Friday, May 22, 2015

The Irish Referendum & Dorothy Jackson

Today, Friday May 22, 2105, voters in Ireland are going to the polls to vote on a bill to amend the constitution to permit marriage between men who wish to marry men, or women who wish to marry women. Gay people have often been written out of family histories. Even today, most genealogical data bases do not have a way to include same-sex marriages [NOTE: Since I wrote this, there are now some options for inclusion]. There are several gay people in my extended family who did not live to see a day when their heart’s desires could be recognized. One is Dorothy Jackson.

Dorothy St. Felix Jackson, the youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Jackson and his wife Amelia, was born in 1887. Like her father, she loved sports, and allegedly was a wicked golfer and a good shot with a rifle. I have a photo of her as a young woman wearing men’s riding gear, but I am in Ireland right now, away from home, and can’t access it. Julian Currie shared it with me in 2006, on one of my earlier visits. Unfortunately, I have since lost touch with Julian. He was one of the great-grandsons of Sir Thomas Jackson. Instead, here is a photo that was shared by another great-grandson of Sir Thomas Jackson, Pat Roberts.
Here is Dorothy, age 12, about to leap off the side of a ship with men a decade older than her. In a letter sent to her father dated Aug 18, 1896, her grandmother comments: Dorothy is all alive; I believe she does not know what fear is. One family member told me that she was the first woman in England to get a driver’s license, but I cannot yet prove or disprove this.
Pat Roberts grew up knowing Dorothy as one of his feisty great-aunts. She always dressed in men’s clothing, with her suits made by the best of London’s tailors. Unlike most men with a significant number of ties in their collection, she often got tired of certain designs and passed those ties on to her grand-nephews, such as Pat.

One remarkable thing about how Dorothy lived her life was that she was a lesbian living openly with her partner Dorothy Fitch at Barony House (or cottage), Glengarriff, Co. Cork . She lived there for several decades, in such a way that she bridged not only the sexual divide, but also the faith divide. Thomas Jackson, one of her great nephews, told me that when she died in 1964, her Catholic pall bearers bore her hearse to the doorway of the Church of Ireland, where her Protestant friends then took over. She is buried there in the Protestant graveyard, but I have yet to make my way to Glengarriff to see it for myself. Her partner, Dorothy Fitch, died sometime around 1985.

The way that both Dorothies handled the legacies in their respective estates speaks volumes about how much family mattered to them. Dorothy J left much of her estate to her partner, Dorothy F. (as one might expect), but when Dorothy F. died a couple of decades after Dorothy J. (it is confusing that they are both named Dorothy!), Dorothy F. arranged for trusts to be set up for several of the Jackson grand-nieces and nephews.

We also know that Dorothy J. had at least one other serious love in her life: Phyllis Keyes. Phyllis, was the daughter of  Sir Roger Keyes, an admiral in the British navy who had been born in India. Her brother Geoffrey got a VC for trying to kill Rommel in Northern Africa. Given the army background of the family, and also the army background of several of Dorothy’s brothers, perhaps this is how they met. One other possibility is that they met through the Woolf family connections in Hong Kong. Bella Sydney Woolf, sister of Leonard Woolf and hence sister-in-law to the author Virginia Woolf married the Hong Kong Colonial Secretary, Tom Southorn. Also, Leonard Woolf would have been in Hong Kong when the Jacksons were there. More work is needed on this front.

Phyllis, born in 1880 and seven years older than Dorothy, was on the periphery of the Bloomsbury group. One can assume that even though Dorothy seems to have been more sporty than artistic, that she would have socialized with at least some of their members. They were a group of artists and writers who lived with a more fluid approach to gender and sexuality than was common in much of British culture at the time.

There is lot more about Phyllis and her pottery available on line, but it also seems clear that she was probably bisexual. At one point, she got so besotted with Duncan Grant, a potter who she both worked and socialized with in the 1930s, that his wife Vanessa Bell finally composed a letter on her husband’s behalf asking Phyllis to back off. As far as Duncan was concerned, they were just friends.

Phyllis Keyes family had Irish connections, and I do not know if Dorothy Fitch’s did as well. In fact, I know absolutely nothing about Dorothy Fitch. I also do not know what initially took Dorothy Jackson to Glengarriff, only that the Valuation records show her there as early as 1929. Her sister, Amy Oliver Lloyd also mentions visiting her that year: We went to Ireland for a fortnight at Easter to Glengarriff, Co. Cork.... Dot & Honor Hamilton there. We did a lot of boating in the summer. Honor Hamilton owned the house where she and Dorothy J. lived at that point. Was she also a lover? I don’t know. A decade later, Amy’s son Richard also visited: Richard] had previously spent his usual fortnight’s holiday as Dot’s guest in Glengarriff with Bill Croom.

I have so much more to learn, but given the events of today – here in Ireland -  I want to honour Dorothy, and make sure that I write her into the family history, at least to the extent that I am able. Were she alive today, I know how she would vote YES!, and I also know that should the vote succeed, that would toast its passage with a more than generous tote of good Irish Whiskey.
Update: December 30, 2020. FITCH is not a common name in Ireland. She may have been the Dorothy FITCH recorded in the 1901 Irish Census. She was age 24 (b. abt 1877 (age 24) born in England. She taught English at an orphanage and industrial school at Mount St. Vincent Convent on Military Road, in the townland of Prior's-Land,, St. Michael's Parish, Limerick City, Co. Limerick. As to why they chose to live at Glengarriff? It is possibly because the family of Alan Skuse, the husband of Dorothy Jackson's cousin Maud Martha Elizabeth Reed, had lived at Glengarriff for at least two generations. Alan and Maud Skuse died childless. Of course, it is also only a 15 minute drive from Bantry, a town thick with Jackson history - some of which likely includes Dorothy Jackson's ancestors.

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested to hear more about what your research uncovered about Dorothy St. Felix Jackson's relationship with Phyllis Keyes. Would you be able to point me in the direction of some useful sources? Many thanks, Dawn