|Born 14 September 1873Cork, Ireland|
Occupation Professor of Romance Languages at University College Cork
Mary Ryan (14 September 1873 – 1961) was the first woman in Ireland or Great Britain to be a professor at a university. She was the Professor of Romance Languages at University College Cork in 1910.
Early life and education
Ryan was born in Cork city to Edward Ryan and Matilda (née O'Connor) in 1873. Edward Ryan owned the Soap manufacturing company which later made candles. The company became Kinsale Candles and now belongs to Punch Industries, a subsidiary of Henkel.
Ryan attended, and was the first student, at St Angela's College in Cork; initially founded as a secondary school for girls. The school extended its reach to become what was then known as a 'University top' where girls could get a University education before sitting the exams through the Royal University of Ireland. Women were not allowed to attend lectures in the University but they could sit the exams and get a degree. Ryan gained her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1895 from the Royal University.
Ryan became the first woman professor when she was appointed in 1910 in University College Cork. Ryan was able to join the faculty because of the legislative change in 1908 which had created the National University of Ireland, a University system which did allow for the admittance of women. While this created greater opportunity for Ryan and others, it spelled the end of the women's colleges like St Angela's since they were no longer needed to give women a University education.
She was known for sending students to complete postgraduate education in the Sorbonne and she was awarded a Doctor of Letters for her publications. She was also awarded the Legion of Honour by the French Government.
In a letter to Aloys Fleischmann, Seán Ó Faoláin had this to say about Professor Ryan:
"Mary Ryan- a monster as a professor: a sweet old lady no doubt. Do you know what she used to do? She used to TEACH us! Sacred Heart-teaching in a University!!!! You know grammar and syntax and this and that and... Oh! And Ah! and groans. And everybody said she was marvellous because she did teach the little ducks, spoonfed them, breastfed them, predigested their pap for them,"
Ryan retired in 1938 and died in 1961.
In 2010 former President of Ireland Mary Robinson was part of the celebrations in University College Cork, held to commemorate the achievement of a woman being appointed as Professor for the first time.