In December 1945, sixty people attended a meeting in Dublin to form the ‘Irish Soviet Friendship Society’. It is interesting to note that both its president and its honorary secretary were women. Who exactly were they and what ever happened to them?
Well, the president of the society was a Helena Early (1887 – 1977). She made history by becoming Ireland’s first woman solicitor, having taken up law in her brother’s office in the early 1900s. In 1913, she raised money to help the families of the victims of the Church Street tenement disaster.
She became the first woman auditor of the Solictors’ Apprentices’ Debating Society of Ireland (SADSI) in 1922 and the following year she saved the records of the society, storied in the Four Courts, from destruction during the Civil War. At the time, she was a close friend of of Countess Markievicz.
After her degree, she handled district court work and later became the first woman Commissioner of Oaths in Ireland. She was active in the 1930s with the Women’s Social and Progressive League along with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and others.
In February 1946, representing the league, she was part of a welcoming committee for the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt who was visiting Ireland. It was quoted in the papers that she asked Roosevelt how she thought ” women could extend their influence”.
She continued to work professionally and with various campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s.
In November 1970, she was interviewed in The Irish Independent where she said “This liberation movement has been taking too long. Women have be far more active than they are. They’ve been underestimating themselves for too long”. Helena passed away in 1977.
The first Honorary secretary, Mrs Hilda Verlin, was quoted in Russia Today magazine (1948) as being a “journalist and housewife”. A trawl through the archives shows that she had an irregular column in the The Irish Times. She spoke at a public meeting, organised by the society, with Hewlett Johnson (aka ‘The Red Dean of Canterbury’) in The Mansion House in Dublin in November 1946. This meeting descended into violence. (I plan to write an article focusing on this disturbance in the near future)
She last crops up in the news in 1950 when she writes to The Irish Times from the National Hotel in Moscow. I wonder what happened to her?
As well as this the society had a female second honorary secretary (Ms Margaret Mac Macken) and treasurer (Ms Ann Peache) but even less is known about them.