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Hayden, Mary Teresa (1862–1942), historian and campaigner for women's causes, was born in Dublin on 19 May 1862, the daughter of Thomas Hayden (1823–1881), physician, and his wife, Mary Anne Ryan (d. 1873). Thomas Hayden was born in Parsonsville, co. Tipperary, the son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. The children of that marriage were brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, and after completing his medical training Thomas Hayden served as professor of anatomy at the school of medicine in the Catholic University of Ireland (1855–81). He in turn raised his own children, Mary, and her brother, John Joseph (1859–1936), as Catholics, assuming an increasingly active role in their upbringing after the death of his wife in 1873.

Mary Hayden was sent as a boarder to the Ursuline convent at Thurles, co. Tipperary, in 1873, where she excelled academically, distinguishing herself in history, geography, and Christian doctrine. However, she disliked boarding and having been sent in 1875 to Mount Anville, a prestigious convent school, in co. Dublin she left after only two months. She subsequently attended Mount Anville's newly opened day school in Harcourt Street, Dublin. An eager and successful student, Hayden initially benefited from her father's progressive views on education. But when her rebellious streak became apparent and she failed to conform to the ‘ladylike’ manner he deemed appropriate, her father objected to her academic aspirations and denounced her behaviour as ‘fast’. Hayden was frequently expected to serve as hostess at numerous social events at the family home in fashionable Merrion Square, Dublin, but she found such occasions dull, despairing in particular of the well-bred women she was required to entertain and to emulate. Labelled a ‘bluestocking’ by her closest friends, she took up smoking and, to the despair of her father, continued to protest against her exclusion from such masculine activities as cricket, politics, and intellectual life.

After the death of her father in 1881, Hayden embarked in earnest on her academic career. She attended classes in Dublin at the Dominican convent in Eccles Street and the protestant Alexandra College, the most progressive and genuinely academic women's college in Ireland. She studied languages and literature, winning a scholarship in modern languages and taking a BA with honours at the Royal University of Ireland in 1885. Among the first Irish female graduates, she won further distinction in 1887 when she graduated from the Royal University with an MA with first class honours. In 1895 she was awarded a Royal University junior fellowship in English and history, but, to her dismay, she was not awarded a university fellowship. Convinced that she was excluded from a senior university post because of her sex, she taught instead at a number of women's colleges, and became increasingly involved in the movement to improve provision for female students and academics.

Hayden made her first public pronouncement on the position of women in the Royal University in 1888, when she participated in the publication of a pamphlet, The Case of the Catholic Lady Students of the Royal University Stated. She subsequently led the campaign to have women accepted as full students at University College, Dublin, and in 1902 she co-founded and became vice-president of the Women Graduates and Candidate Graduates Association. An advocate of women's suffrage, she joined the Irish Women's Franchise League, became a member of the Irishwomen's Suffrage and Local Government Association and co-founded the Irish Catholic Women's Suffrage Society in 1915. Hayden was also a founder member and president of the Irish Women Patrols, a volunteer women's police force established in 1914. An energetic philanthropist, she also founded the St Joan of Arc Girls' Club for poor children and supported the Alexandra College Guild for social work.

A member of the National Executive of the Gaelic League, Hayden became increasingly interested in Irish history and language. This was reflected in her appointment in 1909 as lecturer in modern Irish history at University College, Dublin. She was promoted to professor in 1911 and became the only female founder member of the senate of the new National University of Ireland in 1909, a position she held until 1924. In recognition of her contribution to the National University, she was created an honorary DLitt in 1935. A popular professor, she maintained her dedication to women's education, holding the presidency of the National University Women Graduates' Association from 1913 until her death. A prolific writer, Hayden published short stories and scholarly articles and reviews on numerous aspects of Irish history and culture in journals including Spectre, New Ireland Review, and Studies. Published in 1921 and co-authored with George A. Moonan, A Short History of the Irish People from the Earliest Times to 1920 (1921) was her most important contribution to Irish history. Known popularly as Hayden and Moonan, the book served as the standard Irish history text in schools and universities for over fifty years.

Through her association with the Gaelic League, Hayden befriended many of the men who led the 1916 Easter rising. However, as a constitutional nationalist and a pacifist, she disapproved of the Easter rising and of Irish separatism. She consequently refused to support the 1918 election campaign of Constance Markievicz (a participant in the rising), earning the disapproval of many of fellow feminists and nationalists. Despite rapidly changing political circumstances which saw republican candidates swept into power in the 1918 general election, Hayden joined the Irish Dominion League which campaigned for Irish home rule within the empire and supported the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921.

Aggrieved by the marginal role women continued to play in Irish political and intellectual life, Hayden became one of the most outspoken critics of public policy in independent Ireland. As an active member of the National Council of Women in Ireland and the Women's Social and Progressive League, she protested against the under-representation of women in the Irish senate and new legislation which threatened to weaken women's employment rights. She reserved her harshest criticism for the 1937 Irish constitution, arguing that the clauses concerning the place of women in Irish society represented a return to the middle ages.

Bespectacled and earnest, Hayden's serious demeanour and public commitment to worthy causes belied a lively sense of humour and an enjoyment of domestic activities including baking and sewing. A keen cyclist and swimmer, she also travelled widely throughout Ireland and the continent and journeyed as far as India. Hayden remained a popular and controversial speaker on issues ranging from women's rights to Gaelic Ireland well into her seventies. She died, unmarried, at her home, 26 Cambridge Road, Dublin, on 12 July 1942, and was buried in Dublin on 15 July, leaving an estate of £2726 which was divided among her family and friends. She characteristically bequeathed small sums to charities for animals and children and instructed masses to be said in her local Catholic parish for the repose of her soul and for the souls of her deceased parents.

S. Pašeta


NL Ire., Mary Hayden MSS [incl. diary, 1878–1903] · A. O'Farrelly, ‘Mary Hayden’, Alexandra College Magazine (Dec 1942), 32–5 · M. Macken, ‘Professor Mary Hayden; president, 1913–1942’, National University Women Graduates' Association, 1902–1952 (1952), 34–5 · M. T. Downes, The case of the Catholic lady students of the Royal University stated (1888) · Irish Times (16 July 1942) · K. Ó'Céirín and C. Ó'Céirín, Women of Ireland: a biographic dictionary (1996)


NL Ire., diaries

Wealth at death  

£2726 11s. 7d.: probate, 1942, CGPLA Éire; will, NA Ire.