Tweedy, (Muriel) Hilda (1911–2005), activist for women's rights and in consumer affairs, was born 26 August 1911, in Clones, Co. Monaghan, in her mother's family home. Her father was a Church of Ireland clergyman, James Ferguson Anderson , at the time rector of Florencecourt, Co. Fermanagh, and her mother (Frances) Muriel (née Swayne), was the daughter of an English bank official in Clones. Hilda was the eldest of three daughters; a brother died as a baby. She grew up in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, where her father was rector from 1913, and then she boarded at Alexandra College, Dublin, as a pupil in the Clergy's Daughters' School. In 1929 she joined her family in Alexandria, Egypt, where in 1925 her father had been appointed chaplain to the church of St Mark's. Hilda started teaching her younger sister, using the progressive curriculum developed by the PNEU method of home-schooling; she quickly gathered a number of other pupils, and at the same time she registered as an external student at the University of London, studying mathematics. She did not finish the degree, because on 8 July 1936 she and Robert Massy Tweedy, manager of a Dublin laundry, were married in Alexandria.
Hilda and Robert returned to Dublin, and established a home in Stillorgan; they had a son and two daughters. In the 1930s, it would have been unusual for a middle-class married woman to have a job outside the home; when she applied for a teaching job in a protestant girls' school, she was told that as a married woman she was unsuitable; the headmistress said it would not be nice for the girls if their teacher became pregnant. In later years, she returned to Alexandra College to teach mathematics (1952–66) in the secretarial department, and her interest in education found another outlet when she and her husband established in 1962 Nimble Fingers, a pioneering toy and craft shop in Stillorgan. It sold educational toys and equipment to help the educational development of children, including children with disabilities, and became much loved by its customers.
In the 1940s, with Europe at war, times in Ireland were very difficult, with food and fuel prices rising as supplies were restricted. The Tweedys had a number of friends, mainly from quaker and other protestant denominations, who wanted to be actively involved in efforts to help the disadvantaged, and who sought to move on from the traditional charity work in which some individuals from the middle and upper classes had been prepared to help. Hilda quickly became a leader in this group, and with Andrée Sheehy-Skeffington (qv) and several other women called a meeting in 1941 to compose a petition calling for the introduction of rationing to ensure fair distribution of food and fuel, and other measures to relieve hardship. The newspapers, possibly condescendingly or even in derision, called it 'the housewives' petition'. When an organisation of women grew out of the first small gatherings, they decided to call themselves the Irish Housewives' Association (IHA), with Tweedy as joint honorary secretary (until 1951). It was established in 1942, with the aims of influencing government policy by lobbying politicians and officials, supplying data to officials and analysts, and providing leadership and education for any groups in society that required support. Though Tweedy and her colleagues can be categorised as 'feminists' (and much of her work directly and indirectly benefited women), her focus was on women as members of society rather than just as members of a disadvantaged gender. Experience with the IHA and offshoot organisations encouraged women from all backgrounds as they began to engage effectively in politics and employment. Tweedy's immediate concern was with women's rights, as consumers, in the workplace and in private life, but the arguments and analyses that the IHA employed with increasing skill benefited everyone in Irish society.
However, especially in the 1950s, the organisation, and Tweedy personally, encountered opposition from various conservative groups and individuals; even trade unions failed to back some of the IHA's demands for reform in employment practices. There were always complaints that the leadership was too protestant and too middle-class, with agendas at odds with the values of catholic Ireland. The campaign for the provision of mid-day meals in schools in poorer areas was criticised by many commentators, including some catholic priests, on the grounds that the proposal threatened the sanctity of the family home, and when in 1950 the organisation supported the mother-and-child bill brought forward by the minister for health, Noel Browne (qv), Tweedy and Sheehy-Skeffington were booed off a platform by people singing 'Faith of our fathers' and shouting 'atheists' and 'communists'. Similar accusations in the catholic weekly The Standard and other provincial newspapers in 1951–2, after the IHA sent a message of support to a Paris peace conference, were followed by an article in the Roscommon Herald (12 April 1952) which claimed that the IHA caused rioting on O'Connell Street, Dublin, and that the IHA was a 'medium of communication for Marxists, communists and fellow-travellers'. Legal redress and a small award for damages against that newspaper did not prevent the resignation of half the members of the IHA; several local branches of what had been a thriving organisation never afterwards functioned.
Other local groups continued to work on issues such as litter, broken footpaths and the need for closed bin lorries; at national level the IHA successfully supported efforts to improve the standards of milk supply, and campaigned for stricter food hygiene regulations and for consistent and informative labelling of garments and food. For many years, Tweedy edited the journal sent to IHA members, advising them of their existing rights and raising their awareness of concerns and campaigns. Well ahead of most people, Tweedy recognised the importance of recycling, urging from as early as 1942 that facilities for recycling paper and glass should be developed in Ireland. The IHA supported in 1945 the strike of female laundry workers which led eventually to the state recognising that a fortnight's holiday annually should be mandatory. The IHA was the prime mover in the campaign for equal pay for women from 1946, but for many years without success, and the removal of the marriage bar, which had kept married women out of many areas of employment, including the civil service. Women, through the organisation, lobbied officials to demand that women should be allowed to serve on juries, and urged the introduction of female police officers. Tweedy was keen to improve girls' education, so that lack of a qualification in a science subject should not prevent a woman from taking up employment. Few aspects of consumer protection and education escaped Tweedy's notice; her personal contribution to the amelioration of life for ordinary people was very considerable, and she was a formidable lobbyist. Government ministers quickly realised, as had lesser functionaries whom she had encountered in business and in local administration, that it was as well to listen to what she had to say, and that it was generally a mistake to patronise her or suggest that she should ask her husband for permission to do something.
For almost forty years, Tweedy (though she often had to pay for her own travel) represented Ireland on various international bodies, making contacts and gaining experience that greatly helped her work at home. She represented the IHA in the International Alliance of Women (IAW) (1949–86), was chairman of its committee on international understanding, and was an honorary board member of IAW in 1989. She was a member of the IAW board in 1975, which was International Women's Year, and was an official Irish delegate to the United Nations inter-governmental conference in Mexico that year. She attended several other United Nations meetings on women's issues: in Geneva and Vienna (1982, 1984, 1985, and 1986).
In her detailed and useful history of the IHA, A link in the chain (1992), her carefully neutral treatment of the government's reluctant establishment in 1970 of the Commission for the Status of Women in Ireland provides insight into her methods of applying apparently gentle pressure to politicians so that they would have to move things along. The government, however, took care not to appoint Tweedy to the new body. The ad hoc committee established in 1968 which had been urging the formation of the commission was clearly not entirely satisfied with the outcome, and in 1973 a parallel organisation, the Council for the Status of Women (later known as the National Women's Council of Ireland), was set up, with Tweedy as chairman. She also served on the council of the Consumers Association of Ireland. In 1990, she received the honorary degree of doctor of laws from TCD.
The IHA, with Tweedy as main mover, existed for fifty years, during which unprecedented advances in the rights of women were won; it was dissolved in 1992. In 2003 she deposited her papers and the archive of the IHA in the National Archives in Dublin. Robert Tweedy died 26 February 2005, and Hilda Tweedy died 4 July 2005. In 2009, their daughter established the Hilda and Robert Tweedy biennial lecture series in TCD to honour the couple's commitment to peace, gender and human rights, and environmental issues.