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Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke

Irishwomen, Friends and Scholars

Jennifer FitzGerald

As women’s university participation expanded rapidly in the first decade of the twentieth century, two close friends at Queen’s University Belfast nursed scholarly ambitions. Helen Waddell, budding feminist literary critic, and Maude Clarke, future Irish historian, were to become famous medievalists. Waddell’s progress was stymied by her stepmother’s insistence on family duty and by academic misogyny; Clarke’s father, in contrast, helped to clear her way. This joint biography intertwines the story of their friendship with their modern education, their shifting research interests and the obstacles and opportunities that faced them as women seeking academic careers. It traces Waddell’s evolution into an independent scholar, creative writer and translator of medieval Latin, and Clarke’s career as an influential Oxford don, training a generation of high-achieving women academics. The book also reproduces the surviving chapters of Helen Waddell’s Woman in the Drama before Shakespeare (1912-1919), an example of early feminist literary criticism, and Maude Clarke’s searching, self-reflective ‘Historiographical Notes’ (c.1930).


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Chapter 3 - Opportunity and Obstacle 69


Chapter 3 Opportunity and Obstacle Deputy Professor In June 1916, Helen wrote in great excitement to Dr Taylor: This is a dead secret, for the appointment has not been quite ratified yet – but unless the anti-feminism of Queen’s is too strong, Maude – my Maude – is to have the Chair of History for a year – or until the end of the war. Professor Powicke, her old chief, is doing war work in the Economics Department in London, and he wants her to fill his place … There’s just a chance that the Academic Council will cut up rough over it, but I don’t think so. There are a few men like Gregory [Smith] who are dead against the appointment of women, but there is another thesis equally dear – at least to Gregory – which will counteract that – namely, that any professor shall be allowed to do as he likes.1 For Reverend Clarke, his wife in a mental institution, his two older sons of f to war and the youngest determined to join the army as soon as possible, the prospect of his daughter returning to share his empty rectory must have been wonderful. It meant all the world to Helen too. As a result of World War I’s mass mobilization – over 6 million from Great Britain and Ireland, of whom forty per cent suf fered casualties and one in eight was killed, figures outstripped by the mobilization and casu- alties among other combatant nations – civilian occupations practically became the preserve of women.2 Unprecedented...

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