Irish Immigrants in Boston

Topics: Irish American, Irish diaspora, Great Famine Pages: 8 (2828 words) Published: April 3, 2005
The life of Irish immigrants in Boston was one of poverty and discrimination. The religiously centered culture of the Irish has along with their importance on family has allowed the Irish to prosper and persevere through times of injustice. Boston's Irish immigrant population amounted to a tenth of its population. Many after arriving could not find suitable jobs and ended up living where earlier generations had resided. This attributed to the "invisibility" of the Irish. Much of the very early migration had been heavily male, but during the famine years, migration was largely a family affair. Families were arriving serially in "chain" migration while others suffered high mortality rates in these years. The Irish were the first to practice "chain or serial migration" on a large scale. During the famine years males still outnumbered women in migration numbers but not by a large margin. However in the post famine years and especially after 1880 more women came from Ireland than males. The reason for this was that women were always more deprived of work than men in Ireland, and in the post-famine years the position of women got exponentially worse. In Ireland, contrary to what was happening in the United States, women did not live longer than men. The lives of immigrant Irish women were not easy, but much better than a life back in Ireland.

In the 1850's through the 1870's 45% of all Irish immigrants were persons in the 15-24 age group with gender evenly balanced. But in the 1880's to 1920 that same age group made up about 60% of all Irish immigrants. This social class was young and could adapt to working in the harsh conditions. Immigrants who arrived alone often eventually married either someone from the immigrant community in the area. With each passing year women began taking up a higher and higher percentage of Irish immigrants. By 1921 women outnumbered men 2:1. These women were overwhelmingly concentrated in domestic service. At the turn of the century more than half of all Irish immigrant women were servants. These Irish women learned American housekeeping through first-hand experience, living in the home of the family they served.

The Irish usually tended to support the Democratic Party rather than support the Republican Party. Most Irish had little sympathy for slaves because they feared that if they were given their freedom they would move north and threaten taking the jobs being done by Irish immigrants. One leading Irish-American politician, John Mitchel, wrote in his newspaper, The Citizen in 1856:

He would be a bad Irishman who voted for principles which jeopardized the present freedom of a nation of white men, for the vague forlorn hope of elevating blacks to a level for which it is at least problematical whether God and nature ever intended them.

So the Irish tended to be in favor of slavery and against abolition. This was just another reason why many of the people around them did not get along with them, this in turn probably making their lives harder and less enjoyable. However, at the outbreak of the Civil War an estimated 170,000 men born in Ireland joined the Union Army, but only about 40,000 were in the Confederate Army. This occurred because the issue for the Irish was not so much slavery as it was preserving the Union. The church in Boston agreed with Archbishop Hughes that "It is one country and shall be one". After the Civil War, attitudes toward the Irish shifted slightly, and the "Irish Need Not Apply" signs on businesses, that had been so common decades before, began to disappear. The Irish had heavily participated in the war: thirty nine Union regiments contained a majority of Irishmen, and the 69th regiment was comprised almost totally of Irishmen. The Irish Americans gained some respect for their involvement in the Civil War and were now more accepted by American society. The Irish Americans in the post-Civil War time period were more economically successful. Several of the...

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Glazer, Nathan. Beyond the Melting Pot. Boston, MA. The M.I.T. and Harvard University press. 1963
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Hoobler, Dorothy and Thomas. The Irish American Family Album. New York, NY. Oxford University press. 1995
Howard, Brett
Laxton, Edward. The Famine Ships. New York, NY. Henry Holt and Company, INC. 1996
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