Open secrets: Prostitution and national identity in twentieth century Irish society
Denton, Morgan Paige
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This dissertation complicates the traditional historical narrative of social mores in twentieth century Ireland through an exploration of female prostitution. As marginal figures on the Irish historical landscape, prostitutes provide a window through which one can investigate gender relations and sexuality in Irish society at large. As Ireland sought to define itself as a Catholic nation on the global stage, following the nation's independence from Britain in 1922, gender relations were a site where national identity was contested. The Constitution of 1937 took a firm stance on the place of women in Irish society, stating in Article 41 that the "State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the state support which without the common good cannot be achieved." This separate spheres mentality toward women and men stemmed from a variety of factors, most vitally the close association of Irish national identity with Catholicism. While the Constitution guaranteed citizens freedom of religion, this freedom was "subject to public order and morality"—a morality defined by Catholic beliefs. These political transformations had repercussions on all Irish women, forcing them to negotiate their identity within a culture that stressed a Catholic-inspired sexual purity and the importance of motherhood within a married relationship. Such negotiations were wrought with tensions and often demonstrated that Irish women's own values and decisions reflected a multiplicity of possibilities outside the ideals of Irish sexuality disseminated by the Catholic Church and Irish government officials. This work uncovers how female prostitutes reconciled their own identity within this culture, as well as how Irish society as a whole struggled to reconcile their existence within this national ideal of Irish womanhood. This work makes a significant contribution to the burgeoning fields of Irish sexuality and gender studies by placing prostitutes back in the center of their own history while simultaneously exploring their larger influence on other members of Irish society. Several contingents within Ireland, from nationalist politicians to clergy, argued that prostitution was the result of British colonial rule. As prostitution did not disappear from Ireland following independence, these groups struggled to rectify this situation through stricter criminal legislation in the twentieth century as they strove to present Ireland as a model of Catholic morality. This dissertation evaluates the power of this hegemonic discourse on Irish citizens, revealing discrepancies between political rhetoric and the on-the-ground actions of police and Irish communities. By layering court records with more traditional sources such as governmental debates over prostitution laws, the records of rescue societies, and Irish literature, this work reevaluates the oft-cited image of a highly conservative Catholic Ireland and argues against a historical narrative that only imagines prostitutes as unequivocal social outcasts.