No Irish Need Apply by John F. Poole, 1862, sung by
Brendan Nolan .
[Refresh control-R to hear it again; needs RealAudio plug-in]
online at http://www.uic.edu/~rjensen/no-irish.htm
"No Irish Need Apply": A Myth of Victimization
to appear in Journal of Social Historyrevised
Write me at RJensen@uic.edu
Irish Americans have a deeply held belief that they were victims of systematic
job discrimination in America, and that the discrimination was done publicly in
highly humiliating fashion through signs that announced "Help Wanted: No
Irish Need Apply." This could have been a metaphor for their troubles--akin
to tales that America was a "golden mountain" or had "streets
paved with gold." But the Irish insist that it really happened. The
"myth" can be phrased this way:
"Unskilled workers and servants, especially,
encountered the ubiquitous "No Irish Need Apply" notices
when they searched for jobs in Boston, New York, and other major
Kerby Miller, Emigrants and Exiles (1985), 323.
That some middle class English housewives insisted "No Irish Need
Apply" regarding maids and servants was a cliche in middle class London by
the 1820s. It probably refers to handwritten window signs, but may have included
British newspaper ads for maids and other household workers. It was never a
cliche in the USA, except among the Irish themselves. It is possible that
handwritten signs regarding maids did appear in a few American windows, though
no one ever mentions this. Probably an occasional newspaper ads used the exact
phrase, but many ads for maids did specify "Protestant." Apart from
personal household workers, the NINA slogan in want ads was rare (none has
turned up); few people actually saw them.
References by Handlin and other historians are not to the ads, but to a
handful of editorials in Irish Catholics newspapers that condemned such ads.
(As Terry Anbinder has noted, quoting the Catholic press in 1857, the
newspaper ads had stopped appearing by then.)
The myth however focuses on something else: public signs that marginalized
and humiliated Irish male workers. The evidence however suggests that probably
no such signs ever existed at commercial establishments, shops, factories,
stores, hotels, railroads, union halls, hiring halls, personnel offices, labor
recruiters etc. anywhere in America.
Of course Ebay.com sells these signs. But
they are all modern fakes, made by novelty
sign makers for the Irish market.
The fact that Irish vividly "remember" seeing them is a
curious historical puzzle. Only Irish Catholics could see the sign: No
historian, archivist, or museum curator has ever located one; no photograph or
drawing exists. Only Irish Catholics could see the sign. In America no
Protestant, no Jew, no non-Irish Catholic ever reported seeing a NINA sign. This
is especially strange since the ostensible message of the signs was directed
toward them--saying that employment was available here and inviting Yankees,
French-Canadians, Italians and any other non-Irish to apply. From the other
side, the business literature, both published and unpublished, never mentions
NINA or any policy remotely like it. The newspapers and magazines are silent.
The courts are silent. There is no record of an angry Irish youth tossing a
brick through the window that holds such a sign. What we have is all the signs
of an urban legend.
A major museum exhibit, Gaelic Gotham,
about New York City did not have any NINA signs.
Wealthy Protestants who summered in Maine brought their servants along
and asked the bishop to help arrange for Catholic services for them. James
O'Toole, Militant and Triumphant: WIlliam Henry O'Connell and the catholic
Church in Boston, 1859-1944 (1992), 42.
Irish Americans all have *heard* about them -- and remember elderly relatives
saying they did *see* them. Historically actual signs could have flourished only
in intensely anti-Catholic or anti-Irish eras, especially the 1840-1863 period.
Thus when Irishmen recalled seeing them in the 20th century it suggests the myth
is so deeply rooted in folk mythology that it is impervious to evidence. And it
suggests that the same myth was prevalent 150 years ago. (In other words, when
someone said "I saw the sign in the 1920s" that misperception is
itself suggestive that the misperception went back decades. The myth had
"legs": people still believe it, even scholars. The late Tip O'Neill
said he saw the signs as a youth in Boston in 1920s; Senator Ted Kennedy has the
most recent sighting: he told the Senate he saw them when growing up (he was
born in 1932 and grew up in a highly protective family.] Perhaps we can explain
the durability of the myth by relating it to non-individualistic group-oriented
Irish work culture.
Kennedy said, "I remember `Help Wanted' signs in stores when I was
growing up saying `No Irish Need Apply .'" [Congressional Record
Senate Sept 9, 1996 Page: S10054
Something odd was happening, which affected only the Irish. An answer is that
the stimulus was not visual but rather aural--a song sung only by the Irish. It
became quite popular during the 1863 crisis of the draft riots of the Civil War,
and still circulates. The downside of the myth is that it gave Irish gangs a
good reason to beat up strangers (the song explicitly encouraged this response)
and it warned Irish jobseekers against breaking with the group and going to work
for The Enemy. The myth fostered among the Irish a misperception or gross
exaggeration that other Americans were prejudiced against them as Irish, and
were deliberately holding back their economic progress. Hence the "chip on
the shoulder" mentality that many observers and historians have noted. As
for the question of anti-Irish prejudice: it existed but it was anti-Catholic or
political and had no links to employment. (The Irish tended to equate themselves
with Catholicism, so that anti-Catholicism equalled anti-Irish prejudice. Other
Catholics groups, especially the French Canadians, greatly resented this
attitude.) Was there job discrimination against the Catholic Irish in the US:
possibly, but no one has offered any direct evidence whatever. On the contrary,
Protestant businessmen vigorously raised money for mills, factories and
construction projects they knew would mostly employ Irishmen.
Assuming the Irish (with the notable exception of the household
servants) relied somewhat less on individual skills or market forces,
and more on collective action and political prowess for their job
security and pay rates, we must ask how successful were they? By the
early twentieth century their pay scales were probably at least average.
Peter Baskerville has discovered the Irish Catholics in urban Canada in
1901 were about average in terms of both family incomes and standards of
living. My analysis of Iowa data in 1915 shows the Irish Catholics had
slightly above average incomes, but that additional years of schooling
helped them less than other groups. This suggests that group solidarity
was a powerful force for uplift, but it improved the status of the group
as a unit rather than as an average of separate individuals.
Autobiographies of overly ambitious youth relate how they were harassed
by their classmates and warned against the sin of pride by the priest
Peter Baskerville, "Did Religion Matter?: Religion and Wealth in
Urban Canada at the Turn of the Twentieth Century," (unpublished
paper); Joel Perlmann and Waldinger, Roger, "Second Generation
Decline? Children of Immigrants, Past and Present: A
Reconsideration," International Migration Review (1997)
31:893-922; Perlmann, Ethnic Differences: Schooling and Social
Structure among the Irish, Italians, Jews and Blacks in an American
City, 1880-1935 (1989).
- Did actual "No Irish" signs exist? The evidence is overwhelming,
- Other ethnic groups also had a strong recollection of discrimination
but never report such signs. Were the signs used only against Irish
ads for personal household workers (nannies, cooks, maids,
companions) sometimes specified religion or ethnicity. "Protestant
Only" was common enough; "No Irish" was not. Intimate
household relationships were delicate matters for some, but the vast
majority of maids in large cities were Irish women, so there cannot have
been many matrons refusing to hire them.
Faye E. Dudden, Serving Women: Household Service in
Nineteenth-Century America (1983), ch. 2.]
- A search of all the text of the several hundred thousand pages of 19c
magazines and books online at Library of Congress, Cornell and Michigan,
turns up a dozen offhand references to the slogan; (do a search at Cornell
- The earliest unquestioned usage found comes from the English
novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, using the phrase in Pendennis
an 1848 novel of growing up in London in the 1820s.
first American usage was a printed song-sheet, dated Philadelphia,
1862, online at Library of Congress. It is a reprint of a
British song sheet. The narrator is a maid looking for a job in
London who reads an ad in London Times and sings about Irish
pride. The last verse was clearly added in America.
online at http://memory.loc.gov/rbc/amss/cw1/cw104040/001q.gif
Library of Congress.
NO IRISH NEED APPLY.
Written and sung by Miss KATHLEEN O'NEIL.
WANTED.--A smart active girl to do the general housework of a
large family, one who can cook, clean plates, and get up fine
linen, preferred. N. B.--No Irish need apply...........London
Times Newspaper, Feb. 1862.
I'm a simple Irish girl, and I'm looking for a place, I've felt
the grip of poverty, but sure that's no disgrace, 'Twill be long
before I get one, tho' indeed it's hard I try, For I read in each
advertisement, "No Irish need apply."
Alas! for my poor country, which I never will deny, How they
insult us when they write, "No Irish need apply." Now I wonder
what's the reason that the fortune-favored few, Should throw on
us that dirty slur, and treat us as they do, Sure they all know
Paddy's heart is warm, and willing is his hand, They rule us, yet
we may not earn a living in their land,
.... Ah! but now I'm in the land of the "Glorious and Free," And
proud I am to own it, a country dear to me, I can see by your
kind faces, that you will not deny, A place in your hearts for
Kathleen, where "All Irish may apply." Then long may the Union
flourish, and ever may it be, A pattern to the world, and the
"Home of Liberty!"
1862 or 1863 New York City songsheet with ur-text that was the basis
of all later versions, is online at Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/rbc/amss/as1/as109730/001q.gif
NO IRISH NEED APPLY. Written by JOHN F. POOLE, and sung,
with immense success, by the great Comic-Vocalist of the age,
I'm a dacint boy, just landed from the town of Ballyfad;
I want a situation: yis, I want it mighty bad.
I saw a place advartised. It's the thing for me, says I;
But the dirty spalpeen ended with: No Irish need apply.
Whoo! says I; but that's an insult -- though to get the place I'll try.
So, I wint to see the blaggar with: No Irish need apply.
I started off to find the house, I got it mighty soon;
There I found the ould chap saited: he was reading the TRIBUNE.
I tould him what I came for, whin he in a rage did fly:
No! says he, you are a Paddy, and no Irish need apply!
Thin I felt my dandher rising, and I'd like to black his eye--
To tell an Irish Gintleman: No Irish need apply!
I couldn't stand it longer: so, a hoult of him I took,
And I gave him such a welting as he'd get at Donnybrook.
He hollered: Millia murther! and to get away did try,
And swore he'd never write again: No Irish need apply.
He made a big apology; I bid him thin good-bye,
Saying: Whin next you want a bating, add: No Irish need apply!
Sure, I've heard that in America it always is the plan
That an Irishman is just as good as any other man;
A home and hospitality they never will deny
The stranger here, or ever say: No Irish need apply.
But some black sheep are in the flock: a dirty lot, say I;
A dacint man will never write: No Irish need apply!
Sure, Paddy's heart is in his hand, as all the world does know,
His praties and his whiskey he will share with friend or foe;
His door is always open to the stranger passing by;
He never thinks of saying: None but Irish may apply.
And, in Columbia's history, his name is ranking high;
Thin, the Divil take the knaves that write: No Irish need apply!
Ould Ireland on the battle-field a lasting fame has made;
We all have heard of Meagher's men, and Corcoran's brigade.*
Though fools may flout and bigots rave, and fanatics may cry,
Yet when they want good fighting-men, the Irish may apply,
And when for freedom and the right they raise the battle-cry,
Then the Rebel ranks begin to think: No Irish need apply
H. DE MARSAN, Publisher,
54 Chatham Street, New York.
men and Corcoran's brigade were Irish Catholic combat units raised
in New York City in summer 1862. After Lincoln issued the
preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept 22, 1862, support
from Irish Catholics fell off drastically, suggesting that the
song was written before then. For the Irish mood see Iver
Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance
for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War
After a few rounds of singing and drinking, you could easily read
the sign. After a few more rounds you could see the leprechaun.
Note that in the Philadelphia version, Poole changed the
London maid to a newly arrived country boy; the maid lamented, but
the lad fights back vigorously. This is a song to encourage
bullies. Note the reference to New York Tribune newspaper,
the leading Republican paper of the day; note also that he starts
his job search in a new country by looking at the newspaper ads,
which is very unlikely for a new arrival from a remote village.
The narrator is male but the ad still seems to be for a
houseworker, because it gives the house address. The term
"donnybrook" for a fracas dates from the 1850s; "Spalpeen"
means rascal and was current only in Ireland; "Millia murther"
meant million murders.
There are two versions available through www.napster.com. That by
Brendan Nolan is a variant
of the Poole version. [ control-R to hear it again]
of the song mid 1860s;
330 more Irish
British reference to a slogan used decades earlier p 358
short story used to show prejudice of a crooked politician p 447
amusing 1876 usage by novelist Henry James, Jr. in The American,
showing tolerance p 669
reference in Catholic magazine to high rates of larceny by Irish
maids in England p45-46
account on why Chinese make better houseworkers in San Francisco p
is an explicit reference by an Irish priest in a Catholic magazine
of 1881, referring to an era 40 years before: page 849
American short story ridiculing prejudice p 822
article from Cornhill Magazine (London) saying the prejudice
has ended and Irish are now welcome p 447
- Recollection is a group phenomenon--especially in a community so well
known for its conviviality and story telling. Congressman Tip O'Neill of
Massachusetts grew up hearing horror stories of how the terrible
Protestants burned down the convent & school run by the Catholic
Ursuline nuns. When O'Neill went to college he was astonished to read in
a history book that it happened a century earlier in 1834 -- he had
assumed it was a recent event.
[John A. Farrell, Tip O'Neill (2001) p 55 - an
excellent source. O'Neill, Farrell says, "also saw the No Irish
signs" - which since he was born in 1913, would have been circa
1920s; but Farrell does not quote O'Neill directly on this. Scientific
Americana national magazine for machinists and factory owners,
often carried help-wanted ads in the 1840s and 1850s, with no
Anti-Irish sentiment was strongest from 1830s to 1870s. Any signs
would have happened then, and it's inconceivable that any business in
Boston put one out in 1920. Can you imagine what the Irish toughs would
have done? -- People who "remember" the signs in the 20th
century only remember the urban legend.
When did the slogan become current? We have two bits of negative
evidence in 1862-63 indicating that it was not salient with people
highly conversant with Irish American affairs. First note the last
stanza of the 1862 London song shown above. If the slogan had been
current in America surely the songwriter would not have included the
line "you will not deny, A place in your hearts for Kathleen, where
'All Irish may apply.' " The second evidence comes from the
Confederacy in 1863. The Rebels hailed the draft riots in the North. A
major editorial in
the Richmond Enquirer May 29, 1863 gives plenty of reasons
for the Irish to hate the Yankees-- convent burnings, church burnings,
and all that. There is no mention of the sign or slogan--probably
because the Poole song had not yet reached Richmond. The Irish
image in the popular media has been a topic of interest for historians.
As Lewis P. Curtis showed in Apes and Angels: The Irishman in
Victorian Caricature (1971) Punch magazine in London
commissioned many cartoons denigrating the Irish in every way possible,
and making them look like monkeys. The German-American cartoonist Thomas
Nast picked up the device. Otherwise there were no references to the
Irish as "Simian" or subhuman in the American literature. See
the British cartoons; or the cartoons in this teaching
unit; . Anthony
Wohl reviews the British hostility towards the Irish
& anti-Catholicism bibliography.
- Irish in
. Dale T. Knobel, Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality
in Antebellum America (1986) grossly exaggerates the ridicule
toward the Irish--even to the point of reprinting cartoons that had
nothing to do with the Irish, after removing the captions. Knobel
selected a couple hundred publications (he never says exactly how
many), and found 1592 references to the Irish over the years
1820-1860. Many sources, such as melodramas with an Irish character,
had numerous references, and each was counted as a separate
"unit-perception." In all he found 392 different descriptive
advectives, and coded them according using a scheme developed by a
psychologist for the language in use a century later. Knobel found a
small (statistically insignificant) increase in emphasis on physical
characteristics in the depiction of Irish in melodrama and popular
fiction in the 1850s (p 194). He then rebuilt his thesis around this
tiny effect; he failed to follow proper research design by not taking
a larger sample to see if the effect was caused by sampling error. (He
only looked at 33 melodramas, and trhen split them three ways, so his
N is around 12.) Likewise he divided his 30 school texts into three
groups, On the whole, Knobel's statistical research design is very
week. (For more on the problem of content analysis, see Charles Dollar
and Richard Jensen, Historian's Guide to Statistics (1971).
Knobel's own data reveal that physical references to the Irish were declining
in three of the seven categories of writing, including newspapers and
popular nonfiction. He mentions adjectives that he found only once --
such as "Simian," "bestial," "savage,"
"brutish" and "low-browed" and many readers have
assumed these were "typical" descriptions of the Irish. In
contrast to his few sources this project examined 14,000 books and
magazine articles, with 48,000 references to the Irish. We used the
amazing searchable indexes at the Making of America project at Michigan
and Cornell ,
which of course was not available when Knovbel wrote. We can report
that Americans rarely or never refered to Blacks as "smoked
Irish"; they did not call the Irish "white Negroes" nor
characterize them as "Simian," "bestial,"
"savage," or "low-browed." Our search exactly one
reference to "low browed" (p
267 in an 1857 humorous essay full of vast exaggerations ), and
one in to "Simian" (by William
Dean Howells , p. 191, in 1891, commenting on the British
cartoonists.) Knobel's misreadfing of the evidence was perpetuated by
David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the
American Working Class (1991) and Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish
Became White (1995) who uncritically used page 88 of Knobel
(which, however, is highly ambigous and misleading in the first
For best recent study Ron Bayor and Timothy Meagher, eds. The
New York Irish (Johns Hopkins UP: 1996), especially Hasia Diner,
"'The Most Irish City in the Union': The Era of Great Migration,
1844- 1877" pp 87-106. For conditions in Ireland and the mind-set
of the immigrants, see Miller, Emigrants and Exiles. Miller
shows that the Catholics felt exiled from their native land, driven
out by malevolent Protestants. At the same time the Orange
Protestants became much more hostile to the Catholics; they were a
strong factor in Canada, and weak in the USA. "The
Irish in Britain, 1750-1922 A Bibliographic Essay" by Donald
MacRaild is an excellent guide to the scholarship.
- So where does this urban myth come from? There actually were
handwritten signs in a few London homes in the 1820s seeking non-Irish
maids. The slogan became a cliche in middle class Britain for hostility
to the Irish. Tens of thousands of middle class English migrated to
America, and it is possible a few used the same sort of handwritten sign
in the 1830-1850 period. Few Irish saw them but the old British cliche
was probably known in America. There never were printed signs; they were
never used at places of employment other than private homes. The Irish
drinking songs of 1862, especially the second one, popularized the
phrase. The key change that made the second version such a hit was
gender reversal--the London song lamented the maid's troubles, the
Philadelphia one was a call for irishmen to assert their manhood in
defiance of a cowardly enemy. By 1863 every Irishman knew and resented
the slogan--and it perhaps helped foment the draft riots that year. The
Irish needed a sense of victimhood beyond
memories of maltreatment in Ireland.
- Political mobilization against the Irish was never successful. The
most important effort was the Know Nothing movement, which swept the
Northeast and South in 1854-56. It was a poorly led grass roots movement
that generated no significant or permanent anti-Catholic or anti-Irish
legislation. There was no known employment discrimination. Know-Nothing
employers, for example, were never accused of firing their Irish
employees. The Know-Nothings were primarily a purification movement.
They believed all politicians were corrupt, the Democrats were the
worst, and that the Irish support for Democrats, plus their growing
numbers, made them highly suspect. The party was strongest in the South
where it was the anti-Democratic party but only slightly anti-Catholic.
Ray Billington concludes "The almost complete failure of the
Know-Nothings to carry into effect the doctrines of anti-Catholic and
anti-foreign propagandists contributed to the rapid decline of this
Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860 (1938),
407, and geographical maps 405-6. Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and
Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's
Likewise there were no visible effects of the APA movement of the 1890s,
or the KKK in the 1920s. The conclusion is that, despite occasional
temptations, Americans considered their "equal rights"
republicanism to be incompatible with systematic economic or political
discrimination against the Irish.
Given the overlap of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudice how can
historians tell the difference? In both cases, the anti's will attack on
political grounds--elections, candidates, appointments, bosses,
machines, election frauds, registration laws, civil service reform.
Anti-catholics would focus on certain issues, such as the Papacy, the
power of priests and bishops, saints and Mariolatry, parochial schools,
sacramentalism, convents, and Bible-reading.
Jenny Franchot, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter
with Catholicism (1993); Billington, Protestant Crusade;
Ward M. McAfee, Religion, Race, and Reconstruction: The Public
School in the Politics of the 1870s (1998). American scholars are
laggard compared to the excellent work done in Britain and Canada: D.
G. Paz, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian England
(1992); John D. Brewer and Gareth I. Higgins, "Understanding
anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland," Sociology, (1999)
33:235-261; J. R. Miller, "Anti-Catholic Thought in Victorian
Canada," Canadian Historical Review, (1985), 66:474-494;
Mark McGowan, The Waning of the Green: Catholics, the Irish and
Identity in Toronto, 1887-1922 (1999); Terence Punch,
"Anti-Irish Prejudice in Nineteenth century Nova Scotia: The
Literary and Statistical Evidence," in Thomas P. Power, ed., The
Irish in Atlantic Canada, 1780-1900 (1991).
People who were anti-Catholic might well have concentrated only on the
Irish in Boston, but in other cities they surely would have dealt with
significant numbers of non-Irish Catholics. The Germans in New York,
Newark, Buffalo, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Louisville, Detroit,
Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis would be an obvious target for
anti-Catholic employment discrimination. There is no evidence whatever
of that--the Germans never complained about "No Germans Need
Apply" signs. The Germans thought themselves under attack by the
prohibition movement, and in 1917-18 they came under intense hostile
scrutiny for their ethnicity and possible loyalties to the Kaiser.
The sense of victimhood among American ethnic groups varied greatly.
It was highest groups who lived in high-tension local situations with
neighbors they feared, such as Irish, African Americans, Jews, Japanese
Americans, and white Southerners (after Reconstruction). However, it
seems to be much lower among Mormons and German Americans, who were
targets primarily of federal wrath. The Chinese Americans seem also to
have relatively low levels of perceived victimhood, perhaps because they
systematically walled themselves off from very hostile neighbors after
- Were Irish men the victims of job discrimination in reality? That was
possible without any signs of course. The evidence is exceedingly
thin--the Irish started *very* poor and worked their way up slowly, all
along believing that the Protestant world hated them and blocked their
every move. Contemporary observers commented that the Protestant Irish
were doing well in America, but that preindustrial work habits were
blocking progress for the Catholics. As Thernstrom has shown, Irish had
one of the lowest rates of upward mobility. "[[add 1900 mobility
Miller, Emigrants and Exiles 268-70, 273-4; 314-23; Stephan
Thernstrom, The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the
American Metropolis, 1880-1970 (1973); Joseph P. Ferrie, "The
Entry into The U.S. Labor Market of Antebellum European Immigrants,
1840-1860," Explorations in Economic History (1997)
34:295-330; Ferrie, "Up and out or Down and Out? Immigrant
Mobility in the Antebellum United States," The Journal of
Interdisciplinary History (1995) 27:33-55.
By the early 20th century major corporations had personnel
offices and written procedures. After 1910 policy became oriented toward
reducing expensive turnover--welfare capitalism was designed to produce
loyal long-term workers. If the Irish had a reputation for being
uncooperative, the personnel managers never commented upon it. Job
discrimination against blacks and Asians continued, and was quite
visible in the corporate records and the media. Discrimination against
newer immigrant groups can be identified as late as 1941 (when it was
banned for government contract holders). No trace of anti-Irish
hostility has turned up in the corporate records of the literature of
Thomas N. Maloney , "Personnel Policy and Racial Inequality in
the Pre-World War II North," The Journal of Interdisciplinary
History, (1999) 30:235-57; Daniel Nelson, Managers and Workers:
Origins of the New Factory System in the United States 1880-1920
(1975); Sumner Slichter, "The Management of Labor," Journal
of Political Economy, (1919) 27:813-839; Slichter, "The
Current Labor Policies of American Industries," Quarterly
Journal of Economics, (1929), 43: 393-435; Sanford Jacoby, Employing
Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in
American Industry, 1900-1945 (1985); Richard W. Steele, "No
Racials": Discrimination Against Ethnics in American Defense
Industry, 1940-42," Labor History (1991) 32):66-90. When
job discrimination ends--as it largely did against Catholics in
Northern Ireland after 1972, the statistics show a rapid equalization
of social status. Richard Breen, "Class Inequality and Social
Mobility in Northern Ireland, 1973 to 1996," American
Sociological Review, (2000) 65:392-406.
A likely explanation is the strong group ethos that encouraged
Irish to always work together, and resist individualistic attempts to
break away. (The slogan tells them that trying to make it in the Yankee
world is impossible anyway.) No other European Catholic group seems to
have shared that chip on the shoulder (not the Germans or Italians--not
even strongly anti- Irish groups such as the French Canadians).
Historians agree the *political* hostility against the Irish in the
Civil War Era was real enough. Critics argued that the Irish were
corrupt and priest-controlled, and did not support true republican
values. The Irish could shoot back that The Enemy did not practice equal
rights. The Irish community used the allegation of job discrimination on
the part of the Other to reinforce political solidarity among (male)
voters, which in any case was very high indeed-- the highest for any
political group in American history before the 1960s.
Kevin Blackburn, "The Protestant Work Ethic and the
Australian Mercantile Elite, 1880-1914," Journal of Religious
History, (1997) 21:193-208, demonstrates the Irish did not share
the individualistic work ethic of their Protestant neighbors in
- Then (and now) the greatest tension was between the Catholic Irish and
the Protestant (Orange) Irish. The latter group called themselves Irish
and would not have set up "No Irish" signs. The literature of
the Irish Protestants never mentions the existence of "No Irish
Need Apply." Perhaps it is because there was scant ethnic
discrimination against the Irish. Any historian can easily see job
discrimination in the 19th century against blacks and Chinese (the
latter indeed led by the Irish in California). No one has spotted job
discrimination against the Irish Catholic men, except the Irish
Catholics themselves. That is perhaps why this urban legend did not die
out naturally. Protestant factory owners could not soften the tensions
by removing signs that never existed.
- My conclusion is that the slogan may have appeared before 1830 in
London orally or in newspaper ads, to warn away Irish maids. Handwritten
signs in the windows of London homes advertising for maids may have
contained the slogan. Signs regarding men were apparently nonexistent in
the US-- though discrimination against women household workers appeared
in newspaper want ads. The Irish took a London song about women and
turned it into a potent symbol of discrimination against Irish men. It
was the song that carried the myth, not visual sightings. The slogan
served both to explain their poverty and to identify a villain who it
was all right to beat up on sight-- a donnybrook for the foes of St.
Patrick. The myth justified bullying strangers and helped sour relations
between Irish and everyone else.
William Cardinal O'Connell of Boston reveled in the memories of his
boyhood, when he and his chums would refuse to endure "Puritan
Yankee jeers and taunts," and that often would mete out a few
retaliatory "cuffing(s), blows, and bloody noses." William
Henry O'Connell, Recollections of Seventy Years. (1934) pp.
35-39. Chicago's first mayor Daley built his political reputation as a
gang leader circa 1919, with perhaps some involvement in the Chicago
race riot that year, as revealed by chapter
1 from Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, American Pharaoh: Mayor
Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation (2000). .
The authors note, "Daley's childhood catechism of Irish
deprivations left him convinced that no group had suffered as his
kinsmen had suffered. In the 1960s, when Daley was turning a deaf ear
to the civil rights movement, one liberal critic opined: 'I think one
of the real problems [Daley] has with Negroes is understanding that
the Irish are no longer the out-ethnic group.'"
Perhaps the slogan has reemerged in recent years as the Irish feel
the political need to be bona-fide victims. (You can find hundreds of
references on the Internet at http://www.google.com ) The
Potato Famine makes them victims, of course, but it will not do to
have the villains overseas. There must be American villains.
- If we conclude the Irish were systematically deluding themselves over
a period of a century or more about their #1 symbol of job
discrimination, the next question to ask is, was it *all* imaginary or
was there a real basis for the collective chip on the shoulder about the
economic hostility of Protestants to Irish aspirations. Historians need
to be critical. Because a group truly believes it was a victim, does not
make it so. On the other hand, the Irish chip-on-the-shoulder attitude
may have generated a high level of group solidarity in both politics and
the job market, which could have had a significant impact on the on the
occupational experience of the Irish.
How successful were the Irish in the job market? Observers noticed
that the Irish tended to work in equalitarian collective situations,
such as labor gangs, longshoremen crews, construction crews, or with
strong labor unions, usually in units dominated numerically and
politically by Irishmen. Wage rates were often heavily influenced by
collective activity, such as boycotts, strikes and union contracts, or
by the political pressures that could be exerted on behalf of employees
in government jobs, or working for contractors holding city contracts,
or for regulated utilities such as street railways and subways.
first chapter of Divided We Stand (2001), by Bruce
Nelson, provides an excellent discussion of the collective work
culture of longshoremen, 95% of whom were Irish in New York.
The first arrivals formed all-Irish work crews for construction
companies in the building of railroads in the 1830s. Sometimes the Irish
managed to monopolize a specific labor market sector-- they comprised 95%
of the canal workers by 1840, and 95% of the New York City
longshoremen by 1900. The monopoly of course facilitated group action,
and once a crossing point was reached it was possible to exclude
virtually all Others. In many cities Irish women comprised a majority of
household employees, but unlike the menfolk they do not seem to have
engaged in collective action (which of course would have been very
difficult in the first place.) Solidarity (with or without formal union
organization) made for excellent bargaining power, augmented as needed
by the use of intimidation, strikes, arson, terrorism and destructive
violence to settle any grievances they may have had with their
employers, not to mention internal feuds linked to historic feuds back
in Ireland. National attention came when the railroads and coal
companies confronted and finally destroyed the "Molly Maguires"
who had engaged in aggressive and even murderous job control practices
in the 1870s.
Matthew E. Mason, "The Hands Here Are Disposed to Be
Turbulent": Unrest among the Irish Trackmen of the Baltimore and
Ohio Railroad, 1829-1851," Labor History (1998) 39:
253-72. Peter Way, "Shovel and Shamrock: Irish Workers and Labor
Violence in the Digging of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal," Labor
History (1989) 30:489-517. As historian Julie Green has noted,
"In the anthracite coalfields of northeastern Pennsylvania during
the 1860s and 1870s, the Molly Maguires took action on their
workplace-based grievances, committing intimidation, physical
assaults, arson, industrial sabotage, and murder. The Irishmen who
participated in these actions felt squeezed by unrelenting employers,
hostile police and politicians, and ethnic-based discrimination."
Labor History, (1999) 40:548.
The Irish were not privy to the private letters of management-- but
historians are, They never mention the desirability of not hiring
Irish--though they were often keen about blackballing strikebreakers.
See Thomas C. Cochran, Railroad Leaders 1845-1890 (1953); James
R. Barrett, "Unity and Fragmentation: Class, Race and Ethnicity
on Chicago's South Side, 1900-1922," Journal of Social History
(1984) 18:37-55; Licht, Working for the Railroad.
Can we prove there was no job discrimination against the Irish. Zero
is too hard to "prove" -- though no historian has found any
evidence of any actual discrimination by any business or factory. The
main "evidence" referenced in the literature is three fold:
First, The ubiquitous "No Irish Need Apply" signs.
Second, statements about how nasty the Irish were. Now indeed the
19th century literature is filled with eyewitness and statistical
descriptions of Irish drunkenness, crime, violence, poverty, extortion,
insanity, ignorance, political corruption and lawless behavior. The
reports come from many cities, from
Catholics and non-Catholics, social scientists and journalists,
Irish and non-Irish. The question is not whether the Irish were loved
and admired. (They were not.) The question is whether there was a
significant amount of job discrimination that held them back.
Knobel, Paddy and the Republic; Carl Siracusa, A Mechanical
People: Perceptions of the Industrial Order in Massachusetts,
1815-1880 (1979). "The
Sanitary and Moral Condition of New York City." Catholic World
(August, 1869) 9:553-566.
Third, statistical evidence that the Irish had lower rates of upward
social mobility than average, in the 1850-1880 period. The assumption is
that the Irish must have been held back by something. Was it internal or
external, or just random historical luck? Given the 20th century success
story of the Irish-- they are among the wealthiest groups today--the
disability or discrimination ended somewhere along the line.
See comparative data across ethnic groups and cities in Kathleen Neils
Conzen, Immigrant Milwaukee, 1836-1860 (1976)
Many different models can explain the Irish condition:
- Lack of "capital"
1) lack of human capital, low levels of industrial skills; low
schooling. The Irish who arrived in the 1840s and 1850s came with
few skills, while the British and Germans who came at the same time
brought much more human capital. Thus the distribution of human
capital can be said to have allocated Irish to unskilled jobs, and
other immigrants to more skilled opportunities. By 1890 the Irish
had acquired some schooling and skills, while the newcomers were
primarily unskilled peasants from southern and eastern Europe. The
latter groups moved into the unskilled jobs while the Irish moved
up. In the coal fields, with very few job opportunities above the
level of unskilled miner, the arrival of new competitors led to
significant tensions and violence. In some cases the new competitors
were more skilled than the Irish; thus the Swedes who came to
Worcester in the late 19th century displaced the less skilled Irish
in the metals factories.
Miller, Meagher; Jensen
2) continued low levels of education? The Irish spent a great
deal of money and energy building parochial schools and colleges. To
a considerable extent the goal was preservation and protection of
traditional religious values, and the creation of a social system
that would discourage intermarriage. However the schools did follow
a standardized curriculum that literacy and learning skills.
3) Internal self-defeating factors, such as heavy alcoholism,
weak motivation, poor work habits. This was widely commented on
regarding 19th century Irish, but not much reported in 20th century.
Richard Stivers, Hair of the Dog: Irish Drinking and Its
American Stereotype. (2nd ed. 2000).
4) Lack of financial capital for entrepreneurs; very few Irish
Timothy J. Meagher, Inventing Irish America: Generation,
Class, and Ethnic Identity in a New England City, 1880-1928
Construction contracting seems to have been the only
business in which they had any significant ownership role, and that
depended on control of labor and access to government contracts
rather than financial capital. The Irish did operate many saloons,
but they were financed by the German brewers and generated little
new capital for the community.
Dennis Clark, "Ethnic Enterprise and Urban Development,"
Ethnicity (1978) 5:108-118; Perry Duis, The Saloon
Walter Licht, Getting Work Philadelphia, 1840-1950 (1992),
- ) Non-individualistic goals
1) emphasis on non-career advancement (advance via politics; home
ownership stressed by Thernstrom)
2) talent directed to government jobs that usually have a tight
upper income boundary
3) the community shares its wealth-- this can be done for example
by extensive charity (Mormon tithing), or by heavy gambling that
redistributes earned $$ in random fashion. Irish levels of charity
were moderately high (especially donations to the church). Heavy
gambling was reportedly characteristic of black and Chinese
communities, but not so much the Irish.
4) non-economic goals--religion, piety, priests and nuns. A very
large proportion of talented Irish youth went into very low paying,
very high prestige religious careers. Priests and bishops rather
than business entrepreneurs.
- ) Kinship and community factors
1) Weak Family Ties: (that is fathers and uncles don't assist
their kin). Family ties seem reasonably strong.
2) Kinship ties too strong
a> Too much child labor. Did they tend to remove kids from
schools to put them to work early? (This would produce ready funds
for home ownership, but less long-run human capital. Irish seem to
have high rates of school attendance, at least to age 14.
David W. Galenson, "Ethnic Differences in Neighborhood
Effects on the School Attendance of Boys in Early Chicago,"
History of Education Quarterly (1998) 38:17-35; Galenson,
"Neighborhood, and the School Attendance of Boys in
Antebellum Boston," Journal of Urban History, (1998)
24:603-26; Joel Perlmann, Ethnic Differences: Schooling and
Social Structure among the Irish, Italians, Jews, and Blacks in
an American City, 1880-1935 (1988), re Providence; Steven
Herscovici, "Ethnic Differences in School Attendance in
Antebellum Massachusetts: Evidence from Newburyport,
1850-1860," Social Science History (1994),
Special family needs, especially sending funds to Ireland for
subsistence and bringing over more relatives. This was a major
factor down to 1880s.
In some cultures, when one person gets money he must share it
widely with relatives. Not especially noticeable among Irish.
3) collective spirit--the group as a whole moves ahead,
individual initiative discouraged; a peasant attitude noted by many
historians, & emphasized by Miller.
Pete Hamill, growing up in Brooklyn in 1940s:
This was part of the most sickening aspect of
Irish-American life in those days: the assumption that if you
rose above an acceptable level of mediocrity, you were guilty
of the sin of pride. You were to accept your place and stay
in it for the rest of your life; the true rewards would be
given to you in heaven, after you were dead There was
ferocious pressure to conform, to avoid breaking out of the
pack; self-denial was the supreme virtue . . . it was
arrogant, a sin of pride, to conceive of a life beyond the
certainties, rhythms, and traditions of the Neighborhood.
Sometimes the attitude was expressed directly. . . . More
often, it was implied. But the Neighborhood view of the world
had fierce power. Who did I think I was?
Hamill, A Drinking Life: A Memoir (1994) 110-11.
Lloyd I. Rudolph, "The Modernity of Tradition: The Democratic
Incarnation of Caste in India," American Political Science
Review, 59 (Dec. 1965) 97:5-89, on upward mobility of entire
caste sticking together
- Bad historical luck: locked into wrong skills or geography
A group clings far too long to old-fashioned skills that were
dead-end or slow growth, or attached to businesses or geographical
areas that grow very slowly. This may have happened to the Germans,
and certainly did happen in the 20th century to coal miners. The
Irish however, were noted for changing jobs, moving to new
neighborhoods or cities, and abandoning trades.
- Outside hostility or specific discrimination
1) Mobs or intense public opinion force factories to fire (or not
hire) a hated group. This certainly happened to blacks and
Chinese--with the Irish leading the mobs. There is zero evidence
of mobs against Irish employment, although there were some
anti-Catholic mob attacks on church institutions in 1830s and
- Perhaps businessmen decided Irish were unacceptable and decide
not to hire any? Zero evidence for this and vast evidence
against this model. Beginning with Samuel Slater, New England
entrepreneurs built hundreds of textile mills in the ante-bellum
period. Although at first eager to use Yankee girls (the famous
"Lowell Girls") they quickly discovered that most of
their workers were Irish and French Canadian immigrants. Their
response? They built more mills, often in small towns that had
been 100% Yankee. They counted on a steady flow of Irish
workers, borrowing millions of dollars to create these jobs.
Once the Irish did have mill jobs they were four times more
likely to put their children to work in the there than
Yankees--rather odd behavior if they were mistreated so badly.
Jonathan Prude, The Coming of Industrial Order: Town and
Factory Life in Rural Massachusetts, 1810- 1860 (1983)
demonstrates good relations between the mill owners and the
Irish. Also see Siracusa, A Mechanical People ; Brian
C. Mitchell, The Paddy Camps: The Irish of Lowell, 1821-61
- Perhaps foremen and superintendents hired Irish for low level
jobs but deliberately held them back or promote them very
slowly? Major research projects by Tamara Hareven (dealing with
Amoskeag, the largest textile mill in the world), and Walter
Licht, dealing with internal promotion system in railroads,
finds zero evidence of this. Business historians and biographers
have turned up no instances of systematic anti-Irish
discrimination by any employer in the US, at any time.
Walter Licht, Working for the Railroad (1983) 222-23;
Tamara Hareven, Family Time and Industrial Time (1982).
The nearest example is an 1886 newspaper report that a
Worcester, Massachusetts, factory was deliberately replacing
Irish with cheaper Swedish workers. There was considerable
tension between the groups, expressed in street violence and
politics. The Swedes, however, seem to have been rather more
skilled and better paid. The French also complained about
being replaced by Swedes. Roy Rosenzweig, Eight Hours for
What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City,
1870-1920 (1983), 88-89.
The economic theory of discrimination focuses on the
tastes of the employers, coworkers and customers, and the costs
to each (in terms of profits, wages and prices) of having a
distaste for a category of workers. If there is underemployment
of a target group in a competitive market, then some
entrepreneur can make a bigger profit by seeking out and hiring
that group. Coworkers who have a strong distaste for wortking
alongside the target can react by boycotting that employer,
forcing up his other costs. By looking at wage rates in
workplaces with different mixes of groups, economists hope to
estimate the "distaste" factor: that is, workers will
have to be paid more to work alongside a target group (and will
accept lower pay if there are no coworkers from that group.)
Estimates of the distaste factor come from a historical study
dealing with Michigan furniture workers in the 1890s. It found
that in general all groups have a preference for their own kind
as coworkers (and were willing to take a 5-10% wage cut for the
privilege of working alongside their own kind.) People who were
willing to work with outsiders were paid more.
"Distaste" for Irish was about the same as for other
groups. Overall discrimination was small--combined with language
skills and the myriad of other unmeasured factors it was less
than 5% of the average wage. Doubtless there was a tendency for
owners of small shops to hire only their own ethnicity. While
this would have the effect of excluding Irish from certain jobs,
it cannot be called "anti-Irish" in motivation.
Probably the Irish practiced closed hiring as much or more than
David Buffum and Robert Whaples, "Fear and Lathing
in the Michigan Furniture Industry: Employee-based
Discrimination a Century Ago," Economic Inquiry,
(1995) 33:234-52 finds the Irish were overpaid by 7%; Paul
McGouldrick and Michael Tannen, "Did American
Manufacturers Discriminate against Immigrants Before
1914?" Journal of Economic History, (1977), 723-46
finds virtually no discrimination. For theory see Kenneth
Arrow, "The Theory of Discrimination," in Discrimination
in Labor Markets, edited by Orley Ashenfelter and Albert
Rees, (1973) 3-33; Gary Becker, The Economics of
Discrimination, 2nd. ed. (1971); Glen
G. Cain, "The Economic Analysis of Labor Market
Discrimination: A Survey" in Orley C. Ashenfelter and
Richard Layard, eds. Handbook of Labor Economics (1986)
v1 ch 13 . On ethnic hiring, see Odd S. Lovoll, A
Century of Urban Life: The Norwegians in Chicago before 1930
(1988) 153, 159, 165;
We know from the experience of African Americans and Chinese
that the most powerful form of job discrimination came from
workers who vowed to boycott or shut down any employer who hired
the excluded class. Employers who were personally willing to
hire Chinese or blacks succumbed to the threats. There were no
claims that fellow workers refused to work alongside Irish, so
this powerful form of discrimination did not exist. On the
otherhand the Irish repeatedly attacked employers who hired
African Americans or Chinese.
Weekly reported on the anti-Chinese movement in
California. James Ford Rhodes, History of the United
States (1920) 8:186 explained:
"There were a large number of unemployed in San
Francisco, estimated when the winter came on at 15,000, a
large number for a city of about 200,000; these were willing
converts of Dennis Kearney, the leader of the Sandlotters.
Kearney was a drayman of some education who had lost money
through speculation in mining stocks and who swayed the
crowd by his inflammatory speech. "The Chinese must
go," was a favorite declaration and, from attacking the
Chinese, Kearney naturally arrived at a denunciation of
their employers. "A little judicious hanging right here
and now," he said, "will be the best course to
pursue with the capitalists and stock sharps who are all the
time robbing us." A notable event was a meeting on
October 29 (1877) on Nob Hill in front of the railroad
kings' wooden palaces. In his speech Kearney demanded that
the Central Pacific Railroad discharge all Chinese within
three months. "Recollect Judge Lynch," he said,
"and that is the judge that the working-men will want
in California if the condition of things is not
ameliorated." Kearney was arrested for incendiary
language and when released reiterated his refrain, "The
Chinese must go," and exhibiting to the Sand Lot
meeting four feet of rope with a noose declared that that
was their platform." A
detailed history of Kearneyism.
- If a group is systematically discriminated against in a
major way by many employers, it will be segregated into a
small niche, and we should be able to spot this in the
census statistics of occupation, when comparing them to
other groups, especially to British Protestant immigrants
who were not reputedly subject to discrimination. The most
useful analysis of any large city for the 19th century is
the "Philadelphia Social History Project" which
computerized hundreds of thousands of census entries. The
Irish comprised 15-30% of the labor force there. How
segregated were they, and how did the segregation decline
over time? Here is the data, using an index of how different
the Irish and others were from native Americans.
(Philadelphia was one of the few cities with a large native
American working class.) The data show the Irish were about
in the same position as German immigrants, and much less
liable to being boxed into a job niche than blacks,
Italians, Poles or Jews. The Irish were about the same as
the British in 1930, which is consistent with very little
discrimination by employers. The index is about the same for
Irish of the first and second generation (1880) and later
Irish (1930) indicating that the level of anti-Irish
discrimination did not change much over time. (I suggest it
was equally low in both 1880 and 1930).
1880 Index of dissimilarity across occupations
0 Old Stock
35 Irish-1st generation (immigrants)
34 Irish-2nd generation (their children)
37 German-1st generation
31 German 2nd generation
0 white, US born parents
source: Stephanie W. Greenberg, "Industrial Location
and Ethnic Residential Patterns in an Industrializing
City: Philadelphia, 1880," in Theodore Hershberg, ed.,
Philadelphia (1981) 215
Lifetime Earnings and return to additional schooling Iowa
Non-Farm Men, 1915
Group N $Lifetime Return ALL
909 100 10.6%
OLD STOCK 499 97 9.7%
No Religion 243 93 9.1%
Methodist 164 95 9.7% ETHNICS
410 100 10.6%
German 147 109 12.2% Lutheran
34 95 9.5% Catholic 46 106
Scandinavian 87 103 12.2%
British 58 114 14.7%
Irish Catholic 57 104 8.4%
Jensen, unpublished data. The "lifetime income"
is an index involving time discounts, and should be considered the
present value of the future income of the group, holding age constant.
"Return" is how much two additional years of high school
improved annual earnings over a lifetime.
When the Irish grumbled about "No Irish Need
Apply," they perhaps were really warning each other against taking
jobs which were controlled by Protestants and immune from the political
pressures that group solidarity could exert. There was method to the
myth, which is why it persisted so long.If the Irish turned both politics and the job market into a group
struggle, then we might expect different outcomes in situations where
the Irish were too weak to make much difference, where they had the
"right amount" of leverage, and where they were *too*
numerous. Statistical studies of social mobility in the 1850-1920 era
suggest that the Irish did best in the Midwest (where they had just the
right amount of strength), and not nearly as well in the Northeast,
where they were too numerous.
See Andrew Greeley, The Irish Americans: The Rise to Money
and Power (1981) pp 110-20; Thernstrom, Other Bostonians;
JoEllen Vinyard, "The Irish on the Urban Frontier: Detroit,
1850-1880." (PhD Michigan, 1972); David Noel Doyle, Irish-Americans,
Native Rights and National Empires; The Structure, Divisions and
Attitudes of the Catholic Minority In the Decade of Expansion,
1890-1901 (Doctoral Thesis, University of Iowa, 1976; published by
Arno); Grace McDonald, History Of The Irish In Wisconsin In The
Nineteenth Century (1954). On comparative wealth data, see Timothy
G. Conley and David W. Galenson, "Nativity and Wealth in Mid-
Nineteenth Century Cities," The Journal of Economic History,
Why the difference? (both regions were doing very well, industrializing
rapidly at that time, and the Irish theory that the Northeasterners were
especially prejudiced seems far- fetched.). Let's examine the model of
collective solidarity of the Irish in the labor market. It was a
technique to facilitate the group as a whole moving rather than
individuals. It had zero-sum properties (what one group gained others
lost). Their technique would work much better when the Irish were 10-30%
of the population, and not nearly as well when they were in a majority.
(If their numbers went above say 80%, then it was clearly
dysfunctional.) The Irish did have a numerical dominance in Boston and
other northeastern cities, such as Troy, new York. There were few rivals
to elbow out of the way, and their technique was therefore much less
Individual upward mobility was a priority for individualistic strivers
embued with the "Protestant Ethic." There is no reason to
assume it motivated the Irish. Their individual upward mobility rates
Stephan Thernstrom, Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in a
Nineteenth Century City (1964); see also Howard Gitelman, "No
Irish Need Apply: Patterns of and Responses to Ethnic Discrimination
in the Labor Market," Labor History 1973 14(1): 56-68.
Looking at Waltham, Massachusetts, 1850-90 he finds Irish avoided
on-the-job training or formal education; they stayed in the
lowest-paying, unskilled jobs.
The Irish approach discouraged entrepreneurship (which is
positive-sum). It encouraged government work and jobs (such as canal or
railroad construction, longshoremen, transit) where government contacts
or franchises were involved (thus allowing them to use their political
muscle). In order to expand their preferred job base the Irish after
1900 strongly supported expansion of government spending and government
regulation -- what John Buenker has called "urban liberalism."
They were quite effective at that -- Boston was the capital of the state
of Taxachusetts--and to this day the cost overruns on government
projects ("The Big Dig") are astronomical. Successors to the
tradition of urban liberalism, such as Speakers John McCormack and Tip
O'Neill (and Senator Ted Kennedy) could well boast of their achievements
in expanding government (or preventing its contraction) during and after
the New Deal era.
N. Clark, "The Irish Ethnic Identity and the Spirit of
Patronage" Ethnicity (1978) 2: 305-359, found municipal
spending much higher in Irish strongholds, beginning about 1880. See
also John D. Buenker, Urban Liberalism and Progressive Reform
Irish collective solidarity seems to have broken down after World War
Two, as their machines rapidly decayed, as unions entered an era of
decline, and as the Catholic school system generated high school and
college graduates well-equipped to make their way in the world on their
own, with little group support. The last Irish maids quit paid household
work during the war. As the unions weakened, the Irish abandoned blue
collar unionized jobs and joined the white collar world. With the
election of John Kennedy in 1960, Irish political solidarity climaxed,
and soon ended. Although LBJ won 78 percent of the Irish Catholics in
1964, they abandoned the party in great numbers in 1968; Mayor Daley and
other surviving machine leaders were thrown out of the national
convention in 1972. In recent decades Irish Catholics have split evenly
between the parties and no longer comprise a bloc vote. As Andrew
Greeley has pointed out, by the 1960s the Irish had moved from the very
bottom to the very top of the ladder, with an economic status that
surpassed their old Yankee antagonists.
Greeley That Most Distrustful Nation: the Taming of the
American Irish (1972) and many other reports using national survey
In conclusion, the Irish are especially important for having risen from
the bottom to the top of the ladder over a period of a century and a
half. Was it in the face of intense hostility, symbolized by the
omnipresent sign, "Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply"? The
themselves believed the sign appeared on shops and factories in every
large city, forcing them downward into the worst jobs, and represented
deliberate humiliation by arrogant Protestant Yankees. But what if there
were no such signs? The "No Irish" slogan came from John
Poole's enormously popular Irish-American song that originated about
1862. The song and slogan had the effect of reinforcing political
solidarity. It also strengthened the work- gang outlook of Irish workers
who tried to stick together at all times. It warned the Irish against
looking for jobs outside their community, and it explained their low
upward social mobility -- relatively few moved up the occupational
ladder even as the American economy grew explosively. The slogan
identified an enemy to blame, and justified bully behavior on the city
streets. Irish history is an American success story, and they no longer
need myths about "No Irish Need Apply."
I appreciate the advice from John Allswang, Tyler Anbinder,
Peter Baskerville, Leo Casey, Robert Cherny, Terry Clark, Heather
Cronrath, Maura Doherty, Jay Dolan, Elizabeth Ellis and the staff at
the Museum of the City of New York, Joe Gannon, Larry Giantomas,
Victor Greene, Susan Ikenberry, Rob Kennedy, Bill Leckie, Dale Light,
Brad McKay, Martha Mayo, Lawrence J. McCaffrey, John McClymer, Gerald
A. Regan, Joel Schwartz, Patrick O'Sullivan, and Stephan Thernstrom.