Ada Yeates & Sisters, Legal Stationers, Dublin

Published 21st February 2017
The story of Ada Yeates and Sisters, legal stationers, scriveners and typists, who were the successors to a “law and commercial stamp retailer” business operated by Catherine Carroll since 1851.

Ada Yeates was born in 1852 to Robert Eustace Yeates and his wife Sarah. The Yeates family lived at Elm Hall in Celbridge, but in 1875 the house and contents were sold and the Yeates family moved to Dublin. Robert Yeates died in 1880, and by the time Ada was 34, in 1886, Ada Yeates & Sisters, law stationers, appeared in the Dublin directory listings for the first time. Ada had gone into business with her sisters Amy and Olive, leasing their firm’s principal office at 74 Dame Street. In Industries of Dublin the following year, Ada Yeates & Sisters were described as “successors to Wilkinson”, and in fact they appear to have been successors not just to Eliza Wilkinson but a whole line of businesswomen. There are a number of references to the firm’s having been in operation since 1788 1 . Mary Rorke, stamp-stationer, was first listed in business at 3, Crampton Court from 1821, where she was succeeded by Catherine Rorke in 1834. Catherine moved the business to 74, Dame Street (previously occupied by the offices of Saunders’ News Letter) and was succeeded there in 1851 by Catherine Carroll, law and commercial stamp retailer. Carroll in turn was succeeded in 1861 by Eliza Wilkinson, law and commercial stamp retailer, who in later years added “printer” to her trade description. Eliza Wilkinson’s name remained listed until 1886 when it was replaced by Ada Yeates, “law and commercial stationer and printer”, and Ada and her sisters continued to work there for over twenty years. Ada Yeates’s will indicates that the firm she described as “Scriveners Typists Law Stationers and the like” was owned and operated by her, Amy, and Olive as equal partners, although in that first 1886 listing it was Ada’s name alone which features, suggesting that she was the founder and the driving force.

In April 1892, in the wake of some discussion about the training of women in legal work, a letter appeared in the Irish Times drawing the editor’s attention to the fact that there was in Dublin a firm “exclusively composed of educated ladies” who held “first-class certificates from both Irish and English universities”, and some of whom had received “special training in a leading London firm”, making them “eminently qualified to undertake both legal and literary work”. The firm this correspondent was referring to was the new firm of Nelson White and Company, whose offices in Eustace Street were about one minute’s walk away from Ada Yeates & Sisters. Solicitor Archibald Collum 2 wrote immediately to the editor of the Irish Times to point out the existence of Ada Yeates & Sisters, the principals of which had been “trained in legal work by a well- known firm of solicitors in [Dublin]”. In addition to their legal work, the women and their employees prepared manuscripts for press, “viz., law and medical lectures, scientific books, novels, &c; &c., drawing lease maps and tracing architects’ plans”. The firm of Ada Yeates and Sisters supplied a more detailed list of its services in an advertisement placed in the All Ireland Review in May 1901:

“Irish Typists, Irish Scriveners, Irish Law Stationers, &c. Medical, Chemical, Engineering, and all kinds of MSS. copied in Type-Writing. In a highly finished style. Clergymen, Medical Men, Lawyers, Architects, Civil Engineers, Novelists, &c.; &c., have certified to the proficiency of the work by written Testimonials.”

The advertisement also refers to “branch offices”, and the business must have been in a healthy state to have established these. They were across the river at 3, 4, and 5, Chancery Place. As the name suggests, this street was and is in the heart of Dublin’s legal district: it bounds the east side of the Four Courts from the river to Chancery Street. It would have taken the Yeates sisters less than ten minutes to walk from one office to the other, crossing the Liffey by any one of three bridges.

When the solicitor Archibal Collum wrote his admiring letter to the newspaper, his address was not published along with the letter, but his office was at that time at 74 Dame Street, so he worked in the same building as Ada Yeates & Sisters 3 . The sisters had earned the professional regard of Mr Collum, a member of a still exclusively male profession. There was no female barrister in Ireland until 1921, no female solicitor until 1923, but members of these exclusively male professions had by then been giving business to Ada Yeates & Sisters, and their predecessor female law stationers at 74 Dame Street for at least seventy years. Archibald Collum and his fellow solicitors at 74 Dame Street, as well as being sources of work for the Yeates sisters, became supporters and friends. When Ada died in 1910 she left £212 for the maintenance and education (towards the priesthood) of the son of another solicitor in the building. This bequest in favour of John Paul Gleeson, and the wording of several other bequests (including “one hundred pounds To the Treasurer of the Roman Catholic Society for helping converts to the R.C. Church in England”) suggest that the Catholic faith was a significant influence in Ada Yeates’s life, and as the rest of her family were Church of Ireland (listed in the census records as “Irish Church”, and buried in Mount Jerome cemetery), it also appears that she converted to Catholicism, suggesting that in spiritual as well as commercial matters she was not afraid to make her own path.

74 Dame Street operated as a post office as well as a legal stationers’ and printers’ firm. Ada’s younger sister and business partner Olive had the impressive bouquet of occupations “sub-postmistress, law stationer, printer, stamp retailer, typist + scrivener”. Although Ada died in 1910, Olive and Amy continued the business without her, and it outlasted all of them: Yeates law stationers, which remained at 74 Dame Street, did not have its last listing in Thoms Directory until 1974, meaning that the legal stationery trade with which Ada, Olive and Amy Yeates were associated had continued uninterrupted for almost 200 years, for almost all of that time remaining at the same address, and run by women.

Guest Post by Antonia Hart, Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholar