How I accidentally wrote a Wikipedia page on a layover in Dublin

One of the most unusual but wonderful experiences happened to me on a return trip from Europe to the United States.

A series of heavy noreasters hit the US east coast over the last couple weeks. This coincided with my travel dates back to Rochester, NY. While we didn’t have flooding, we had a lot of snow. A lot of snow means canceled flights.

As I made my way through border control in Dublin, Ireland on March 7, I discovered my connection to New York City would likely be canceled. A meander from baggage claim to the check-in desk confirmed this. Fortunately, Aer Lingus had no issue putting me up in a hotel overnight with dinner and breakfast to catch the next flight to New York the next day.

While waiting in airport queues, a friend happened to retweet a local event happening in Dublin the next day.

The event was a local Wikimedia meet-up to celebrate International Women’s Day. Participants would create and edit Wikipedia pages for influential women in the history of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. After digging deeper, I found out the event was 30 minutes away from my hotel from 09:30 to 12:30. My flight was at 16:10.

I put in my RSVP.

Meet the Wikimedia Ireland community

In an opportunistic stroke of fate, I would spend my extended layover for my first time in Dublin learning and listening about role model women in the Irish medicine community. I didn’t know it yet, but I would also take part in writing some of the history too!

Group photo of the participants and editors for the 2018 International Women’s Day edit-a-thon. Source: Twitter, @RCSILibrary


The first part of the morning was an introduction to editing on Wikipedia and establishing the focus for edits.

Manuscript letters of support by men from the RCSI archive for women being admitted to medical schools and accepted into the British Medical Association. #HeForShe! Source: Twitter, @RCSILibrary

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) started a new campaign to promote influential women in the history of the university. There is a historical board room in a prominent place on its campus. Inside the board room, there are portraits of influential people in the history of RCSI. But all of them are men. This makes it difficult for women to have role models or inspiration of women like them who “made it” in science and medicine.

On the contrary, there was also no shortage of influential women in the history of RCSI. Part of the morning was an introduction to primary sources that explained the pivotal work of female Irish doctors and pediatricians throughout the 20th century. After hearing about these inspirational women, it was a wonder – why were none of them represented in the board room?

This was actually the focus for the edit-a-thon. Recently, RCSI commissioned new portraits for some of the influential women alumnae. Half of the portraits in the board room would be relocated and replaced by the new portraits. This was part of their #WomenOnWalls campaign.

Discovering Victoria Coffey

After an introduction to the sources available and how to edit on Wikipedia, we began the editing. Organizers encouraged participants to improve an existing page first, since most of the participants were first-time editors.

Since I had some experience with Mediawiki mark-up and do a lot of writing, I decided to write a new page. There were a list of suggested women alumnae to write about. After hearing about Victoria Coffey, I decided to focus my two hours of writing on her legacy.

Project coordinator for Wikimedia Ireland, Rebecca O’Neill, introduces Wikipedia to students, librarians, and faculty (and me!). Source: Twitter, @DrConorMalone

Who is Victoria Coffey?

Victoria Coffey was an Irish pediatrician. She was an alumna of RCSI, and one of the first to research sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Coffey spent most of her time in medicine researching and studying congenital abnormalities in infants and pediatrics. Later in her life, she founded the Faculty of Paediatrics at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1981 and was the first female president of the Irish Paediatric Society.

Writing her Wikipedia page

With the help and guidance of the Wikimedia Ireland and RCSI staff, I found resources to research and learn more about Victoria Coffey. While some public sources were available, I was also provided with a primary source from a paid online Irish encyclopedia.

From there, I had the basis to begin writing a stub for her biography. I created an infobox to summarize some of her contributions, wrote a paragraph on her life, and left external links for someone to expand and write more in the future.

You can find her Wikipedia page online now. Since its creation, it was viewed nearly 100 times, edited five times, and edited by three people.

Thank you RCSI and Wikimedia Ireland!

In a strange and opportunistic stroke of fate, I was lucky to meet this local community and work with a room of inspiring women in medicine (students, alumnae, and faculty) on lowering the wiki gap of women on Wikipedia. It was a privilege to take part and learn a unique kind of history for Ireland in my short stay in Dublin.

Thank you for this great experience, RCSI and Wikimedia Ireland!

I’m not sure if this will make me anticipate flight cancellations more or less from now on.


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