Cousins, Margaret (‘Gretta’) Elizabeth (1878–1954), suffragist, educator, and theosophist, was born 7 November 1878 in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, eldest of fifteen children of Joseph Gillespie , petty sessions clerk, and Margaret Annie Gillespie (née Shera). Brought up in a unionist and methodist household, from an early age she sympathised with nationalism. She was educated locally until 1894, when she was awarded a scholarship for the Victoria High School for Girls in Derry. She went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music in Dublin (1898), graduating B.Mus. from the RUI in 1902.
After her marriage (1903) to James Cousins (qv), she was determined to maintain her independence, and worked part-time as a music teacher. Through her husband she became familiar with many of the leading literary figures in Dublin, among them James Joyce (qv), who briefly stayed with the Cousinses in their Ballsbridge home (June 1904), and George Russell (qv) with whom they shared an enthusiasm for theosophy. She experimented with automatic writing and astrology, and acted as a medium at seances in her home. Like her husband she became a vegetarian, and on the foundation of the Irish Vegetarian Society (1904) was appointed its honorary secretary. In 1906, while visiting England to address a vegetarian conference, she also managed to attend the conference of the National Council of Women. This inspired her to join the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association on her return to Ireland. However, she soon became frustrated by their timid approach, and with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (qv) founded the militant, non-party Irishwomen's Franchise League in 1908. Having initially served as its treasurer, in 1911 she was appointed as its honorary secretary. As one of its most influential and high-profile members she regularly spoke at its open-air meetings in Dublin and on suffrage tours of the country, irrespective of the occasional hostility which at times greeted her addresses. The suffrage paper, the Irish Citizen (co-founded by her husband) mentions her having addressed meetings in Kerry, Donegal, Sligo, Enniskillen, Portrush, and Mayo (8 February 1913). She also lobbied Irish MPs – most particularly the IPP leader and key suffrage opponent John Redmond (qv) – and the chief secretary, Augustine Birrell (qv) (1910).
Cousins maintained her links with English suffragists and in July 1909 worked for the Women's Social and Political Union in London. In November 1910 she was among the six Irish representatives at the ‘parliament of women’ in Caxton Hall, London. During her stay in London she was convicted of smashing the windows at 10 Downing St., and served a one-month sentence in Holloway prison. This failed to deter her militant fervour, and she subsequently took part in protests at the failure of the home rule bill to provide female suffrage, during Asquith's visit to Dublin in 1911, and spoke at a mass meeting at the Antient Concert Rooms, Dublin, to demand the inclusion of women in the bill (June 1912). She was jailed for one month (January 1913) with fellow IWFL activists Margaret Connery (qv) and Mrs Hoskins for breaking the windows at Dublin castle; during their imprisonment in Tullamore jail they successfully fought for political status in prison after a brief and well publicised hunger strike, which came to a head after Hoskins suffered a heart attack.
Financial difficulties resulted in the Cousinses’ departing for Liverpool (June 1913), where she became involved in local suffrage groups, was appointed president of the local vegetarian society, and assisted in the formation of the Women's Church of the New Ideal. Throughout this period she maintained contact with the Irish suffrage movement. She continued to contribute to the Irish Citizen, represented the IWFL at Emily Davidson's funeral in London (June 1913), and as an IWFL activist lobbied Irish MPs Redmond, Tim Healy (qv), and Joseph Devlin (qv) in Westminster (January 1915). After a brief visit to Ireland (July 1915), during which she returned to her propaganda work for the IWFL, she and her husband settled (October 1915) in India, where she involved herself with both the theosophical and women's rights movements. Engaged as a teacher, she became in 1916 the first non-Indian member of the Indian Women's University at Poona. A founder member of the Women's Indian Association (1917), of which she served as joint honorary secretary, she edited their magazine Stri-Dharma for many years. She was employed as headmistress of the National Girls School in Mangalore (1919–20). She played a pivotal role in organising the first all-India women's conference (1926), which she presided over in 1936, and the all-Asia women's conference (1931). She also engaged in philanthropic work, being associated with the Children's Aid Society, the Women's Homes of Service, and ‘Baby Welcomes’. In December 1932 she was arrested for having addressed a meeting in Madras to protest against the inclusion of the emergency ordinances into the penal code, and was imprisoned in Vellore jail until the following October. She wrote numerous letters, articles and pamphlets in Ireland, Britain, and India on theosophy, education, and women's rights, and with her husband compiled a joint autobiography, We two together (1950). Having suffered a stroke at the age of 65, she received financial donations from both her admirers and the Indian government in recognition of her services to the country. She died 1 March 1954 in Adyar, India.