O'Sullivan, Mary Josephine Donovan- (1887–1966), historian, was born in Fairhill, Galway, only daughter among ten children of William and Bridget Donovan from Cork. Her father had served in the Royal Navy. Educated at Dominican convent, Taylor's Hill, Galway, she won prizes in science and French and German composition and achieved first place in her school in the senior grade examination. Holder of the Browne scholarship for modern languages at QCG, she graduated with an honours BA (1908) and MA (1909) and was awarded a studentship from the National University of Ireland. Having spent some time at the University of Marburg, she returned to UCG as an assistant to the professor of history, English literature, and mental science. A candidate for the professorship when it became vacant in 1912, she later withdrew and in 1913 was elected to the college's governing body. In 1914 she was made professor of history, becoming the first woman professor in UCG. At this time she was also active in the suffrage movement in Galway, her interest arising from ‘the realisation that she had to earn her own living. . . in a world which extended prejudice toward workers “for the crime of being a woman”, most notably in terms of attitude and monetary reward’ (Clancy, 98). During the first world war she served as president of Galway ladies' recruiting committee.
Influenced by contemporary women historians in Britain, she was a pioneer of economic and social history, focusing largely on her home town of Galway. Through her association with the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, of which she was secretary (1933–51), and whose journal she edited for many years as well as contributing numerous articles, she ‘endeavoured to bridge the gap between history in the universities and history in the schools and the wider community’ (O'Dowd, 51). A fellow of the Royal Historical Society (1920) and of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, she was also a member of the RIA (1957); the consultative board of the Irish Historical Society (1940); the Military History Society of Ireland (1950); and the Irish Manuscripts Commission (1943). Her principal publications were Old Galway: the history of a ®Norman colony in Ireland (Cambridge, 1942), and Italian merchant bankers in Ireland in the thirteenth century (Dublin, 1962). Some of her work received negative responses: Old Galway was criticised by H. G. Richardson for paucity of medieval sources, and two articles published in the Quarterly Review – ‘Eight years of Irish home rule’ (1930) and ‘Minorities in the Irish Free State’ (1932) – were attacked as being anti-Irish by Stephen Quinn in the Catholic Bulletin.
She married Maj. Jeremiah O'Sullivan, who served in the Royal Engineers corps of the British army and was later an employee of the Irish land commission. They lived at ‘Lisgorm’, Rockbarton, Salthill, Co. Galway. She retired from UCG in 1959 and died 21 July 1966, leaving an estate of £23,243. Her papers are in the James Hardiman Library, NUIG.