Women and the Orange Order

Female activism, diaspora and empire in the British world, 1850–1940

The Orange Order began as an Irish Protestant society in rural Co. Armagh, following the Battle of the Diamond against the Catholic 'Defenders' on 21 September 1795. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the organisation had consolidated its position as a Loyalist, anti-Catholic bulwark against revolution in Ireland and had begun to spread across the rest of the British Isles. Exploring the experience of Orangewomen in England, Scotland and Canada tells us far more than just how and why they became members of the Orange Order. This book demonstrates how largely ordinary, working-class women engaged in conservative associational life and political activism during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, subverting various gender norms in their public work. Through migration and diasporic networks, these women were connected to their Orange sisters throughout the world and played a central role in upholding a British imperial identity well into the twentieth century. The Orange Order is often characterised as a thoroughly masculinist brotherhood, associated with Irish sectarian violence. While the Order in Scotland was largely dominated by working-class women, in England we see the organisation embracing a far broader spectrum of social backgrounds. Irish politics and identity were clearly important to Potter and the many thousands of women who were members of Canada's Ladies' Orange Benevolent Association (LOBA). The world of Protestantism conventional gender ideologies and women's public activism, came to prominence through the women's Orange Order.

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