The Ladies Committee of the Poor House was set up in 1827, following a visit from Elizabeth Fry who inspired the women of the town to become actively involved with Belfast’s various institutions and charities. The initial minutes record that the ladies “beg most earnestly to assure… [the men], that there shall be no interference whatever with any of their managements and regulations.”

On of Mary Ann’s early ideas was the concept of an infant (nursery) school. The idea of infant education was very new, with the first one opening in Belfast in the 1820s. Mary Ann was determined that one should open in the Poor House. Her first proposal was denied by the Men’s Committee as they didn’t have the time, the money or the resources. Mary Ann said nothing more for a few months and went back to the men, again she got the same response.
The third letter from Mary Ann was slightly different stating that they ladies had been running an infant school for over 2 weeks and ask the men to “aid them in completing what they have commenced…”
It seems that it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission and the Gentlemen agreed to the additional requests made by Mary Ann and her very determined Committee.