Friday, February 19, 2010

Anne's occupation was "maid"

We know from our family history about Anne that she got a job in a boarding house in Hell's Kitchen as a maid. The narrative mentions an 1870 census entry with Anne as a maid -- I cannot recreate that research but have found Anne in the 7th Ward of New York City, with baby John (2) and Mary (7) keeping house. I will keep looking for census records that add some more detail to our story.

Many Irish women who immigrated to American between 1840 and the beginning of the 20th century found work in domestic service. This type of work was well suited for unmarried women, as it often required living in (the hours and work load left no option) and the work was very available as many middle class families were anxious to employ a single servant so as to demonstrate their status.

'Bridgets' as they were called, were young girls, often from rural, simple backgrounds with limited education. Scholarship suggests that these girls arrived in America bi-lingual -- as English was already the dominant language in public areas in Ireland -- with "Irish" reserved for home conversations. These girls had limited exposure to fine dining, table manners, or any of the experiences that the urban, middle class life they were to support required.

These girls had left a culture and society that nurtured and in many cases, expected female independence. Irish literature and narratives of the time tell tales of women holding their own against men in battles of wit; a diminutive quiet lady was not the typical Irish dame.

I think the combination of culture shock, added to innate or learned feistiness (and we can perhaps assume that the MOST feisty girls emigrated from Ireland -- can't we?) collided. A Harpers Bazaar article -- dated November 11, 1871, called "Bridget" voices some complaints about Irish domestics -- they were "ignorant of names of utensils" and "ignorant of manners of the country" and "laden with an accent difficult to comprehend."

Were these insults spoken about Anne as she sat, 14 years old, away from her home, working? Did Anne speak English upon arriving? Was she learning it as she lived each day? Was Anne feisty? Was she quiet and shy, thrust into a world she could not control? Was she hard to understand? What did her voice sound like?

these ideas were developed by reading Margaret Lynch Brennan's The Irish Bridget

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