On this Mother’s Day we celebrate all the women, past and present, who have played a part in the development of the United Irish Societies of Montreal. There is no denying the United Irish Societies has historically been a male dominated organization. However let us put this into perspective. Society, generally, was male dominated. By the end of 1918 all provinces except Quebec granted white and black women full suffrage. A little behind the times, Quebec caught up in 1940. The first female MP in Canada was elected in 1921 in the Ontario riding of Grey Southeast when Agnes MacPhail was elected as a member of the Progressive Party. On August 8, 1944, Quebec women voted in a provincial general election for the first time. First female MLA in Quebec is Claire Kirkland-Casgrain who was elected in a 1961 byelection as a Liberal, succeeding her late father in the riding of Jacques-Cartier. Re-Elected in 1962 and beyond she also holds the distinction of being the first woman appointed to Quebec’s cabinet when she became Minister without Portfolio.
The United Irish Societies was founded in 1928 as an umbrella group of Montreal area Catholic Parishes and Irish organizations tasked with the organization of the annual Parade. Members of the Executive and delegates were originally uniquely male. The glass ceiling began to crack when, as the Gazette reported In a Montreal Gazette article dated February 24, 1945 focusing on the details of the upcoming parade, mention is made that “Miss Helen Quinn of Saint Willibrord Parish, Verdun, was elected to the office of permanent recording secretary. Miss Quinn is the first woman to fill an executive office in the United Irish Societies.” There was still much work to be done. In 1979 Audrey McKeown is listed as the chairperson of the organization’s Golf Committee. In 1980 her name appears under Queen’s Pageant. Other names begin to appear, names like Joan Ellis and Lynn Webber in the mid 1980s also under Queen’s Pageant and Marilyn Johnston and Barbara Quinn under Special Events (Christmas Baskets).
Women were slowly beginning to assume leadership positions within the organization. Iris O’Reilly is listed as Corresponding Secretary from 1985, beginning a run of 33 years where this position was held by numerous woman that was broken when Craig Nolan was acclaimed to the position for the 2019 season.
If we look at the Executive Committee from the time of Mabel Fitzgerald’s presidency in 1992-93 we have seen great progress in the area of gender parity in our leadership positions. Including Mabel as well as new president Patricia Mulqueen the organization has been led by fifteen presidents, eight men and seven women. In terms of the Elected Executive, there has been exceptional gender balance. The last time the Elected Executive was dominated by men was as of April 2002 when there were four male members to three females. The ratio changed to even in October 2002 with the passing of Vice President – Organization Stephen Dowd. In the 2011 season, there were three men to three women with one vacancy. Since 2004 the women have consistently outnumbered the men.
There is generally little movement in the chairmanships of the various committees, the majority of which are chaired by women including the Reception Committee (since 2002) and Selection Evening Committee (1999).
On this Mother’s Day, let us thank the many strong women of the United Irish Societies of Montreal, both past and present, who step up either in an elected, appointed, or other non-Executive positions and selflessly volunteer their time for the good of the organization and the community. Everything you do is appreciated.