The untold tales of Irish women and girls who emigrated to North America within the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and fell into lives of crime and destitution are instructed in a brand new podcast. 

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In five-part collection Bad Bridget, historians Elaine Farrell, of Queen’s College Belfast, and Leanne McCormick, a lecturer in Fashionable Irish Social Historical past Ulster College, inform the tales of the younger Irish girls for whom ‘the American dream grew to become a nightmare’.  

Between 1838 and 1918 an estimated 5 million Irish individuals, many pushed by poverty brought on by a collection of failed potato harvests, left behind every little thing they knew for the promise of better prosperity within the US and Canada.

Many younger Irish girls made this journey alone, with the price of their ticket paid by households who anticipated them to discover a job and ship cash residence. Historical past remembers these girls as dutiful nuns, lecturers and servants who labored exhausting, attended church, married and raised good, God-fearing Irish American kids.

Certainly there have been so many Irish girls and ladies working in American houses within the nineteenth century that the time period ‘Bridget’ – a standard Irish title on the time – grew to become shorthand for somebody in home service.

However this picture of the virtuous, steady and productive Irish lady is much from the entire story.

Bad Bridgets: The untold stories of Irish girls and women who emigrated to North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries and fell into lives of crime and destitution are told in a new podcast. While many became servants, teachers and nuns, others found a life of destitution and crime. Pictured, stock image of household staff at a family home in Wisconsin in 1890

Unhealthy Bridgets: The untold tales of Irish women and girls who emigrated to North America within the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and fell into lives of crime and destitution are instructed in a brand new podcast. Whereas many grew to become servants, lecturers and nuns, others discovered a lifetime of destitution and crime. Pictured, inventory picture of family employees at a household residence in Wisconsin in 1890

Dr Farrell and Dr McCormick spent 5 years digging by means of police, court docket and jail data from Toronto, Boston and New York to uncover the tales of the Irish girls who grew to become pickpockets, prostitutes and even murderers as soon as they arrived in North America.

Regardless that they knew there could be a major quantity, the historians mentioned they had been overwhelmed by what number of they discovered. 

Within the 1860s, Irish girls accounted for 86 per cent of the feminine jail inhabitants in New York, regardless of making up only a quarter of the town’s inhabitants as a complete.  

Boston noticed equally stark figures. Thirty-five per cent of the 12,514 girls admitted to Boston’s Home of Correction from 1882 to 1915 had been Irish, however the Irish accounted for simply 17 per cent of the town’s inhabitants. 

Between 1860 and 1881, there have been 5,260 Irish girls imprisoned in Toronto. The determine is nearly double the mixed variety of Canadian, English and Scottish girls jailed throughout that point 

They had been additionally over-represented in asylums, workhouses and different establishments. 

The analysis types the premise for the podcast and Dr McCormick and Dr Farrell are additionally engaged on a e-book. 

In episodes like ‘The Demon Drink!’ and ‘Single Moms’, the lecturers chronicle the lives of particular person girls – like 16-year-old Rosie Quinn, who was jailed in 1903 for drowning her child in Central Park, and Mary Farmer, who was executed by electrical chair in 1909 for killing her neighbour with an axe – whereas putting them throughout the social and historic context through which they occurred. 

The Nice Famine, Irish immigration and the stress felt by girls chasing the American dream 

Victims: An image of Bridget O'Donnel and her children. Bridget's 1849 account of her family's suffering during the Great Famine made headlines in England

Victims: A picture of Bridget O’Donnel and her kids. Bridget’s 1849 account of her household’s struggling through the Nice Famine made headlines in England

The Nice Famine was a interval of deprivation and illness in Eire brought on by a collection of failed potato crops between 1845-49 that resulted in excessive poverty, mass hunger and the loss of life of round a million individuals between 1845 and 1852.

The crop failures had been brought on by late blight, a illness that destroys each the leaves and the edible roots, or tubers, of the potato plant. 

This was disastrous as by the early 1840s nearly half the Irish inhabitants—however primarily the agricultural poor— had come to rely nearly completely on the potato for his or her food plan. The remainder of the inhabitants additionally consumed it in massive portions. 

On the similar time Britain nonetheless demanded Irish farmers export meat, fish, greens and pulses to the mainland regardless of individuals ravenous. Critics declare this contributed to the deaths of hundreds extra individuals from malnutrition. 

Though the Irish had been emigrating to North America since colonial occasions, the failed harvests within the nineteenth century drove a wave of individuals to cross the Atlantic. 

Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the US. Within the 1840s, they accounted for nearly half. 

Most of the immigrants within the pre-famine years had been males trying to set up themselves within the US and Canada.

Nonetheless the make-up modified through the center of the century, when an growing variety of households and single girls made the journey. 

Dr Farrell and Dr McCormick be aware this expertise of single Irish girls emigrating alone was fairly distinctive. Girls immigrating from different components of Europe, for instance, would have most probably travelled with their households. 

Whereas nearly all of these girls would have had a contact at their vacation spot in North America, whether or not that was an employment company, sibling, or different member of the family, they often discovered themselves deserted on the port or with out an up to date handle for the individual they’d supposed to fulfill. This left them alone and weak. 

There was additionally the stress of household expectation that these girls would discover a job and earn sufficient cash to ship residence.

Within the podcast Dr Farrell and Dr McCormick inform how this led some girls who had misplaced their jobs, or couldn’t discover one, to show to intercourse work. 

The crossing: An engraving showing the conditions on a ship bound for North America from Ireland in the 1840s. A steward takes the pulse of a sick man

The crossing: An engraving displaying the circumstances on a ship sure for North America from Eire within the 1840s. A steward takes the heart beat of a sick man


Born in Cork, Maude Merrill emigrated to New York in 1870 on the age of 18. Her youthful sister, Lottie, had emigrated the yr earlier, with each sisters’ journeys being funded by their uncle Robert, who was already dwelling within the US. 

Lottie, who had already set herself up within the metropolis, helped Maude safe a job as a servant – a standard posting for younger Irish girls within the metropolis. Amongst them was a job with a neighborhood church minister named Reverend Williams. Nonetheless the posting got here to an finish after Robert turned up on the door one evening whereas drunk and accused Rev. Williams of taking ‘improper liberties’ along with his niece. 

It was the primary in a series of interference by Robert that finally led to Maude’s loss of life. 

Maude was instantly sacked by Rev. Williams. Regardless of the mark in opposition to her, Maude was in a position to safe one other job with one other lady. Dr Farrell notes this reveals simply how in demand Irish women and girls had been as housemaids on the time. As soon as once more, Maude misplaced her job because of her uncle Robert, who turned as much as the home one evening, slapped Maude and accused her of being a ‘damned whore’. 

The determined servant tried to clarify herself to her employer, however she wouldn’t hear. Maude misplaced her job. It was at this level she moved into the intercourse business.

{The teenager} moved to a couple brothels and stayed, regardless of the protestations of her sister. Whereas some girls had been pressured or tricked into turning into prostitutes, there have been additionally advantages. In Maude’s case, she was dwelling in quarters that had been properly carpeted, lavishly furnished and even had ‘lace curtains’ – a degree of consolation and luxurious far past what she would have loved as a servant. The historians be aware that Maude, at the least partly, selected to stay the place she was out of selection. 

Nonetheless Robert couldn’t settle for his niece’s way of life. One evening he made his solution to Maude’s rooms and shot her lifeless. Passing a maid on the steps on his approach out, he mentioned: ‘I’ve simply killed my niece and I’ll give myself up.’ 

His perception was that it was higher for his niece to be lifeless than to proceed to carry herself and the household into disrepute. 


Executed: Mary, who was born in Ireland and had emigrated to the US in 1901, was sentenced to death after murdering her neighbour Sarah Brennan with an axe

Executed: Mary, who was born in Eire and had emigrated to the US in 1901, was sentenced to loss of life after murdering her neighbour Sarah Brennan with an axe

Whereas Dr Farrell and Dr McCormick shrink back from speaking about murders as a result of they don’t seem to be consultant of the crimes dedicated by Irish immigrants, they do dedicate the ultimate episode of the podcast collection to 2 infamous instances. 

On Thursday 23 April 1908, Patrick Brennan returned residence from work in upstate New York to find his locks had been modified. His spouse Sarah, who ought to have been at residence, was not answering the door. 

The next day, with nonetheless no signal of his spouse, Patrick enlisted a detective for assist. The identical day he was served with eviction papers instructing him to maneuver out of the marital residence of 20 years that had been in Sarah’s title. 

Suspicion quickly turned to their next-door neighbours, James and Mary Farmer, whose names had been now on the deeds to the Brennans’ property. Mary, who was  born in Eire and had emigrated to the US in 1901, was a buddy of Sarah’s regardless of being much less properly off. 

On Saturday 25 April, two days after Sarah was final seen, the Farmers, helped by neighbours moved their modest belongings into the Brennans’ residence. Among the many gadgets was a black trunk, which was carried 80ft from one home to the opposite by two males. 

On Monday 27 April, 4 days after Sarah’s disappearance, a sheriff carried out a search of the Brennans’ former property, the place the Farmers now lived. When police broke the lock to the trunk, they discovered the physique of lacking Sarah Brennan. 

The Farmers had been arrested and charged with homicide. They went on trial individually. In a bid to defend her actions, Mary claimed Sarah had ‘requested’ to be killed as a result of she was feeling ‘sick’. Her attorneys additionally claimed Mary was mentally unfit. 

It later emerged that six months beforehand Mary had stolen the deeds to the Brennans’ property and took them to a lawyer the place she pretended to be Sarah and requested for the property to be put in James Farmer’s title. 

Each Mary and James Farmer had been discovered responsible of homicide and sentenced to loss of life. Nonetheless Mary later gave a sworn assertion through which she claimed her husband had by no means had any half in Sarah’s pre-meditated homicide. 

Mary was executed by electrical chair in 1909. James later escaped the loss of life penalty.


An image of a French sex worker from 1880, around the time Marion Canning was working and arrested in New York. She later returned to Ireland

A picture of a French intercourse employee from 1880, across the time Marion Canning was working and arrested in New York. She later returned to Eire

On a heat summer season’s night in 1891, 19-year-old Marion Canning was strolling down a Manhattan road when she encountered a person named Richard Bronkbank. 

Marion had emigrated from her residence in rural Co. Leitrim a few years earlier than however for the final six months had been ‘dwelling a lifetime of disgrace’, as she instructed Mr Bronkbank, which means she had grow to be a intercourse employee.

Mr Bronkbank instructed her he had simply landed in New York, he had been paid off a steamer that had now completed its journey. He mentioned that though he did not have any cash on him, he was going to be paid $27 the subsequent day and would give her $5, in addition to his watch as a memento. 

After they reached Marion’s residence, he requested for his $5 and watch again and accused Marion of stealing. He went outdoors, discovered a policeman and Marion was taken to the station the place she was searched however no cash was discovered. Regardless of Mr Bronkbank being unable to positively determine her, Marion was arrested and placed on trial. And not using a lawyer, Marion was left to defend herself and was discovered responsible. She was sentenced to seven years in jail. 

Nonetheless not like many different comparable tales, Marion’s has a cheerful ending. Letters discovered by Dr Farrell and Dr McCormick in an archive reveal how Marion’s father Thomas was so distraught he had written to the choose to ask for leniency and supplied to journey to New York to gather her and convey her residence. 

Too late to affect the sentencing, Mr Canning then wrote to the Governor of New York, asking for clemency. His pleas labored and the District Lawyer reviewed the case. 

The arresting policeman, who had been on vacation on the time of Marion’s trial and so had been unable to testify, mentioned he had identified of Marion earlier than the crime and attested to the truth that she ‘wasn’t of the low character’ of others within the neighborhood. He added he knew her to be of ‘respectable parentage’ and believed her ‘course in life’ – intercourse work – ‘was extra the fault of others’ than of her selection. 

The character witness and the letters from residence had been sufficient to sway the Governor and Marion was pardoned on 9 February 1893 after serving 18 months in jail.

Though Thomas did not journey to New York to gather his daughter, he did ship for her and she or he returned residence to Eire. She went on to marry.  


One of the heartbreaking tales is that of Rosie Quinn, a ‘wretchedly poor’ 16-year-old lady who was jailed for all times in 1903 for drowning her nine-day-old child in a reservoir in Central Park. 

The case prompted an outpouring of assist from members of the general public who believed the ‘naive’ teenager had fallen sufferer to a person who took benefit. 

Rosie’s boss on the lodge the place she labored wrote a letter pleading for leniency through which she mentioned Rosie was ‘unlucky in assembly a person totally with out principal and being younger in years and expertise and with out training fell a simple sufferer. Within the minds of all who knew her, she was extra sinned in opposition to than sinning.’

One other letter author described Rosie as being ‘wretchedly poor, weakened by sickness, disgraced within the eyes of the world, friendless and abandoned.’ 

One lady who had been following the case wrote to the Governor: ‘My coronary heart is burdened for that poor, ignorant Irish lady, on their own in an odd nation, abandoned by her lover and associates, that I can not relaxation.’ 

The protestations labored and Rosie was pardoned and launched from jail in December 1904 after serving 18 months of her life sentence.


Lizzie Halliday, another Irish immigrant who was arrested and tried for murder

Lizzie Halliday, one other Irish immigrant who was arrested and tried for homicide

Essentially the most excessive case tackled within the podcast is that of Lizzie Halliday, who was dubbed ‘the worst lady on Earth’ after she killed at the least 4 individuals. 

Born Eliza Margaret McNally in 1864, ‘Lizzie’ left Co. Antrim for America when she was simply three years outdated. 

She married her first husband in 1879, on the age of 15, however he died two years later. Her second husband died after lower than a yr of marriage.

There may be hypothesis about whether or not Lizzie, who was married six occasions by the age of 30, was answerable for their deaths.

She married for a 3rd time however her husband ‘abandoned’ her inside months of their marriage ceremony day. Lizzie then married for a fourth time to a person who was a veteran and a comrade of her second husband.

‘In a number of months she tried to kill Smith by giving him a cup of poisoned tea,’ the New York Instances reported in 1894. ‘Failing in her design, she fled to Bellows Falls, VT, taking together with her each moveable article in the home.’

As soon as settled in Vermont, Lizzie married for a fifth time however stayed together with her husband for simply two weeks earlier than ‘disappearing’. Her subsequent identified handle was in Philadelphia, the place she served two years in jail for burning down her store in an insurance coverage rip-off. 

After being launched from jail, she travelled to Orange County, New York, and started working as a housekeeper for a widower named Paul Halliday, who had two sons. The pair later married. 

The timeline of occasions is conflicted however sooner or later Lizzie ran off with a neighbour, stealing horses within the course of which she later offered. 

In Could 1891 Mr Halliday’s home, barn and close by mill had been set alight, killing one among his sons. Lizzie was arrested for the crime and despatched to an asylum, transferred to a different, however was later declared ‘cured’ and launched, returning residence to Halliday 

Three months later, in August 1891, Mr Halliday went lacking. Lizzie instructed neighbours he was travelling for work however they had been suspicious and notified police. 

Throughout a search of the property the our bodies of Margaret and Sarah McQuillan, the spouse and daughter of the person who had offered Lizzie a house in Philadelphia, had been found. Just a few days later police discovered the physique of Mr Halliday beneath the floorboards. Lizzie was charged with all three murders.

On June 21, 1894, Halliday was convicted for the murders of Margaret McQuillan and Sarah Jane McQuillan. She was initially sentenced to loss of life however the Governor later commuted her sentence to life in a psychological establishment after she was declared insane.

She spent the remainder of her life on the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. In 1906 she killed a nurse by stabbing her greater than 200 occasions with a pair of scissors. 

Halliday died in June 1918. 

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