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A discussion on the role of irish women in american society

Famine immigrants were the first big wave of poor refugees ever to arrive in the U.

Upon arrival in America, the Irish found the going to be quite tough. With no one to help them, they immediately settled into the lowest rung of society and waged a daily battle for survival. The roughest welcome of all would be in Boston, Massachusetts, an Anglo-Saxon city with a population of about 115,000. It was a place run by descendants of English Puritans, men who could proudly recite their lineage back to 1620 and the Mayflower ship.

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Now, some two hundred thirty years later, their city was undergoing nothing short of an unwanted "social revolution" as described by Ephraim Peabody, member of an old Yankee family. In 1847, the first big year of Famine emigration, the city was swamped with 37,000 Irish Catholics arriving by sea and land.

Proper Bostonians pointed and laughed at the first Irish immigrants stepping off ships wearing clothes twenty years out of fashion. They watched as the newly arrived Irishmen settled with their families into enclaves that became exclusively Irish near the Boston waterfront along Batterymarch and Broad Streets, then in the North End section and in East Boston.

  1. Up to ninety percent of the Irish arriving in America remained in cities.
  2. Another way to take advantage of the Irish was to sell them phony railroad and boat tickets.
  3. Bostonians feared being undercut by hungry Irish willing to work for less than the going rate.
  4. Those who were not ill were driven to despair. At Fredericksburg, the 'Fighting 69th' repeatedly charged a well-entrenched Confederate position on Marye's Heights to the astonishment of all who observed.

Irishmen took any unskilled jobs they could find such as cleaning yards and stables, unloading ships, and pushing carts. And once again, they fell victim to unscrupulous landlords. In Boston, as well as other American cities in the mid-1800s, there was no enforcement of sanitary regulations and no building or fire safety codes. Landlords could do as they pleased. A single family three-story house along the waterfront that once belonged to a prosperous Yankee merchant could be divided-up room by room into housing for a hundred Irish, bringing a nice profit.

The overflow Irish would settle into the gardens, back yards and alleys surrounding the house, living in wooden shacks. Demand for housing of any quality was extraordinary. People lived in musty cellars with low ceilings that partially flooded with every tide.

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Old warehouses and other buildings within the Irish enclave were hastily converted into rooming houses using flimsy wooden partitions that provided no privacy. A Boston Committee of Internal Health studying the situation described the resulting Irish slum as "a perfect hive of human beings, without comforts and mostly without common necessaries; in many cases huddled together like brutes, without regard to age or sex or sense of decency.

Under such circumstances self-respect, forethought, all the high and noble virtues soon die out, and sullen indifference and despair or disorder, intemperance and utter degradation reign supreme. Sixty percent of the Irish children born in Boston during this period didn't live to see their sixth birthday. Adult Irish lived on average just six years after stepping off the boat onto American soil. Those who were not ill were driven to despair. Rowdy behavior fueled by alcohol and boredom spilled out into the streets of Boston and the city witnessed a staggering increase in crime, up to 400 percent for such crimes as aggravated assault.

Men and boys cooped up in tiny rooms and without employment or schooling got into serious trouble. An estimated 1500 children roamed the streets every day begging and making mischief. There were only a limited number of unskilled jobs available.

Intense rivalry quickly developed between the Irish and working class Bostonians over these jobs. In Ireland, a working man might earn eight cents a day. In America, he could earn up to a dollar a day, a tremendous improvement. Bostonians a discussion on the role of irish women in american society being undercut by hungry Irish willing to work for less than the going rate.

Their resentment, combined with growing anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment among all classes in Boston led to 'No Irish Need Apply' signs being posted in shop windows, factory gates and workshop doors throughout the city.

In 1847, about 52,000 Irish arrived in the city which had a total population of 372,000. The Irish were not the only big group of immigrants arriving. A substantial German population totaling over 53,000 also arrived in 1847. In New York, the Irish did not face the degree of prejudice found in Boston. Instead, they were confronted by shifty characters and con artists.

Confused Irish, fresh off the farm and suffering from culture shock, were taken advantage of the moment they set foot on shore. Immediately upon arrival in New York harbor, they were met by Irishmen known as 'runners' speaking in Gaelic and promising to 'help' their fellow countrymen. Many of the new arrivals, quite frightened at the mere prospect of America, gladly accepted. Those who hesitated were usually bullied into submission. The runner's first con was to suggest a good place to stay in New York; a boarding house operated by a friend, supposedly with good meals and comfortable rooms at very affordable rates, including free storage of any luggage.

The boarding houses were actually filthy hell-holes in lower Manhattan. Instead of comfortable rooms, the confused arrivals were shoved into vermin-infested hovels with eight or ten other unfortunate souls, at prices three or four times higher than what they had been told. They remained as 'boarders' until their money ran out at which time their luggage was confiscated for back-rent and they a discussion on the role of irish women in american society tossed out into the streets, homeless and penniless.

During the entire Famine period, about 650,000 Irish arrived in New York harbor. All incoming passenger ships to New York had to stop for medical inspection. Anyone with fever was removed to the quarantine station on Staten Island and the ship itself was quarantined for 30 days. But Staten Island was just five miles from Manhattan. Runners were so aggressive in pursuit of the Irish that they even rowed out to quarantined ships and sneaked into the hospitals on Staten Island despite the risk of contracting typhus.

Another way to take advantage of the Irish was to sell them phony railroad and boat tickets. Runners working with 'forwarding agents' sold bogus tickets that had pictures of trains or boats the illiterate immigrants wished to board to leave Manhattan for other U. The tickets were either worthless, or if they were valid, had been sold at double the actual price or higher. On the boats, the immigrant were shoved into jam-packed steerage sections, although they thought they had paid for better accommodations.

Sometimes, halfway to their destination, they were told to pay more or risk being thrown overboard. The penniless Irish who remained in Manhattan stayed crowded together close to the docks where they sought work as unskilled dock workers.

They found cheap housing wherever they could, with many families living in musty cellars. Abandoned houses near the waterfront that once belonged to wealthy merchants were converted into crowded tenements. Shoddy wooded tenements also sprang up overnight in yards and back alleys to be rented out room by room at high prices.

Similar to Boston, New York experienced a high rate of infant mortality and a dramatic rise in crime as men and boys cooped-up in squalid shanties let off steam by drinking and getting in fights. Up to ninety percent of the Irish arriving in America remained in cities. New York now had more Irish-born citizens than Dublin. Upon arrival, the Irishman and his family would usually go straight to the 'Irish quarter,' locate people from County Mayo, County Cork, or wherever they had come from, and settle in among them.

Unlike other nationalities that came to America seeking wide open spaces, the Irish chose to huddle in the cities partly because they were the poorest of all the immigrants arriving and partly out of a desire to recreate the close-knit communities they had cherished back in Ireland. Above all, the Irish loved each other's company, enjoying a daily dose of gossip, conversation, poetry and story telling, music and singing, and the ever-present jokes and puns.

But the daily pressures of living in America at the bottom rung of society also brought out the worst in them. Back home, the Irish were known for their honesty, law-abiding manners, and chastity.

In America, old social norms disintegrated and many of the Irish, both men and women, behaved wildly. In the hopeless slums of New York, prostitution flourished and drunkenness occurred even among children. Wherever they settled, the Irish kept to themselves to the exclusion of everyone else, and thus were slow to assimilate. Americans were thus slow to accept the Irish as equals, preferring instead to judge them by the cartoon stereotypes of drunken, brawling Irishmen published in newspapers of the day.

Irish immigrants were also derided in the press as 'aliens' who were mindlessly loyal to their Catholic leaders in place of any allegiance to America.

The sheer numbers of Irish pouring into the U. Many American Protestants held the simplistic view that if the numbers of Roman Catholics were increasing then the power and influence of the Papacy in America was also increasing, threatening America's political independence. Fear of the Papacy thus became fear of the Irish and resulted in outright violence.

  • In Boston, as well as other American cities in the mid-1800s, there was no enforcement of sanitary regulations and no building or fire safety codes;
  • The beautiful cathedral-like buildings became great sources of pride among the Irish, making the statement that Catholics had 'arrived' in America;
  • These women were cheerful, kind-hearted, hard working and thrifty, always managing to save a little money out of their salary for those back in Ireland;
  • The tickets were either worthless, or if they were valid, had been sold at double the actual price or higher.

In Boston, a mob of Protestant workmen burned down a Catholic convent. Protestant mobs in Philadelphia rioted against Irish Catholics in 1844. The Irish in Philadelphia promptly gathered into mobs of their own and fought back, with the violence lasting over three days. Two Catholic churches were burned down along with hundreds of Irish homes and a dozen immigrants killed. Then he paid a visit to New York's mayor and warned him that if just one Catholic church was touched, the Irish would burn all of Manhattan to the ground.

Other cities that experienced anti-Catholic violence included; Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans and Louisville, Kentucky. Militant anti-Catholics formed a third political party nicknamed the 'Know-Nothings' seeking to curtail Irish immigration and keep them from becoming naturalized Americans in order to prevent them from ever gaining any political power. The movement was most successful in Massachusetts which elected Know-Nothing candidates to every statewide office in 1854, including governor.

  • In cities with big Irish populations, police and fire departments often became staffed by Famine descendants;
  • New York now had more Irish-born citizens than Dublin;
  • Many American Protestants held the simplistic view that if the numbers of Roman Catholics were increasing then the power and influence of the Papacy in America was also increasing, threatening America's political independence;
  • The boarding houses were actually filthy hell-holes in lower Manhattan;
  • With no one to help them, they immediately settled into the lowest rung of society and waged a daily battle for survival;
  • Irishmen took any unskilled jobs they could find such as cleaning yards and stables, unloading ships, and pushing carts.

Throughout America, anti-Irish sentiment was becoming fashionable. Members of the famous Irish Brigade of the Confederate Army.

Additional information

In Boston, Irish clam diggers pose on a wharf, 1882. In New York, officials investigate a squalid tenement, 1900. Former presidential candidate Al Smith on right with Franklin Roosevelt, the man who followed him as governor of NY, 1930. Triumphant visit of President Kennedy to Dublin, 1963.

But American concerns over Irish immigration soon took a back seat to the tremendous issue of slavery which was about to rip the young nation apart.

For Irish Americans, the turning point of their early years in the U. Over 140,000 enlisted in the Union army while others in the South enrolled in the Confederate ranks.

  • A substantial German population totaling over 53,000 also arrived in 1847;
  • Irish Americans, three or four generations removed from their Famine forebears, now preferred a more generic middle-class American lifestyle complete with manicured lawns and backyard barbecues.

Irish units, including the all-Irish 69th New York Regiment, participated in the monumental battles at Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg, earning a reputation for dependability and bravery. At Fredericksburg, the 'Fighting 69th' repeatedly charged a well-entrenched Confederate position on Marye's Heights to the astonishment of all who observed. However, during the Civil War, Irish civilians were heavily involved in the notorious New York draft riots in which African Americans were singled out for violence.

From their earliest arrival in the U. Decades of frustration and pent-up emotions finally erupted on the streets over three hot summer days in July 1863 resulting in numerous beatings and 18 blacks murdered. Federal troops from Gettysburg had to be called in to quell the violence.