Plans are underway in Duleek to celebrate the remarkable achievements of its most famous, but forgotten emigrant, Kate Kennedy.
The pioneering visionary who became the first person in the world to achieve equal pay for equal work following persistent agitation in California in the late 1800s, looks set to have a sculpture unveiled in her honour in the summer of 2020.
According to Duleek journalist Ken Murray who is leading the project, “Kate Kennedy is famous outside Ireland and her name appears in numerous books celebrating international feminist achievements yet relatively little is known about her here.
“All going to plan, that will change in the summer of next year. She has been a great inspiration to so many female activists who continue to push for real equality,” he said.
Pat Kennedy with Ken Murray and Cllr Stephen McKee in Gaskinstown
The story of Kate Kennedy is a modern-day reminder of the many Irish emigrants who left this country in search of a better life but through circumstances, vision and sheer determination, made an outstanding mark elsewhere for future generations.
Born in in the townland of Gaskinstown, west of Duleek in 1827, she attended the local national school followed by a brief spell at Loreto College in Navan before emigrating to San Francisco in early 1856.
Having secured a position as a principal teacher at North Cosmopolitan Grammar School in San Francisco in 1867, she learned some years later that male principals were paid more than females and after intense personal lobbying, she eventually persuaded the California State legislature to change the law.
The rebellious Duleek woman then found herself demoted for political activism and undertook legal action in 1887.
Her successful court action against the local Board of Education three years later saw a landmark decision rule that teachers could not be demoted unless for misconduct or incompetence ensuring security of employment for male and female teachers.
She achieved another unique claim to fame when she became the first female to run for public office in the State of California.
“I first became aware of her achievements in 1993 when I came across her details in a book and having eventually tracked down her relative Pat, who lives in Randalstown outside Navan, we formed a Committee which includes Thomas Byrne TD,” says Ken Murray.
“We are in talks with Sculptor Betty Newman-Maguire from Carnaross to develop this project and the work is progressing nicely.”
Fianna Fáil Councillor Stephen McKee, who lives in Gaskinstown and is part of the organising committee, said the proposed commemoration is long overdue.
He said “It is extraordinary that so many decades have come and gone since her passing in 1890 and yet so little is known about her in Ireland.
“If all goes to plan, we hope to have a number of prominent people from San Francisco in Duleek to mark the occasion and Kate Kennedy will get the recognition here she fully deserves.”
Kate Kennedy died in 1890 and a school in her honour still functions to this day, 1670 Noe Street, San Francisco.