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In the early part of the 20th century the role of women was redefined for a short time. The advent of First World War saw many women taking jobs in factories, shops and offices as men went off to fight. Indeed, the number of women in the civil service increased by 1751%. And in 1918 the Representation of the People Act changed the voting system so that women over 30 were given the vote and allowed to stand for Parliament for the first time.

But when the troops started to return home many women found themselves surplus to requirements at work. The 1919 Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act forced most women to leave their wartime roles as men came home and factories switched to peacetime production.

Maureen was involved in the performing arts, particularly the Newpoint Players, and is pictured from left: Anne Brady, Sam Russell, Maureen Daly and Owen Mooney. Newry and Mourne Museum
Maureen Daly was involved in the performing arts, particularly the Newpoint Players, and is pictured from left: Anne Brady, Sam Russell, Maureen Daly and Owen Mooney. Newry and Mourne Museum

This situation was exacerbated in 1921 when, due to economic depression and high male unemployment, a marriage bar was introduced in certain occupations. Such measures were already in existence in the UK in certain areas of employment since the 19th century, for instance the Post Office.

This bar meant that married women were prevented from working in particular occupations. These included the civil service, factory work, clerical work, teaching in some local authorities and service industry jobs were also affected. Female civil servants had to resign (unless granted a waiver) when they became married.

Until the 1970s, women usually occupied clerical or secretarial roles in local government. Maureen Daly was one of several women, including Maura Turley and Maisie Keenan, who worked in Newry Urban District Council until reform of local government in 1973. Maureen Daly worked as secretary to the Clerk of Council, Gerald Cronin.  Newry and Mourne Museum
Until the 1970s, women usually occupied clerical or secretarial roles in local government. Maureen Daly was one of several women, including Maura Turley and Maisie Keenan, who worked in Newry Urban District Council until reform of local government in 1973. Maureen Daly worked as secretary to the Clerk of Council, Gerald Cronin. Newry and Mourne Museum

In Ireland, north and south similar bars were introduced. The marriage bar in the south of Ireland was introduced in 1932. The only profession on both sides of the border employing substantial numbers of women was teaching, 69% of which were women. But the marriage bar confined women to the lower rungs of the occupation. 

In some cases, women found a way around the bars by marrying in secret and then living apart from their husband, or by having a very long engagement.

The marriage bar was gradually lifted in the UK from 1944 onwards. It was removed for all teachers in 1944, in the Civil Service and most local government and the post office in 1954. In certain areas, including some union offices, the marriage bar survived into the 1960s.

However, in Northern Ireland this bar was still maintained in the Civil Service and local government until the early 1970s. In the Republic of Ireland the marriage bar for primary teachers was abolished in 1957, while the bar on the public service was removed in July 1973, on foot of the report of the first Commission on the Status of Women. 

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Declan Carroll 

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