‘Storm and Stress’: Richard Devane, Adolescent Psychology and the Politics of Protective Legislation 1922–1935

  • Susannah Riordan
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Childhood book series


Between 1922 and 1935 successive Irish governments came under pressure from an alliance of feminist, religious and social work organizations to introduce legislation that would give greater protection to children, girls and women from sexual exploitation.1 Throughout this chapter, these organizations and the individuals who supported them are referred to as the ‘protectionist’ or ‘social work’ lobby. Their campaign had its origins in nineteenth-century efforts to address the sexual double standard — the ethical system which condemned female lapses from chastity as unforgiveable while simultaneously regarding male incontinence as being natural and venial.2 The campaign reflected connected discourses around unmarried motherhood and prostitution. To synopsize crudely, while campaigners had little sympathy with older women who were deemed to have embraced a life of immorality — the mothers of more than one illegitimate child, married women who became pregnant by men other than their husbands, and women who were sometimes called ‘deliberate prostitutes’ — they sought to establish the fundamental innocence, victimhood and amenability to moral reclamation of the sexually-compromised adolescent. Their preferred narrative was one of seduction and betrayal, in which a girl, often a domestic servant, was impregnated by an older and more powerful man, perhaps her employer. Ostracized by society and unable to support herself or her child, she drifted into prostitution.


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  1. 1.
    These organizations included the Irish Women Citizens’ Association, the Dublin Christian Citizenship Council, the Dublin Council of Women, the Infant Aid Society, the Irish Christian Fellowship, the Irish Women Workers’ Union, the Nursery Rescue and Protestant Aid Society and the Union of Christian Churches. Sandra McAvoy, ‘Sexual crime and Irish women’s campaign for a Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1912–1935’ in Maryann Gialanella Valiulis (ed.), Gender and power in Irish history (Dublin & Portland, OR: Irish Academic Press, 2009), 94.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Lucy Bland, Banishing the beast: English feminism and sexual morality, 1885–1914 (London: Penguin, 1995);Google Scholar
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  5. 3.
    The convoluted history of the Carrigan committee and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1935 has been the subject of several scholarly studies. See Finola Kennedy, ‘The suppression of the Carrigan report: A historical perspective on child abuse’, Studies, 89: 356 (2000), 354–63;Google Scholar
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  15. 9.
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    Minute of meeting of 20 Nov. 1930 (NAI, Jus. 90/4/2). The implied argument that girls in other societies were comparatively well-informed about sex does not necessarily hold. As Hera Cook has noted, in England in 1949 ‘a survey undertaken by Mass Observation… found sexual ignorance, including ignorance of reproduction, to have been common.’ Hera Cook, The long sexual revolution: English women, sex and contraception, 1800–1975 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 168.Google Scholar
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© Susannah Riordan 2015

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  • Susannah Riordan

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