Mills, Rosaleen Patricia Broughton (1905–1993), activist and educator, was born on 16 July 1905 in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, the fourth of five children of John Mills, medical director at the Connaught District Lunatic Asylum (later St Brigid's Hospital), Ballinasloe, and Rosetta Mills (née Dobbin). She attended Mount Pleasant school, Ballinasloe, for her primary education, then the Roedean school in Brighton, England. She returned to Ireland to study French and Spanish at TCD, graduating with an MA in modern languages. At university she became involved in the all-female Elizabethan Society at a time when women were barred from membership of most college societies and had to leave the campus by the six o'clock evening bell. (She would later be the first woman to address a meeting of the College Historical Society in 1969, which now holds an annual debating competition in her name). After university she spent a year in Germany and short periods travelling in France and Spain.
The majority of Mills's professional career was in secondary education. From 1930–6, she taught at Mount Temple school in Clontarf, Dublin. She took time off from her working life to nurse her mother, who died in 1937, then took a role at the commercial office of the Canadian Embassy (1938–45). From 1945 she taught at the private Knockrabo school in Goatstown, Dublin, working there until its closure in the late 1950s. Then in 1957 she helped establish Sutton Park, a new co-educational and non-denominational school in Sutton, Dublin, and served as its vice principal until her retirement in 1970.
Concurrent to her professional career, Mills was heavily involved in a number of women's organisations from the 1920s, starting with those established by suffragists and concluding as the chair of the Council for the Status of Women in the 1970s (then the largest women's organisation in the country, and the precursor to the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI)). She was also an active member of the Dublin University Women Graduates Association for many years. Despite not having the name recognition of other feminist figures, Mills's efforts to improve the lot of women in Ireland were considerable, bridging the country's first and second feminist waves.
As a young woman Mills came to know Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington (qv) and Rosamond Jacob (qv), and joined their campaigns for women to be admitted to the police force and against the 1927 Juries Act, which essentially prohibited women jurors. She joined the Women's Social and Progressive League, a non-sectarian women's political party established by Sheehy-Skeffington and others in response to the limited framing of a woman's role in Irish society in the 1937 Constitution. (Sheehy-Skeffington stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the party in the 1943 general election).
Mills was an early member of the Irish Housewives Association (IHA), a feminist organisation founded in 1942 by Hilda Tweedy (qv), Andrée Sheehy-Skeffington (qv) and a small group of other young, middle-class women in Dublin. The IHA's first action was to successfully advocate for food and other scarce commodities to be fairly distributed through organised rationing during the 1939–45 emergency. It would then take on many major issues facing women in Ireland throughout its fifty-year lifespan. Mills was also a contributor to the organisation's journal, The Irish Housewife (1946–87), and in the 1949 edition expounded on the IHA's contribution to shifting the perception of 'housewives' from a passive to an active force: 'The word housewife … conjured up a vision of a female body in an apron … Since this Association has begun to organise the immense latent force that has hitherto been totally inactive in public affairs, it has become usual to write the word Housewife with a capital H … To the Politician the Housewife is a haunting question mark … There might even come a day when a compact body like this could tip the national apple cart from one side to another' (quoted in Field Day anthology, vol. 5).
Mills sat on the council of the Irish Association of Civil Liberty from its foundation in 1948, serving as its president for a term in the early 1960s. She continued and deepened her involvement with the Dublin University Women Graduates Association, and in 1951, spent the summer in Geneva as an observer at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (UN) representing Ireland's women graduates (as a delegate of the International Federation of University Women). In 1963 she was elected president of the Irish Federation of Women's Graduates' Associations (also known as the Irish Federation of University Women).
In 1965, the UN Commission on Women issued a directive to women's organisations internationally to examine the status of women in their own countries. In Ireland this led, with significant input from the IHA, to the establishment of an 'ad hoc committee' chaired by Hilda Tweedy, with members representing various women's groups. Mills sat on this committee in an independent capacity, unaffiliated with any group or organisation. The committee found that Ireland had not signed or ratified a number of UN conventions relating to women, and identified a range of actions to improve women's rights including on equal pay for equal work, discrimination against married women in employment and through taxation, and girls' education.
Under pressure from the ad hoc committee, the government set up the first National Commission on the Status of Women in 1970, which built on the work of the committee and in 1972 made wide-ranging recommendations for government policy changes. Shortly thereafter the Council for the Status of Women was established to ensure that these recommendations were implemented. Hilda Tweedy was elected as its chair and Mills its vice chair. She replaced Tweedy as the chair of the Council in May 1976. It was by then the largest women's organisation in the country. Lobbying efforts undertaken during her one-year tenure centred on getting the slow-moving anti-discrimination bill into law, which would improve women's rights in the workplace and lift the 'marriage bar', as well as campaigning for the restructuring of family law and other legislation affecting women. She stepped down as the chair of the Council in April 1977.
Mills was a keen traveller and fluent in seven languages. By the end of her life she had travelled extensively throughout Europe and had visited Russia many times. In addition to her tireless work on women's, civil and human rights, she was involved in the United Arts Club, the Irish Georgian Society, the Irish Association for Social, Cultural and Economic Relations and An Taisce. She resided for most of her adult life at 37 Percy Place, Dublin 4, with regular trips west to Galway. Mills spent her final years in St Mary's Nursing Home, Pembroke Road, Dublin 4, and died on 17 September 1993.