Belfast Charitable Society Ladies Committee Minute Book

Mary Ann McCracken at 250

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the social reformer, philanthropist and abolitionist Mary Ann McCracken (1770-1866) who championed the cause of the poor of Belfast and beyond. Her father was Captain John McCracken, a prominent seafarer and her mother, Ann Joy, came from a French Huguenot family. Her grandmother, Francis Joy, was the founder of the Belfast News Letter. Mary Ann attended David Manson’s progressive co-educational school, where ‘young ladies’ received the same education as the boys.

She was the younger sister of Henry Joy McCracken, a member of the Society of United Irishmen, who was executed for his role in the 1798 Rebellion. After his execution, Mary Ann took over the care of his illegitimate daughter, Maria, and she opened a muslin manufacturing business in partnership with her sister Margaret.

When the Ladies Committee was formed in 1827 Mary Ann was one of the first to join. It campaigned for better conditions for the women and children as well as those children apprenticed out of the Poor House to learn a trade. She was a lifelong abolitionist and could still be seen down at Belfast Docks handing out anti-slavery leaflets to emigrants on their way to America in June 1859- within 17 days of her 89th birthday! Mary Ann lived with Maria until her death at the age of 96 and was buried in the McCracken Family plot in Clifton Street Cemetery.

This exhibition highlights the unique holdings of the Charitable Society’s archive related to her life including the Ladies Committee Minute Books (1827-1851), the surrender of her lease on a property in Donegall Street, and her burial in the shadow of the Poor House, where she had dedicated so many years of her life.