Cherish Celebrates 25 Years
In1972 a group of unmarried mothers set about reaching others in the same situation – by word of mouth and inserting small ads in newspapers. In October they formed a self-help group which began to meet in Maura O’Dea’s home in Dublin.
The group began to look at the particular problems facing members. These were varied and serious. Single pregnant women were under pressure to have their children adopted. Some women were rejected by their parents when they became pregnant. Some lost jobs, others flats, many were penniless and panic-stricken. Children born out of wedlock were considered illegitimate and suffered legal disadvantages. Talking about these issues helped. At the meetings the women found friendship, understanding and practical support.
Founding member Colette O’Neill suggested Cherish as a name for the group. This was taken from the 1916 proclamation of the public: “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally.” The name was adopted.
The association was formed into a limited company with six directors and a president, the then Senator Mary Robinson.
Cherish was run by a committee of single mothers and activity soon expanded to include campaigning and lobbying government departments for an allowance for unmarried mothers. The campaign was successful, and an allowance of £8.50 a week was introduced in the government in its 1973 budget.
The first Cherish newsletter was produced in 1973. Editor Colette O’Neill wrote: “We believe that a most basic right of any child is to know, love and to be loved by its natural mother and that she is free to exercise this so called choice regarding the upbringing of her child. A mother should not be forced to have her child adopted for economic and social reasons only.”
In 1974 Cherish employed its first social worker, paying her salary out of fundraising. That autumn Cherish held its first conference which looked at the unmarried parent and child in Irish society. And another taboo was broken when Maura O’Dea, founder of Cherish, appeared on the Late Late Show, and was found to look and sound like any normal, caring mother.
“25 years after its inception, the need for an organisation such as Cherish is as strong as ever. Cherish offers information, advice and support to single parents. We are a voice to campaign on issues affecting the single parent, and above all – through support, training courses, discussions and friendship, we empower women to make life a better place for themselves and their children.”
Chairwoman Marie Henson