The Elizabethan Society
In 1904 the first women were admitted to Trinity College. However, that did not mean that women were allowed to participate totally in college life, meaning they were unable to join any of the student societies on campus. As any student reading this will know societies can allow you some of the most amazing opportunities and memories throughout your college years and the first women in Trinity were not prepared to give that up. The Dublin University Elizabethan Society (The Eliz) was founded in 1905.The society was a female-only debating society, having sent teams to the Irish Times National Debating Championship from relatively early in the competitions history. It also hosted many debates, paper discussions, group discussions and the Eliz Garden Party which was considered one of the social highlights of Trinity term in the college. Each year the society welcomed esteemed guests to speak on topics regarding the history, the societal limitations of women and feminism. These included such guests as Ninette de Valois, dancer and founder of The Royal Ballet, who visited in late 1964 to celebrate the society’s 60th year. Debate began in the mid 1960’s about whether or not The Phil and The Eliz should merge. There was opposition from both societies. However, in 1967 Elizabeth Hall became the first female member of The Phil and in 1981 the two societies finally merged. Reports show that this majorly increased female membership and increased debating within the society. Although the Eliz is no longer in session as a symbolic gesture, the highest ranking female officer of the Phil is given the honorary title of President of the Elizabethan Society. For the past three years the President of The Phil has been a female and therefore, they have also been the Honorary President of The Eliz. However, the 332nd Session of The Phil saw a male President take the chair and so the Honorary Registrar is currently the Honorary President of The Eliz.
We are very proud that The Phil was the first society to admit women however, we also never forget the history of female exclusion and we strive to ensure that we still celebrate The Eliz and what it did for the first women in Trinity when they were told they couldn’t totally be part of college life. In recent years, in conjunction with The Hist, The Women’s Open has been established. The Women’s Open is an all-female debating competition that takes place over one day in The GMB. There are all female judging panels, speakers, tabbers, and men are not allowed into the building until the final is announced. There is also the Eliz Inaugural, which is where the President of The Eliz sets a topic or theme that is of concern to women and female guests are invited to speak on that topic on a particular evening to the council and the members of the society. There is also a board in the Conversation Room where all of the names of the Eliz Presidents are engraved and it is worth a look if you are ever passing through Trinity.
My name is Sheila Naughton and I am the Registrar of The Phil for the 332nd Session and the current President of The Eliz. It is a great honour to be part of the tradition and history of women who stood up for themselves, were not content with being silenced and therefore, paved the way for all of the women of Trinity and The Phil nowadays. As this is an honorary role I think it is what you make of it and I am glad that I have engaged with this role as much as I have with my role as Registrar. I hope that I and all of the women who are part of The Phil, in some way will have progressed things in a positive way for the women that will follow years after we have left.