Doctor Kathleen Lynn
What a remarkable woman was Kathleen Lynn. Born into a wealthy Protestant family, County Mayo 1874, she was the first female doctor to obtain all her undergraduate medical training in Ireland and a Sinn Fein executive. Along with Ethel Rhodes, she founded St. Ultan's hospital and was instrumental in lowering the infant mortality rate in Ireland. She fought for women's suffrage, the rights of the Irish nation, and for those people living at the poverty line. During the 1913 Lockout, she worked in the soup kitchen of Liberty hall feeding workers and their families locked out by Dublin employers creating extreme hardship in an already poor existence. Whole families lived in one-room tenements that had fallen into disrepair without running water and no proper sewage system.
The existence of tuberculosis, cholera, dysentery, and other diseases were common in inner-city Dublin. These were the people who touched Kathleen Lynn's heart. It became her lifelong occupation as a doctor to work for this fragile population. She was one of the first people in the medical community to introduce widespread inoculations to all Irish people including the Irish Citizen army and their families. She campaigned to eradicate tuberculosis, although it would not happen until many years later.
Lynn's friend, Ethel Rhodes, a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers), wished to remain anonymous so not much is written about her. She purchased the hospital for Lynn, (it was a business arrangement) who at the time was 'on the run' from British authorities, historians often credit the founding of St Ultan's to Kathleen Lynn and Madeleine Ffrench Mullen.
The hospital, originally intended for infants with syphilis was the first children's hospital in Ireland. At the time, syphilis was a widespread problem all over Europe, spread by soldiers returning from the front in WWI. Ireland had begun a campaign to treat men and women who contracted this venereal disease but there was a bigger problem with children, particularly infants, whose mothers and fathers died, leaving them orphans. Children living in workhouses could not receive medical care from a hospital either because of a requirement that a parent accompany them. If an orphan was fortunate enough to be taken in by a family member, often they were abandoned again when it became known they were ill for fear of contagion.
Founding a hospital was both costly and complicated but founding one in poverty-stricken Dublin with British police watching must have been close to impossible. Lynn was, in fact a member of the Irish Citizen Army during 1916, but she was the chief medical officer, not a combatant. She did however smuggle arms but her first priority was always medicine. She provided first-aid training to the IRB.
Doctor Lynn believed in educating the public on health issues as well as political ones. Venereal disease ran rampant throughout Europe and she took actions to educate the public about the dangers. Together with Thomas Hayes, Sinn Fein's co-director of health, Doctor Lynn put together a circular citing the dangers of having sex with Irish and British soldiers returning from Europe. The pamphlet stated that 100,000 Irishmen would be returning to Ireland and that 15,000 of them were infected. They went on to claim that venereal disease was unknown in Ireland outside British society, a threat more serious than tuberculosis and that Irish children and unborn infants needed to be protected.
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