Nano Nagle and the Friday Hoydens

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.

Nano Nagle

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.


Beate Sirota Gordon

Bree Newsome

Camila Valejo

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Chihiro, Ofelia and Coraline

Ching Shih

Deborah Mailman

Dora Chance

Edna St Vincent Millay

Ela Bhatt

Emily Davison

Emma Goldman

Gillian Triggs

Graça Machel

Grace O’Malley

Hellena in The Rover

Héloïse d’Argenteuil

Hildegard von Bingen

Hortense Mancini

Hrotsvit von Gandersheim

Kathy Sierra

Katie Taylor

Linda Brodsky

Saint Lucy

Margaret of Anjou

Margaret MacDonald & Marion Mahony

Maya Angelou

Poppy King

Pussy Riot

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Rosie Hackett

Sally Potter

Sayyida Al Hurra

Sekai Holland

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh

Tina Harrod


Women in Theatre

Women of Firefly

Women Who Direct Films

Yvonne Brewster

Zerlina Maxwell

Shakespearean Hoydens:

Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing

Emilia in Othello

Ophelia in Hamlet

Paulina in The Winter’s Tale

2 thoughts on “Nano Nagle and the Friday Hoydens

  1. OK, so I can’t resist mentioning that there’s a Richard Armitage connection to The Rover (it was a play he mentioned wanting to do with the English Touring Theatre at some point).

    But more important: brava to you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s