India
Subversion

Margaret Elizabeth Cousins (1878–1954), suffragist, educator, and theosophist.

She was born in Boyle, Co. Roscommon and brought up in a unionist and methodist household. From an early age she sympathised with nationalism. She was educated locally until she was awarded a scholarship for the Victoria High School for Girls in Derry. Later she studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Dublin, graduating with a B.Mus. from the RUI in 1902.

After her marriage in1903 to James Cousins, she was determined to maintain her independence, and worked part-time as a music teacher. Through her husband, she became familiar with many of the leading literary figures in Dublin, among them James Joyce and George Russell, with whom they shared an enthusiasm for theosophy. She experimented with automatic writing and astrology, and acted as a medium at seances in her home. Like her husband she became a vegetarian, and was appointed honorary secretary of the Irish Vegetarian Society. She joined the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association. Becoming frustrated by their timid approach, she founded the militant, non-party Irishwomen's Franchise League with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. She regularly spoke at its open-air meetings in Dublin and on suffrage tours of the country.

Cousins maintained her links with English suffragists and in July 1909 worked for the Women's Social and Political Union in London. In November 1910 she was among the six Irish representatives at the ‘parliament of women’ in Caxton Hall, London. During her stay in London she was convicted of smashing the windows at 10 Downing St., and served a one-month sentence in Holloway prison. She was jailed for one month in1913 with fellow IWFL activists for breaking the windows at Dublin castle; during their imprisonment in
Tullamore jail, they successfully fought for political status in prison after a brief and well publicised hunger strike.

Financial difficulties forced the Cousins to move to Liverpool and in 1915 they settled in India, where she involved herself with both the theosophical and women's rights movements. Engaged as a teacher, she became in 1916 the first non-Indian member of the Indian Women's University at Poona. A founder member of the Women's Indian Association of which she served as joint honorary secretary, she edited their magazine Stri-Dharma for many years.

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She was employed as headmistress of the National Girls’ School in Mangalore. She played an important role in organising the first all-India women's conference in1926, which she presided over in 1936, and the all-Asia women's conference (1931). She also engaged in philanthropic work, being associated with the Children's Aid Society, the Women's Homes of Service, and ‘Baby Welcomes’. In December 1932 she was arrested for having addressed a meeting in Madras to protest against the inclusion of the emergency ordinances into the penal code, and was imprisoned in Vellore jail until the following October. She wrote numerous letters, articles and pamphlets in Ireland, Britain, and India on theosophy, education, and women's rights, and with her husband compiled a joint autobiography, We two together (1950). Having suffered a stroke at the age of 65, she received financial donations from both her admirers and the Indian government in recognition of her services to the country. She died 1 March 1954 in Adyar, India.

Source: Dictionary of Irish Biography

Picture: Margaret Cousins, India's First Woman Magistrate 1923 From: James H. Cousins and Margaret Cousins, We Two Together, Madras, 1950.