Blog post by Shauna Donnelly, Summer Intern in the Manuscripts and Archives Department, Trinity College Library Dublin
Professor Jocelyn Annette Otway-Ruthven, fondly referred to as ‘the Ot’ by those who knew her, was a pioneering female academic during the mid-twentieth century in Trinity College Dublin. Her achievements during her time at Trinity marked milestones not just in her own career, but also in the progress and history of women in Trinity, and the increasing possibilities for them in College. The first women students were admitted to College in 1904, with Constantia Maxwell becoming the first woman academic appointed to staff in 1909. Maxwell became the first female Lecky Professor of History in 1945, with the Ot succeeding her in the same role in 1951. Although Maxwell’s role in College’s acceptance of women academics was pivotal, she was not as groundbreaking as ‘the Ot’, as she was known to be shy, quiet, and conservative, accepting the discrimination and limitations placed upon her by her male counterparts.
‘The Ot’, however, was more strategic and ambitious in seeking gender equality in College. She began her teaching career in 1938, holding down year to year appointments until 1951 when she became Lecky Professor of History. 1968 became the high point of her career when she was elected the first female Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, which was a high honour. She also published her so-called magnum opus, A History of Medieval Ireland, the same year. Through means of institutional loyalty, proving her credibility as a top class academic, and gaining the favour of Provost A.J. McConnell, the Ot succeeded further in becoming the Dean of Arts and Humanities in 1969, breaking more ground in being the first woman appointed to that position. Her prolific career at Trinity continued until her retirement in 1981, spanning an impressively dedicated 43 years, during which she contributed to the life of College in far more than just the academic realm. She nurtured the talents of many of her female students, and through establishing connections and gaining the favour of influential male colleagues, she succeeded in changing existing attitudes towards women in Trinity. As a result, women became far more than second class citizens, instead being seen as fully integrated members of the College community and engaging in all aspects of life at Trinity. ‘The Ot’ truly played her part in the “quiet revolution” executed by women in Trinity excellently to yield a lasting impact and legacy.
MS 11093 is a collection of papers relating to the Otway-Ruthven family, from which ‘the Ot’ descended. It offers researchers a unique glimpse into the lineage of one of Trinity’s most pivotal female figures, containing a variety of materials spanning over three centuries from c1642–1974. A preliminary list of the collection’s contents was completed in 1999, but since then the materials have been largely untouched. I have had the pleasure of surveying and cataloguing the full extent of its rich contents 8 years later, unearthing many insights into the rich heritage of the Otway-Ruthven clan. The volume of materials, and their meticulous comprehensiveness, illustrates the Ot’s interest in the preservation of her own family’s history. It is clear that her abilities as a historian were lent to her beginning the collection, as she kept a log book of family documents (which is included within the catalogue’s personal section).
The collection comprises largely of miscellaneous estate papers, giving us insight into the large scale of the Castle Otway estate and its operations. Legal, rental, and financial documentation appears alongside maps and correspondence, while the collection also contains many personal items and memorabilia from different members of the extended family. Through these materials we gain insight into the life, times, and relations of the influential clan, and can decipher how life was at Castle Otway before it was burned in 1922. The Castle Otway harp is a particularly beautiful component of College’s acquisitions from the Otway clan. It is probably the largest and most ornate piece of memorabilia, with a rich and much debated history. Personal items relating to the Casement family also appear in the collection, illustrating the Ot’s connections to and relationship with a famously rebellious cousin, 1916 revolutionary Roger Casement. The diversity and comprehensiveness of MS 11093 provides a full picture of the Ot’s ancestry, and allow us to appreciate not just who she was, but where she came from.
MS 11093 will soon be available for viewing by Readers of the Manuscripts and Archives Department.
Biographical notes for this post were taken from Salters Sterling’s ‘Memoirs of the Ot’ (2002), published in A Danger to the Men? A History of Women in Trinity College Dublin 1904–2004, Susan M. Parkes, FTCD (ed.), (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2004) pp. 263–267.