The title of this post is not a girl group. Sadly.
Back in that decade or so of feminist blogging, when every day saw reams of new writing online on political topics, self-published by individuals and groups, I contributed to an Australian-based site called Hoyden About Town, and one of the main things I did was put up a series of posts pointing people to remarkable women, from history or from the present day. We called those posts Friday Hoydens (many other contributors wrote them, too). I decided to gather them together here, and was surprised at how many there were, when I pulled them all together.
If I were still posting Friday Hoydens, right now I would be writing about Nano Nagle. (1718-1784) My sister-in-law, who has children in the Catholic education system in Australia, has become a little obsessed with how she transformed education in Ireland. At that time, under the foreign British rule of Queen Anne and then George II, Catholics were disbarred by law from teaching, or from sending their children overseas for their education. Nano, which is short for Honora, and her sister were smuggled to Paris in order to be given the best education. But bear in mind that this was pre-revolution France, and as such had its own issues with class, poverty and people being denied their basic rights. Nano saw the poor gathered around begging for alms when she went to church, and decided that her calling was to alleviate this kind of deprivation back in her own country.
In the 1750s she opened a secret school for girls in Cork that “focussed on reading, writing, Catechism (Catholic religious instruction based on a system of questions and answers) and needlework.” This makes her one of the first to teach girls in a school setting; until the 19th Century schools were usually reserved for boys, and girls received what education they were permitted at home. The demand for this kind of education was so great that she was soon running seven schools for both boys and girls across the city.
She was unsatisfied with the way conventional convents kept the nuns cloistered, unable to do good in their community because of a policy of seclusion. She founded a group of lay sisters to avoid this, so that they could work in the the world and give help where it was needed. Like Florence Nightingale, her walking around the town at night, while working to help the poor, gained her the nickname, ‘the Lady of the Lantern’. The real significance of her work was how subversive it was, under a government of occupation that had put in place laws with the specific intention to keep the local, Catholic populace poor, uneducated and dependant on their oppressors, to defeat those goals by getting an education to little girls that empowered them as they grew into the women of Ireland.
There seem to be plenty of places online that speak of her life and work, so she is far from forgotten, but perhaps her fame fails to reach outside certain corners of Irish Catholic education.
Nano Nagle Place in Cork City looks after her legacy, and there is an additional website devoted to recording her history. The Presentation Order she founded still has a presence all around the world.
Other Amazing Women
Here is a catalogue of links to Friday Hoydens that I wrote for Hoyden About Town over the course of roughly 2012 – 2016. They are listed alphabetically by first name. Any or all would be great subject matter for lavish bio-pics. You can find lots more written by other contributors on the home site.
Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing
Emilia in Othello
Ophelia in Hamlet
Paulina in The Winter’s Tale