Irish Immigrants in America and Their Life in 1800 Research Paper
America is a multinational country with a very diverse culture and rich history. Since its foundation, America has been a country of immigrants. The scale of immigration from Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century is difficult to determine with sufficient accuracy. Typically, researchers begin their calculations from the mid-1840s, when relatively strict records of emigrants were established in most European countries. According to various data, in 1840’s at least 120 thousand Irish citizens entered the U.S. to avoid starving to death because of the potato famine and job shortages.
Irish immigrants take up a relatively high percentage of the American population today. As reported by the United States Census Bureau, more than 33 million of the U.S. residents claimed to have Irish ancestry. It is interesting to note that this number is seven times bigger than the population of Ireland itself (“FFF: Irish-American Heritage Month & St. Patrick’s Day”). The considerable amount of Irish who immigrated to the land of freedom and opportunity during four centuries have significantly contributed to the American culture in various fields, such as religion, journalism, sports and more. This essay will discuss and analyze different everyday life aspects of an Irish immigrant in 1800’s.
Housing, Food, and Health Care
In addition to horrible conditions during a voyage on ships, immigrants faced many challenges in finding housing, jobs and getting used to urban industry upon their arrival. Tagore said: “Because many [Irish immigrants] came to the United States as poverty-stricken individuals, they took any affordable housing they found, most of which were squalor dwellings” (15). Hence, Irish and other immigrants lived in crowded spaces in subdivided tenements, warehouses, and other buildings. For instance, a family could live in one room where kitchen and bedroom were combined. Often these dwellings were very dirty and lacked access to clean water, as well as other sanitary conditions along with adequate fire safety.
Irish immigrants arrived only with few amount of clothing to the U.S. Because they could not afford to buy new clothes, they mostly dressed in traditional clothing. A typical Irish immigrant wore a jacket, linen shirt, pants and heavy shoes, while women usually wore an apron over a long dress. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, food was usually provided by local farmers to markets. Refrigerators were not invented yet, and there were no strict regulations on food handling of products like meat. Taking into account the living conditions of immigrants, often people would get sick as a result of unsafe food. According to Baba, an average Irish immigrant family consisted of nine people that lived in one room. When migrating, parents left some of their members in Ireland and were able to bring them to America after earning money.
Living in such poor conditions led to serious health consequences. According to Brackemyre, “The increased demand for cheap housing by urban migrants led to poorly built homes that inadequately provided for personal hygiene” (par.1). Due to inadequate sanitary arrangements, infectious diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, malaria, and smallpox spread quickly and infected many people in the main urban cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago. Later, health care professionals recognized poor housing conditions as a primary reason for transmission of illnesses and took measures to improve the sewage systems. Also, the level of child mortality among immigrants was high: due to vulnerability to infectious diseases most children died before their first birthday. Young adults too died before reaching their thirties because of the exposure to infections caused by long working hours in anti sanitary conditions (Brackemyre). Thus, poor and crowded dwellings without adequate sanitary conditions and lack of appropriate food handling led to poor health in Irish immigrants resulting in the transmission of infectious diseases and even death.
Financial Standing and Education
Many historians report that in the late eighteenth century, the first wave of Irish immigrants came from educated, middle- class backgrounds such as teachers, doctors, and merchants. However, by 1840’s and 1860’s the social status of Irish immigrants changed significantly: “increasingly, emigrants from the Highlands were landless peasants and from the Lowlands unemployed craftsmen, labourers and small farmers” (Library Museum Archive 1). Hence, the majority of people that migrated from Ireland lacked both formal and practical education, were poor and had limited skills for the developed infrastructure and modern culture of America. Even, some middle- class families from Ireland were considered to be poor to the American standards. Thus, the social status of newcomers was of illiterate and poor people.
Irish immigrants brought their religion with them to the U.S. They professed Roman Catholic Church and especially needed spiritual support in their new home. According to Tagore, the church played a significant role in an Irish immigrant’s life because “it provided parochial schools, dispensed charity in many forms, and provided the counsel of priests for hardships immigrants faced in their new environment” (18). Before immigrant arrivals, Roman Catholicism was a religion of an English aristocrat minority in the United States. As more settlers arrived in the America, the Catholic Church gained its popularity, the number of followers of the Roman Catholic faith rapidly increased and became massive. Religion also served as a social agent for the Irish immigrant community and united it.
Community, Jobs, and Entertainment
Irish immigrants came to the United States in search of a better life and employment opportunities. Unfortunately, Irish were negatively stereotyped as poor, unskilled, unhealthy. Irish immigrants were ready to work at low- paid jobs, taking away jobs from Americans. For these reasons, when Irish immigrants came to America, they were treated as the lowest class of the society and were highly discriminated. Moreover, cultural and religious differences contributed to this racial discrimination because previously there already were conflicts between Irish Catholics and American Protestants. As reported by Tagore, “Certain areas attempted to restrict the sale of lots in order to keep out Catholic purchasers, and the sign “No Irish Need Apply,” were posted on some factories” (16). Also, Irish jokes that ridiculed their accent were common in the community. Irish tried hard to overcome this stigmatization in the society. They wanted to be “Americanized” and actively participated in many areas of culture, served in the Civil war, some people changed their accents, names or even religion.
In order to survive in a new home, immigrants had to find jobs. Irish immigrants mostly lived in rural areas involved in farming and agriculture. So, they lacked necessary skills to work in the industrialized factories of America. Therefore, they were willing to take any available jobs with low wages. Usually, men worked at dangerous places that required physical force. In 1800’s there was high demand for laborers to build a railroad. Many Irish men worked hot weather moving rocks to lay rails. Women just like men had tiring low-paid jobs. They usually worked as servants for rich American families or in a factory (Baba). For example, a woman working in a factory for long hours in dangerous environment earned one dollar a day. Irish children also worked in factories operating machinery. In this way, Irish immigrants were not welcomed in the community and due to the lack of skills had to work at low-paid and sometimes dangerous jobs.
Due to heavy work load, Irish women immigrants worked as much as men and had little time for entertainment and relaxation. In their free time, immigrants spend their time socializing in church. However, by 1850’s work hours were reduced and popular amusements started to gain popularity. For example, traveling shows, theaters, parks, and playgrounds were established, the interest in sports and cultural development increased, participation in the society was encouraged by newly emerged youth organizations (McLean and Hurd 89). These leisure activities allowed Irish immigrants to adapt and participate in the social life of a community.
Upon arrival to the land of opportunity, Irish immigrants had faced multiple challenges. Their living conditions were miserable and unsafe for a decent family life. Uneducated and poor immigrants had to work at dangerous jobs and were underpaid. In addition to that, they were discriminated in the American society. However, despite these difficulties, Irish immigrants managed to overcome stigmatization and had become active participants in the social and cultural life.
Baba, Mary. “90.05.07: Irish Immigrant Families In Mid-Late 19th Century America.” Teachers Institute Yale.Edu, Web.
Brackemyre, Ted. “Immigrants, Cities, and Disease.” U.S. History Scene, Web.
“FFF: Irish-American Heritage Month & St. Patrick’s Day”, United States Census Bureau, 2016, Web.
McLean, Daniel D, and Amy R. Hurd. Kraus’ Recreation and Leisure in Modern Society. Sudbury, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2012.
Library Museum Archive. Research Guide: A Brief History Of Emigration & Immigration In Scotland Emigration & Scottish Society. Web.
Tagore, Amanda A. Irish and German Immigrants of the Nineteenth Century: Hardships, Improvements, and Success. Dissertation, Pace University, 2014.
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