the Atlantic: “A small country like ours that had for centuries resisted imperial absorption, and that still wished to preserve its separate national identity, was bound to choose the course of neutrality in this war.”

Part 3: In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Rising, President Lyndon B. Johnson welcomed Ambassador of Ireland H.E. William Fay and Mrs. Fay to the Oval Office. The official record says Johnson was presented with “fresh shamrocks [redacted] flown in from Ireland.” It appears that two words are blacked out between “shamrocks” and “flown.” My guess: “and whiskey.”

Part 4: On St. Patrick’s Day 1976, President Gerald Ford expressed “the appreciation of the American people to the people of Ireland” for their participation in the founding and growth of the United States. He welcomed Taoiseach Liam M. Cosgrave. They also talked about The Troubles.

Liam Cosgrave pins a shamrock to the lapel of Gerald Ford in 1976.

Part 5: St. Patrick’s Day 1991 came some 20 years into the Troubles, and the Irish Republic was taking a cautious approach to the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Rising. “Officials say at a time when talks are soon to open over the future of Northern Ireland, they do not want to be seen celebrating an event that could be exploited by the outlawed Irish Republican Army as justification for its own violent campaign to oust British rule from the province,” The Washington Post reported.

Shortly after St. Patrick’s Day, 2016, President Barack Obama described Ireland’s 1916 Proclamation as “a vision statement 100 years ago, and it would be a visionary statement today. It’s a universal value, like the ones in America’s own founding documents, that compels us to continually look forward; that gives us the chance to change; that dares us, American and Irish alike, to keep toiling towards our better selves.”

From Boycott to Biden: My 2020 freelance work

This year I had six freelance pieces published on four websites beyond this blog. I thank the editors who worked with me on these projects and hope my readers will explore their websites after enjoying the articles linked below. MH

Will Biden Shake Up a Century of US-Ireland Relations?
History News Network, Dec. 13, 2020

Joe Biden.

Though annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities at the White House have become a familiar tradition, Ireland hasn’t always fared well with U.S. presidents. Woodrow Wilson grew agitated with Irish activists, who helped scuttle the post-WWI League of Nations with war ally Britain. John F. Kennedy also was reluctant to jeopardize America’s “special relationship” with Britain during the Cold War. Now, Joe Biden’s presidency may be a boon to Irish politics, including new focus on the island’s century-old divided status.

Home at War, 1920: Diaspora Witness Statements to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland
Irish Diaspora Histories Network, Nov. 15, 2020

Clare native Patrick J. Guilfoil returned to Ireland in 1920.

Half of the 18 American witnesses who testified a century ago about their experiences in Ireland during the War of Independence were natives of the country who returned home in 1920. Their first-person accounts of the period’s violence and unrest, totaling more than 160 pages of verbatim transcript, illustrate both Irish nationalist and American identities. Most of the nine witnesses said they returned to Ireland to visit family. Then they got caught in the crossfire of war.

The History of the Boycott Shows a Real Cancel Culture
History News Network, Aug. 2, 2020

Charles Boycott

Dozens of writers, artists and academics signed a letter in Harper’s Magazine that warned of growing “censoriousness” in our culture, including “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism.” While so-called “cancel culture” often deploys modern social media technology, it is hardly a new tactic. It most famously dates to 1880 in the west of Ireland, when English land agent Charles Boycott’s last name became a verb for the practice.

‘Likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty’, the Seizure of Irish newspapers
The Irish Story, May 17, 2020

The British government in Ireland wielded suppression powers over papers and printing works they deemed were “used in a way prejudicial to the public safety” or potentially bothersome to King George V, as quoted in the headline. On Sept. 20, 1919, authorities made simultaneous raids on three printing works that published six anti-establishment newspapers. An American journalist in Ireland later observed that among papers suppressed and then allowed to resume publication, “it is the custom to come out in the next issue with a blast against the government which makes the previous ‘libel’ read like a hymn of praise.”

When Irish Was Spoken in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Quarterly, March 16, 2020

Hyde’s travel journal was reissued in 2019.

Irish language scholar Douglas Hyde described Pittsburgh as “the dirtiest and blackest city in America” and complained “the wind would cut your nose off” during his January 1906 visit. But the 45-year-old Irishman hadn’t sailed across the Atlantic for mild weather or fine scenery. As with the other stops on an eight-month U.S. tour, Hyde came to raise awareness about the Gaelic League, the language revival organization he helped found in 1893 to nurture both cultural and political nationalism.

Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland
The Irish Story, Jan. 8, 2020

1919 passport photo of Ruth Russell.

American journalist Ruth Russell interviewed Éamon de Valera and other leading political and cultural figures of the Irish revolution, including Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne McBride, Michael Collins, Constance Georgine Markievicz, and George William Russell (no relation) during her 1919 reporting trip. Russell also mixed with Ireland’s poorest citizens, people in the shadows of the revolution. Back in America, she protested outside the British embassy in Washington, D.C., and testified before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland.

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election outcome

Warren G. Harding, 1920.

In the November 1920 U.S. presidential election, Irish-American voters joined the overwhelming majority, including newly enfranchised women, who rejected the pro-British policies of outgoing President Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic Party. Sen. Warren G. Harding, Republican of Ohio, overwhelmed the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox by an Electoral College margin of 404 to 127.

The election occurred a week after the hunger strike death of Terence MacSwiney in a London prison and just a few weeks before “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin. In the United States, Éamon De Valera was laying the ground work for the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic (AARIR), and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland would begin hearings in Washington, D.C., before the end of the month.

The U.S. election outcome was not front page news in The Gaelic American, New York; The Irish Press, Philadelphia, or the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom in Washington. John Devoy’s Gaelic American editorialized that Irish-American voters:

…did not care particularly for Harding, but they were cut to defeat the League of Nations, and they took the most practical way of accomplishing that object. The result is that the League of Nations is dead in America, and all the efforts of all the Anglomaniacs, International Financiers, peace cranks and the British agents will not be able to restore the corpose to life.1

In Ireland, the Irish Independent quoted from the president-elect’s March 1920 letter to Frank P. Walsh, member of American Commission on Irish Independence:

I have a very strong conviction myself of the very great part played by Americans of Irish ancestry in winning the independence and in the making of our great United States. More than that, I have very great and sympathetic feeling for the movement to bring about the independence of Ireland and the establishment of Irish nationality, which is the natural aspiration of any liberty-loving people.2

Few people on either side of the Atlantic were fooled by such platitudes. The Independent noted Harding’s earlier Senate votes against the Irish cause, as Devoy also had pointed out during the campain, when he backed another Republican senator. Again, the outcome was more a vote against Wilson and the Democrats than for Harding.

Democrats were bitter. George White, chairman of the Democaratic National Committee, said:

The fate of Irish freedom has been settled adversely. Men and women of Irish blood have voted for the candidate who has declared the Irish question to be a domestic problem of Great Britain, in which we can have no official concern. With their support the American people have returned the Irish problem to Downing Street.3

Once he took office in March 1921, Harding supported Irish humanitarian relief, but his administration took an arms-length approach the war, then quickly endorsed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Irish-American influence ebbed in Washington as the nation focused on domestic affairs and Ireland deteriorated into civil war.4

Earlier posts on the 1920 U.S. presidential election:

Votes for women, support for Ireland

National Museum of American History

In 10 weeks American women are expected to have a large impact in deciding the U.S. presidential election, which arrives at the centenary of their enfranchisement. The August 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution also was followed by a presidential vote in America as the war of independence unfolded in Ireland.

“Women of Irish blood in the United States should lose no time in qualifying as voters, so that their wonderful influence may be used to make better laws in the United States, as well as assisting to secure recognition of the Irish Republic,” The Irish Press of Philadelphia editorialized. “Those who fail to do so are neglecting their duty and will be held responsible for their negligence by those of the race who make use of this new and powerful weapon, which the vote places in the hands of every woman who can qualify as a citizen of this Republic.1

Irish women had received restricted voting rights in February 1918. Ten months later they helped sweep republican Sinn Féin candidates to office, including Constance Georgine Markievicz, the first women elected to Parliament. “Countess” Markievicz and the other separatists refused their seats in London and instead formed a breakaway government in Dublin.

By August 1920, the war in Ireland was turning more brutal. Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney and others were dying in prison hunger strikes. “Will the newly-enfranchised American Women show their love for freedom and justice by asking their Government to prove its good faith to the democracies of the world by stopping the murder of Mayor MacSwiney and his companions?” Irish activist Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington asked in a public cable.2

A small but determined group of American women activists continued their months-long protest against imperial rule in Ireland through demonstrations outside the British embassy and other locations in Washington, D.C. Some suffragists and supporters of Irish independence criticized their tactics as counterproductive.

In a pair of early September 1920 editorials, The Irish Press addressed both the “women pickets” and MacSwiney’s pending martyrdom:3

American women will appreciate the suffering of the wives and mothers of Irishmen who are forced to sacrifice all for their motherland. American women are now fully enfranchised citizens; will they by their votes permit the continued recognition by the United States of the Government in Ireland [Britain] that is responsible for conditions such as this? …

The people of Ireland … may expect the utmost assistance of all American women. … Picketing … is not easy work [and] many men would not care to undertake it. … If all the women in the United States would take action, not necessarily in the same manner, but with the same earnestness, the mothers of Ireland would never again need to sacrifice their sons.

Ireland was not a major issue in the November 1920 election. Republican Sen. Warren G. Harding of Ohio overwhelmed the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox in a rebuke to Woodrow Wilson’s eight years in the White House. Women swelled the voting turnout to nearly 27 million from 18.5 million four years earlier. Harding supported Irish humanitarian relief early in 1921, but his administration took an arms-length approach the war, then quickly endorsed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Irish-American influence ebbed in Washington as Americans focused on domestic affairs.4

American women pickets on behalf of Ireland, April 1920.

Further reading:

Tara M. McCarthy’s Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920 is “an important and understudied perspective on the evolution of women’s activism in the United States … emphasizing the particular role of Irish American women in the politics of reform through the interlinked lenses of Irish nationalism, labor, and suffrage,” the Women’s History Association of Ireland said in a review. “These are explored using local, national, and transnational contexts and therefore provide a useful addition to the study of American politics in addition to the Irish diaspora’s experiences abroad.”

The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial website offers several profiles of native Irish and Irish-American women who helped win the vote a century ago. They including:

Burns and other women are also in the “Fearless: A Tribute to Irish American Women” feature from the Library of Congress.

My “American Reporting of Irish Independence” series includes an interview with American historian Catherine M. Burns about the 1920 women’s pickets. A separate post about Mary Galvin of Philadelphia explores the activity of one of the women.

Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City, October 1917.