Mary Ann McCracken was born in Belfast on 8 July 1770 to Captain John McCraken and Ann Joy. Mary Ann had close family links to Belfast Charitable Society. Her uncle, Henry Joy, raised the money to construct the Poor House and his brother, Robert, was responsible for managing the construction works. Her father also served on the Board.
Mary Ann McCracken was an abolitionist, social reformer and activist who fought for the rights of women and championed Belfast’s poor throughout a long life that encompassed the most turbulent years of Irish history. However, her legacy is overshadowed by her brother, Henry Joy McCracken – the executed United Irishman – despite outliving him by 68 years.
Through the Poor House Ladies Committee, she helped educate the children and secure apprenticeships that would provide them with livelihoods. Mary Ann was President of the Ladies Industrial School and campaigned to abolish the use of climbing boys in chimney sweeping. She was involved in early women’s suffrage campaigns and prison reform schemes. Mary Ann was also a life-long abolitionist founding the Belfast Women’s Anti-Slavery League. In her late eighties, she could still be found on the docks, handing out anti-slavery leaflets to emigrants embarking for the slave-owning United States.
The motto of this remarkable woman, which accurately sums up her character, was it is ‘better to wear out than to rust out’. But her radical, humanitarian zeal and generous strength of character were indefatigable, and her contribution to Belfast life is still felt and celebrated today.
Did you know the Belfast Charitable Society have set up a Foundation in Mary Ann McCracken’s name?