What lies behind ‘the Ot’: Treasures of the Otway-Ruthven Collection, MS 11093

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.

 

 

 

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The harp of Castle Otway: a family treasure

 

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.

The Ot

‘The Ot’: Professor Antonette Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven

 

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.

 

Good things always come in trees

Because of its historical significance as the spot where a famous conversation took place, there has been much interest in the media recently regarding the felling of a tree on the corner of Leeson Street and Appian Way in Dublin 2.  For many who passed it every day its loss will probably have more of an impact on their consciousness than its presence.  And so it is with the trees that grow on the grounds of Trinity College; they are possibly not sufficiently appreciated until they are to be cut down, moved, or simply pointed out.  A case in point is a Sorbus (‘Joseph Rock’) in Library Square, which was felled in January 2016 as it was nearing the end of its life.  A superb view of its striking autumn leaves had previously been afforded to the lucky few who had access to a second-floor window of the west end of the Old Library.

Sorbus ('Joseph Rock'), Library Square, November 2014

Sorbus (‘Joseph Rock’), Library Square, November 2014

The same view after tree felling, January 2016

The same view after tree felling, January 2016

 

 

 

Much thoughtful planning and expertise is required for the maintenance of the 600 or so trees on campus, which are looked after by the College’s Grounds and Garden staff in consultation with the Grounds and Gardens Advisory Committee.  It is this team who ensure that the grounds always look their best for the students, staff and visitors who walk through campus every day.

Account for garden expenses, including the purchase of cherry, abele and poplar trees, 10 February 1705 (TCD MUN P 4/10/15)

Account for garden expenses, including the purchase of cherry, abele and poplar trees, 10 February 1705 (TCD MUN P 4/10/15)

Records in the College Archives demonstrate that College authorities have long shown a healthy interest in the grounds and gardens of the Trinity.  There are documents from as far back as the seventeenth century that refer to gardens, gardeners, trees and plants.  For example, a document from the Bursar’s office dated February 1705 relating to the College garden account refers to £4-2-0 due to Philip Walker for cherry, ‘abele’ and poplar trees.  Other financial documents testify to the variety of trees and plants that have been planted over the years, including hollies, hornbeams, beech trees, elms, firs, sycamores, limes, oaks, poplars, honeysuckle, lilac and sweet briar, and make reference to the diverse locations – including Liverpool, Edinburgh and Jamaica –  from which trees, plants and seeds were imported over the years.

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Gardener’s bill for fertiliser (‘mold’) for elm trees ‘sett at the front of ye College’, 21 November 1717 (TCD MUN P 4/22/17)

There has clearly been a structured approach to the landscaping of the grounds from an early period.  A document from 1708 refers to a payment of £7-2-10 for 500 beech trees for the Physics Garden hedge, and another from 1717 refers to money owed to Nathaniel Hall for ‘[t]horns for ye long walk’.  Such records help to give some idea of the appearance of the campus over the years; there are reference to elms planted ‘at the front of College’, to a ‘large elm’ in ‘front court’, and to black Italian poplars and beeches for hedges in the Botanic Garden.

From the names of some of the gardeners and suppliers, it would appear that they were born for their profession: in 1717 Joseph Twigge supplied elms and firs for the grounds; John Greenwood received £2-6-6 for beech trees and shrubs in 1811, and, according to a late seventeenth-century job application (complete with testimonials), a certain John Greene was seeking work as a College gardener.

While the majority of the records in the College Archives relating to TCD grounds and gardens are of a financial nature, there are also some photographs, maps and plans directly or indirectly relating to gardens and greenery.

Photographs ostensibly of buildings and other features on campus inevitably include trees and grass as background or foreground to the subject, and therefore are an important source for the study of the botanical history of the college over the last 150 years.

The ‘TCD MUN P 4’ series contains financial documents known as ‘Bursar’s vouchers’, which relate to money owed to staff, tradesmen and merchants for labour and goods.  They date from the early 17th to the mid 19th century, and many relate to gardening activities.

Contact sheet of photographs of the area between the Arts Building and the back of the 1937 Reading Room. Includes an Oregon maple on the south side of the 1937 Reading Room, which was felled in 1991 due to Dutch elm disease. Pre-1991. (TCD MUN MC 310)

Contact sheet of photographs of the area between the Arts Building and the back of the 1937 Reading Room. Includes an Oregon maple on the south side of the 1937 Reading Room, which was felled in 1991 due to Dutch elm disease. Pre-1991. (TCD MUN MC 310)

The ‘TCD MUN MC’ series within the College Archives contains maps, plans, photographs, postcards and drawings of the College and its environs.  The subjects of the photographs and drawings include buildings and other architectural features, sculptures and open spaces within the College.  They also include trees; you just have to look out for them …

Ellen O’Flaherty

 

 

Further reading:

Jeffrey, David (ed.), Trees of Trinity College Dublin [with notes by D.A. Webb] (Dublin, 1993)

The Team Behind Trinity’s Trees’: Trinity News and Events. (22 September 2014).

Thomas Moland’s 1730 maps for the earl of Mountrath

House, bawn and mill: Castlecoote, County Roscommon (From Map 11)

From Map No. 11: House, bawn and mill: Castlecoote, County Roscommon

Thomas Moland was a leading land surveyor in Ireland during the early eighteenth century. His career included work on an official survey together with private commissions, some of which involved the mapping of landed estates. In 1730, Moland prepared ‘A Booke of Maps’ for Algernon Coote, the earl of Mountrath. Characteristic of Moland’s work, this large volume contains a range of material of local history interest, most notably a series of thumbnail images of houses and towns that provide rarely-documented architectural detail.

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