More Profiles

Katherine Hughes

Founding Member of the Canadian Women's Press Club

The Media Club of Ottawa has partnered with tthe Uiversity of Ottawa. This profile, written by a student of the university, is part of a project to gather information about the sixteen founding members of the Canadian Women's Press Club.  

by Martina

‘Katherine Hughes's life was replete with irony’. These were the words of Padraig O’ Siadhail, a close acquaintance of Katherine Hughes, who was both fascinated and puzzled by this enigmatic woman.

Katherine Angelina Hughes was not a woman who was easily traced from within history. Despite her keenness for writing biographies and making her own voice resonate worldwide on a range of pertinent issues, Hughes was notoriously skilled at concealing herself. The issues she committed herself to were usually of a political and religious nature pertaining to Canada (her native homeland) and more especially to Ireland, the country to which she controversially appeared to switch her allegiance later in life.

The importance of Katherine’s courageous actions and the way she made her voice resound across countries on behalf of the struggling cannot be overlooked in the repressive context of her time. In the early 1900s in North America women had pitiful rights and entitlements in comparison to men. This was particularly evident in the inequality that was rife between women and men in the workplace, in particular within the world of journalism where Katherine sought to initiate changes and self-appoint advocacy for various political and minority causes.

Early Life and education
Katherine Angelina Hughes was born on 20 November 1876 in County Line (Emerald Junction) Prince Edward Island. In a family of nine she was the second youngest of a Catholic lower middle class Irish family. Her parents were John Wellington Hughes, a merchant and Annie Laurie O’Brien. She was educated in Charlottestown at Notre Dame Convent and at Prince of Wales College. She graduated from this college in 1892 with a first-class teacher’s license. It is also thought that she accompanied her family when they moved to Ottawa in 1890



Early work and achievements

Her desire to record the lives of altruistic activists and then join them herself was perhaps at least partially derived from her devout Catholic upbringing. In 1906 she published her first book. She also moved to Edmonton to work as a journalist for the Edmonton Bulletin where she principally reported on Alberta legislature. In May 1908 she became first provincial archivist of Alberta. Katherine's biography entitled: Father Lacombe was also recognized as a notable historical biography included in an appraisal of Canadian Literature in the annual conference of the American Library Association in September 1934.

Involvement with the Canadian Women’s Press Club
It was likely Hughes’s skilful writing and reputation as a writer that secured her a much-coveted position within the Canadian Women’s Press Club (CWPC). Hughes was aboard the momentous, first of its kind train journey organized by Kit Coleman for fourteen female journalists to the world fair in St. Louis, Missouri in June 1904. During this journey the women formed a genuine, professional camaraderie strongly out of their agreement of a need of improved women’s rights. At the pinnacle of this agreement they began to initiate plans for forming the CWPC.  Along with the other journalists Hughes played a part in making history and grounding the foundation of women’s rights for journalists of the future through the creation of the CWPC. Throughout her time in Edmonton she remained involved in the CWPC and actively contributed to the work and organisation in the Edmonton branch of the CWPC. In the journal of journalism history Katherine Hughes was identified by as being voted best biographer of 1911 in the United States (as noted by Linda Kay) and Canada and later became Alberta’s first provincial archivist.

Fight for Irish Rights
The presence of the Irish in certain parts of Canada around Katherine’s time was immense as was the movement of support for Ireland’s fight for independence against British rule. From a statistical point of view in 1901 there were 114 842 people of Irish origins, both Catholics and Protestants, which constituted about 7% of the Québec population in total ( Many Canadians at the time were lending their support to the Irish battle. However none could have predicted how immense Katherine’s response to it would be.

Hughes was steadily making her way up in the office of the agent general of Alberta and after a promotion in September 1913 in London she began a whole new form of promotion. During her time in England she made acquaintances with the likes of Padraic O’ Conaire the most important Irish language writer of the early twentieth century as well as other Irish nationalists and cultural and political Irish activists. O’ Conaire became a fond friend of Katherine’s and they even penned a play together although it never came to be published. During this time she became deeply affected by the Irish struggle for independence and began her own promotion on behalf of the Irish in support of their battle for independence from Britain.

Her first visit to Ireland took place in the summer of 1914. It was during that summer that she spent a week at the cultural festival of the Gaelic League in Killarney. On her return to Ireland she even set about learning Irish calling herself: Caitlín Ní Aodha. After the war Hughes played an immense role in Ireland’s fight for independence from England. She actively mobilized Irish immigrants in both Australia and Canada presenting provocative lectures to rouse their Irish patriotism to show solidarity with the Irish fighting for independence from the British.

It was amongst this immersion in Irish culture and politics that Katherine appeared to morph from a Canadian civil servant to a staunch supporter of Irish independence and Irish culture. Within an online journal entitled Collectanea Hibernica provided by an archivist at University College Dubin (UCD) there are records from the early 1920s entitled the Calendar of Irlande. These records include details of how French government officials sent French ministers and French agents to Ireland in the early 1920s to provide weekly reports to France about the situation in Ireland during this time of civil unrest. In one such record the Minister for the Interior to Briand, Paris, 12 January recounts details of the preparations for the congress of the Irish Race to be held in Paris in 1922. He recalled that the ‘chief organisers’ behind the Congress were a Mr S. T. O'Kelly and Miss Catherine Hughes, who the minister recognized as: ‘representing the more republican element of Irish nationalism’. The overall aim of this French consul appeared to serve as a type of surveillance whereby the French government expressed their sympathy for Ireland's cause but simultaneously kept vigilance on Irish supporters such as Katherine to offset any threat from them particularly during their time in France.