Ellen Odette Cuffe, Lady Desart, was celebrated as the most important Jewish woman in Irish history for her boundless philanthropy and political acumen. Born to a prominent banking family, Ellen Bischoffsheim married William Cuffe, Earl of Desart, in 1881. After the death of her husband in 1898, Cuffe deepened her interest in politics. She served as president of the Gaelic League and pointed to the Jewish revival of Hebrew as a modern language as a model for the Gaelic League’s work to revive the Irish language. She funded and created numerous civic institutions including the Kilkenny Library, Aut Evan Hospital and the Kilkenny Theatre. She created the industrial village of Talbots Inch and funded higher education and medical care for its workers and their families. In 1908, building on her family’s efforts to resettle refugees through the Jewish Colonization Association, she became president of the Women’s Committee and oversaw the rescue and resettlement of 300,000 Jewish women and children from Russia’s Pale of Settlement. When the Irish Free State was founded in 1922, she became one of four women (and the only Jew) elected to its first Senate, and served until her death. In her will, she left 1.5 million pounds to charity.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Ellen Odetta Cuffe." (Viewed on March 8, 2021) <https://jwa.org/people/cuffe-ellen>.