The story of Dr. Kathleen Lynn is synonymous with the fight for social justice. Ahead of her time in many respects, she overcame gender discrimination, suffered for her political beliefs and worked tirelessly as a doctor for the underprivileged.
Kathleen Lynn was born in born in Co Mayo in 1874, the daughter of a clergyman. Having witnessed poverty and disease in the West of Ireland from an early age, she was determined to become a doctor to improve the lot of those less fortunate. Lynn graduated as a doctor from the Royal University of Ireland in 1899. She was appointed as the first female resident doctor in Dublin’s Adelaide Hospital, but was unable to take up this position due to staff objections.
In the early 1900s, she completed postgraduate work in the United States. On returning to Dublin, Lynn set up her own private practice, became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and was appointed the first female doctor at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear hospital in 1910. At the same time she was heavily involved in the suffrage movement. Lynn began in the Irish Suffrage and Local Government Association (IWSLGA) and later joined the more militant British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). In 1912 she campaigned unsuccessfully to have female suffrage included in the Third Home Rule Bill.
During the 1913 Lockout (where 15,000 Dublin workers were locked out of their employment for refusing to sign away their Union membership), Lynn, along with other prominent female activists including Helena Molony and Constance Markievicz, volunteered in the soup kitchens set up at Liberty Hall to feed the starving families of workers. Lynn was politicised by this experience and went on to join The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) as Chief Medical Officer. The ICA was formed as a direct result of the Lockout to defend workers from police attacks during public demonstrations.
As a member of the ICA, Lynn played an active role in the 1916 Rising, an armed Irish rebellion against British rule. Following the surrender, Lynn was sequentially interned in Richmond Barracks, Kilmainham Gaol, and Mountjoy Gaol, and was briefly deported to Bath in Somerset. Following her release from prison she continued to be involved in Republican politics at great personal cost. No hospital would employ her and she was estranged from her family for some years.
From 1919 onwards Lynn devoted her life to improving the health of Dublin infants, being acutely aware of the high infant mortality rates. Together with Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, her life-partner, she set up St. Ultan’s Hospital for sick infants in Charlemont Street. Lynn continued to support public health issues in later years, particularly the scourge of tuberculosis in Ireland. She also remained involved in politics, being elected a Sinn Féin TD (MP) in 1923.
Lynn was a hillwalking enthusiast, which may have contributed to her long life. She died at the age of 81 years in September 1955 and was buried with full military honours in Deansgrange Cemetery.
We are proud to represent Kathleen Lynn on our 77 Women Commemorative Quilt at Richmond Barracks.