Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Part II

As the organization grew in membership and as more unmarried Irish women immigrants entered the United States, it was necessary to form a female branch of the Hibernians. According to historian Hasia Diner, “the Church provided the only formal institution in which women participated on any regular basis,” so forming a female branch of an Irish and Catholic faith based organization made sense.[1] The LAOH began as the “Daughters of Erin” and was first organized in Omaha, Nebraska in 1894 by a group of women who were married to members of AOH. However, the men were wary of granting the “Daughters of Erin” their own charter at the National AOH Convention held in Detroit, Michigan on July 14-17, 1896. In order to calm the fears of the men, a female delegate, a Miss Laughlin stated:
Now, by our presence here, we do not want…to be speechmakers, or political speakers…we are not the “New Woman,” but women who have good Irish mothers who taught them to cook, to sew, to wash, to iron, and to get a good square meal for their husbands. The time, has almost arrived when women and men can stand on equal ground.[2]

While her speech calmed the fear of men about the possibility of Hibernian women becoming suffragists, it also served as a warning that Irish-American women “would no longer be content to remain in the background” according to historian Janet Nolan.[3] The charter members of this new organization notified the public of what the exact purpose of the new female organization was going to be and changed the name of the organization to the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1906. This act made the LAOH completely independent of the men, although the name of auxiliary suggested otherwise. The Auxiliary part of the LAOH was dropped in the 1980s in order to signify that the women’s branch was truly independent of the male AOH. The LAOH adopted the same motto of “friendship, unity, and Christian charity” as the men, but it remained a completely separate organization from its male counterpart. The LAOH “sought to educate their members in the Catholic culture as well as provide a place where people could come together, enjoy one another’s company, and share their concerns.”[4]
At the National Convention in 1896, delegates debated whether or not wives of AOH members who were not born in Ireland or of Irish descent should be allowed admittance into the LAOH. Father Murphy, chaplain for the Wisconsin AOH said he was:
in favor of the free coinage of Irishmen at any rate; that when persons were
married, they became two in one, although in some cases it is hard to find out which it is; but, when a woman cares enough about an Irishman to marry him he will very likely be the one; heartily in favor of taking them into the order every white woman who was a practical Catholic and married to an Irishman.[5]

This argument eventually won over the men at the convention, and non-Irish women who were married to AOH members were invited to become members of the auxiliary. This is the only account of Hibernian men getting involved in the LAOH. After this debate over membership, the LAOH members were able to keep the men out of the organization’s business.

Allowing American born Irish women and non-Irish wives of Irishmen as members led to an increase in membership for both the AOH and the LAOH. As Irish immigrants moved from the East to the Midwest, they established new divisions of the AOH and the Auxiliary. The AOH came to Ohio in 1850 when the first division of the state was installed in Cincinnati.[6] Divisions sprang up in the urban areas of Youngstown, Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus, Dayton and Akron by the end of the 1870s. Cleveland’s first division was created in 1871. By the end of 1875, four divisions were up and running in the area with membership nearing 400. Toledo installed its first division in July of 1875 with Patrick Garry as the division president. By 1884, “there were 74 divisions in the state, in 27 different counties—the fourth highest number in America and a membership numbering 4,000.” After the 1896 Convention, each male division encouraged their Irish and Irish-American wives to start their own divisions of the LAOH as well. The first charter for the LAOH in Ohio was granted in 1896 to the wives of AOH members in Dayton.[7] By 1910, the Dayton division had over 200 members and “was [one] of the largest auxiliaries in the state.”[8] However, membership in both the AOH and LAOH began to decline with the onset of the 1920s and 1930s. This trend in declining membership in the order can be traced to the high rates of members leaving due to death or old age while not being replenished by the younger generations. By 1941, “there were only 111 Hibernian [members] in divisions left in the entire state.”[9] According to the LAOH state board, the LAOH records reflect this trend as well.[10]

[1] Hasia Diner, Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), 127.
[2] Janet Nolan, Ourselves Alone: Women’s Emigration from Ireland, 1885-1920 (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1989), 85-86. First name of Miss Laughlin is unknown. In the national history of the Ancient Order of Hibernians written by O’Dea, History of the Ancient Order of Hibernians she is referred to as both Miss Laughlin and Sister Laughlin, with no mention of her first name.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Information contained in paragraph was taken from the following source: the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians state of Ohio website: and the quote was taken from the following source: Jay P. Dolan, The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, Inc, 1985), 258.
[5] O’Dea, History of the Ancient Order, 1121. Statement is attributed to Murphy according to author John O’Dea who had access to the minutes of the convention when writing the history of the AOH in 1923.
[6] Irish in Cincinnati Events of Importance. Timeline in the hand of Pat Mallory, President of the Hamilton County, Ohio # 1 division, Cincinnati, Ohio. Timeline was obtained through correspondence with Mr. Mallory. Uncatalogued material, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio.
[7] Mary Colleen Russell Townsend, Centennial celebration, 1896-1996, November 2, 1996/Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, John F. Kennedy Division No.1, Dayton, Ohio (Dayton: Ohio: Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians John F. Kennedy Division No.1, 1996), 1. Available at Dayton Public Library, Local History Department, Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton No. 1 division of the LAOH is one of the oldest, continually active divisions in the United States. The LAOH in Dayton changed the name of the division to honor President John F. Kennedy upon his assassination in November of 1963. Prior to the 1960s, the division was strictly known as division # 1.
[8] Ibid., 2.
[9] Information contained in the paragraph including the first and third quotes was taken from the following source John T. Ridge, Erin’s Sons in America—The Ancient Order of Hibernians (Brooklyn, NY: AOH Publications, 1986), 93-94.
[10] Ann Dollman, LAOH state board of Ohio Vice President, interview by author, Toledo, Ohio, 14 December 2003, Uncatalogued material, Ward M. Canaday Center, University of Toledo, Toledo Ohio. This trend is also reflected in variety of city directories from the cities of Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Youngstown during the years from the 1920s through the 1970s where there where a lack of divisions actually in existence. This can be compared to the directories of those cities during the 1880s through the 1920 when divisions were listed for several pages for each city.