A doughty his­tory pro­fes­sor in her home of­fice

The Irish Times Magazine - - THE TIMES WE LIVED IN - Pub­lished: Fe­bru­ary 8th, 1968. Pho­to­graph: Der­mot Barry

In Fe­bru­ary 1968, this news­pa­per de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate the sit­u­a­tion of fe­male aca­demics in Ir­ish uni­ver­si­ties. An en­tire page was given over to the topic, and a fea­ture writer despatched to in­ter­view four of th­ese doughty women.

The writer was Mary Maher, a pretty doughty woman her­self, and the cho­sen aca­demics were Maire de Paor, lec­turer in ar­chae­ol­ogy at Trin­ity Col­lege, Dublin; Sis­ter Ben­venuta, lec­turer in 17th- cen­tury his­tory at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Dublin; Mary Lynch, di­rec­tor of prac­ti­cal train­ing at TCD’s So­cial Stud­ies de­part­ment; and An­nette J Ot­way- Ruthven, Lecky Pro­fes­sor of His­tory at Trin­ity Col­lege, Dublin, who in that year was named one of the first women fel­lows of the col­lege.

Each in­ter­vie­wee was pho­tographed, Dr de Paor look­ing youth­ful and en­er­getic, Sis­ter Ben­venuta jaunty – and slightly saintly – in her nun’s robes, and Mary Lynch car­ry­ing a sheet of pa­per with the air of a woman who knows what she’s about.

The fourth pic­ture, re­pro­duced here, is about as un- aca­demic as it’s pos­si­ble to be. It shows Prof Ot­way- Ruthven sit­ting – loung­ing, re­ally – in an arm­chair, cig­a­rette dan­gling ca­su­ally from her hand.

It’s clearly very fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for her; and clearly also, de­spite the chair’s very loose loose cover and silly, frilly bor­der ( not to men­tion the mad an­gle of that lamp­shade) as much a work­ing en­vi­ron­ment as a place of re­lax­ation.

Her bag sits near her feet; on the wall, within easy reach, is a cal­en­dar; notes of some kind dan­gle pre­car­i­ously from the man­tel­piece.

A home of­fice be­fore such a thing was ever heard of.

It would be in­ter­est­ing to know what our pho­tog­ra­pher said to Ot­way- Ruthven to elicit the very gen­uine smile she of­fers to the cam­era, for she was not a woman to suf­fer fools gladly. One of her most dis­tin­guished stu­dents, FSL Lyons, who later be­came provost of Trin­ity, re­called that “the first and most valu­able les­son she taught us was that his­tory was not a soft op­tion”.

By the time she re­tired in 1980, Ot­way- Ruthven was a leg­end. She died in 1989, a few months short of her 90th birth­day.

Ar­minta Wal­lace

Ar­chive pho­to­graphs and other

Ir­ish Times im­ages can be pur­chased from irish­times. com/ pho­to­s­ales

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