what was life like for irish immigrants in america


Much of Irish-American history has focused on the travails of the Irish laborer, Paddy, in building the canals, railroads and roads—essentially laying the foundation of urban America. Virginia Penny, nineteenth-century America’s foremost authority on women in the economy, put it concisely, “Most maids of all work are Irish because most Irish can perform hard work.” [15] Even in a household where the mistress deigned to cook, an Irish girl was often retained for the heaviest labor.
Dedicated to the memory of Annie Malone Walsh of County Carlow and Fort Lee. He began (in the fashion of a Victorian scholar) by writing letters to officials of the banks most heavily used by immigrants, sending queries to twenty-five institutions. [32].

lives, while perhaps twice that number of Irish immigrated — 500,000 of them Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History, Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress, New York, NY, yard of tenement (between 1900 and 1910), Irish Identity, Influence and Opportunity, Irish Contributions to the American Culture. They often had no money beyond the fare for their passage, and, thus, settled in the ports of their debarkation. Arrival of emigrants, Ellis Island The Irish immigrants left a rural lifestyle in a nation lacking modern industry. No other country’s emigrants included so large a share of women, but the pivotal role the Irish girl played in building the Irish-American community has been overshadowed by the labors of her kinsman, Paddy who dug the canals, laid the tracks, and carried the vote. Most any other form of work would do, even though it paid less and offered fewer opportunities to save. Bridget, the maid-of-all-work and brunt of Yankee humor, has yet to be fully recognized for her outsized contribution to Irish immigration. Remittances also financed ‘chain migration’ from Ireland to America. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then permanent absence nurtured among the exiles of Erin a profound longing for the old country expressed in countless ballads and poems. Through what could be squeezed from earnings, the immigrant helped family pay rent, buy food, supplement a sister’s dowry, support a brother’s education and otherwise assist cash-strapped loved ones.

That these amounts came from poor Irish, especially poor Irish women, may account for the delayed reaction. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1911), 71. Still facing poverty It is easier to envision the Irish girl alone in her room at the end of the day putting pen to paper before turning to bed.
Mark Wyman estimates that from one-quarter to one-third of all European migrants to the United States returned home permanently for the period 1880-1930 (Round Trip to America Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), 6. The contrasting opportunities available to Irish men and women led to markedly different working lives. The first thing to note is their sheer volume. While about half of Italian immigrants to America in the 19th century returned, the vast majority of Irish never went went home. The Irish said, “Emigration begets emigration.”  Their system of “one bringing another” had become self-perpetuating, as the pioneering migrant was joined by a sister, brother or other close relative, who then took a job and chipped in, the family working as a team to pool savings and send for cousins, in-laws and friends. [21]. As early as 1860, more than three-quarters of working Irish women were employed as domestics, a share that would vary little through the end of the century. [5] In the second half of the nineteenth century, nearly 70 percent of female emigrants from Ireland were 24 years-old or younger (Timothy W. Guinnane. A second reason the American letter had such significance for the Irish was that the average Irish immigrant could read and write. This irreversible crossing was not the case for immigrants who would come to America from other countries in later decades. From the Great Famine through the end of the nineteenth century, known transfers exceeded $260 million, the equivalent of almost $8 billion today. Employers would have preferred to hire American girls.

who had fled at the height of the famine. | PBS Privacy Policy | Created September 2005. Throughout the long history of migration to the United States, the American letter played a crucial role, especially for the Irish. In time, the sum total of Irish-Americans exceeded the entire population of Ireland. All in all, the saying in Ireland that women could be “great hoarders of small coins” also applied in America. In Ireland, both the traditional “hedge schools” and the National Schools, which opened in 1831, emphasized literacy. Moses directed his people with a staff, Bridget led hers with a pen. (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1887), 226; Salmon, Domestic Service, 151. Domestic Service (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1897), 228. Irish immigrants sometimes faced hostility from other groups in the U.S., and were accused of spreading disease and blamed for the unsanitary conditions many lived in.

Elliot R. Barkan (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999), 281; Janet Nolan. It also dwarfed the sums sent home by Germans, the largest immigrant group of the time. [7]. Your email address will not be published. ancestry, making Irish Americans the country's second-largest ethnic group. [1] What has rarely been recognized is that most seem to have been written by young Irish women. Irish History Online, Irish History articles, interviews, ebooks and podcasts. Your email address will not be published. [2]  By contrast, only 5 to 10 percent of Irish immigrants ever returned home.

The terms “money letter,” “American letter” and “Yankee letter” were virtually synonymous.

Over the next several years, evidence mounted for a massive accumulation of funds sent to Ireland in small drafts. Even before the Famine, anecdotal murmurings about this unexpected wherewithal had begun to circulate among clerks and shipping agents in the banks and mercantile houses of New York, Boston and Philadelphia. As early as the 1830s, the Irish of New York alone were sending through Liverpool 300,000 letters per year. This exclusion was part of an emerging social protocol. Other commentators were more effusive, describing the aggregate transfers as “phenomenal,” “breathtaking” and “amazing”.

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