The Second Generation and Beyond

Irish immigration into the United States continued at a steady pace in the decades following the American Civil War; however, the flow of arrivals from the Emerald Isle was slowly eclipsed by the numbers of other groups from Great Britain, such as the English, Welsh, and Scots, and an increasing stream of transplants from Germany and Scandinavia between 1860 and 1890.

In 1860 the Irish comprised some 1,611,304 individuals (39%) of the nation’s foreign-born population of 4,136,175, compared with the second largest group, the Germans, who numbered some 1,276,075 (31%) of the total, and transplants from England, Scotland, and Wales, who amounted to 585,973 (14%). While the 1880s ranked second to the 1850s among decades of the highest rates of Irish emigration, the total of 1,523,734 Irish immigrants who came to the United States between 1860 and 1890 was surpassed in the same period by 2,919,384 Germans and 1,922,303 English, and was encroached upon by 976, 347 Scandinavians, and 934,084 Canadians of both English and French heritage.

By the turn of the twentieth century, however, all of these groups would be supplanted by a new flood of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and the Irish would slowly be relegated to a status as the “old immigrants.”108

Historian Maldwyn Allen Jones argues that the Civil War accelerated the acculturation of immigrants who participated in the conflict, as well as reduced nativist prejudices against them. Jones writes, “For the foreign-born the war years brought something more than a mere lessening of nativist hostility. It bought also a new prestige, an improved status, and a reoriented cultural outlook. The many thousands who fought for the Union did so upon terms of equality with the native-born population, and thus lost the sense of inferiority which had dogged them since their coming to America.”

While this was certainly true to a degree in many cases, the participation of a large number of Irish immigrants in the war certainly did not pave the way for a seamless existence and acceptance in their newly adopted home. Many Irish citizens continued to face the same hardships and prejudices in the post-war period as those who had arrived during the Great Hunger. The latter was largely due to the poverty-stricken conditions that many of the Irish continued to live in, which, combined with their substantial numbers, resulted in various degrading stereotypes related to Irish character. 109

Although the Irish were among the most prevalent and well-established of the immigrant groups who populated the United States during the second half of the twentieth century, many remained trapped in the low-skilled and menial lines of work that had been available to their forebears. A study conducted by Connecticut’s Congregational Church in 1860 highlighted many of these conditions, and native opinions of them, from the perspective of pastors across the state.

A pastor in Brooklyn commented of the town’s non-native population, “Their worldly condition is bad. Their moral and religious condition is worse.” Another in Killingly wrote that the town’s foreign born were, “generally industrious, but poor and nearly all Roman Catholics.” Plainfield’s pastor noted of the area’s predominantly Irish and French-Canadian foreign-born residents, “A few own real estate. Most of them work in the factories, are industrious, but not thriving. Nearly all are bigoted Roman Catholics.”110

Conversely, several of the respondents highlighted the conditions of a still frequently poor, yet hard-working population determined to make better lives for themselves. Newtown’s pastor wrote that, “There is no class of people in this community more industrious than the Irish... It is a common remark that they stand ready to buy up all the land thrown into market in the town. As fast as our American families fall into decay and are obliged to sell their property, the Irish catch it up. They buy poor land and by hard work improve it; and they buy good land and keep it good.” As such, the Congregational Church’s report balanced the clearly evident destitution that many of its respondents observed with the numerous instances in which Irish immigrants had broken through the glass ceilings that limited the social status of so many. The Church’s findings stated that, “It would be vain to pretend that the condition of the foreigners - especially of the Irish - population of Connecticut is not far inferior to that of the natives in almost every respect and most of all in respect to religion... Nevertheless, it gives us great pleasure to put on record the frequent testimony of pastors and others to the high and hopeful degree of worldly and moral prosperity attained by the foreign population of many towns.”111

As the decades rolled on and as second and third generations of Irish families persisted, the social conditions experienced by many improved. This was due to a range of factors. Businessmen, merchants, and industrialists became established, developers and real estate agents had lucky breaks or brilliant ideas, and the educational opportunities available to the sons and daughters of Irish immigrants, and in turn their children, provided further avenues for personal improvement.

These shifts were further aided by the increasing adroitness in which the Irish maneuvered state and local political landscapes. While the latter may not have resulted in sweeping social changes improving the lives of all Irish – or other – immigrants, the system of patronage that many were able to access via political participation opened the door to otherwise unheard of opportunities. Speaking of this phenomenon on a national scale, historian Thomas J. Archdeacon writes, “Irish politicians won the allegiance of the masses not only by capitalizing on ethnic identity but also by shrewdly employing the party apparatus to fill a void in urban America’s ability to deliver social services.

In a non-bureaucratic manner that placed a premium on personal loyalty and left much room for corruption, the party served its constituents by facilitating naturalization, finding jobs, offering relief in times of distress, and acting as an intermediary with higher authorities.” This led to both an increasing prevalence of Irish politicians, as well as the increasingly dominant position the Irish held in municipal departments, such as the police and fire services, of many American cities by the end of the twentieth century.

While the Irish held countless local political seats throughout the state during the nineteenth century, notable landmarks in their political ascendency included the election of New Haven’s first Irish Catholic and immigrant mayor, Cornelius Driscoll, in 1899; Hartford’s first Irish mayor, Ignatius A. Sullivan, in 1902; and John Dempsey (1961), the state’s first foreign-born governor since the Colonial period (See Inventory Index).112

Examples of the successes of Irish immigrants and their ancestors can be found in all corners of the state and touching all

walks of life. These range from the story of Patrick Cassidy, who arrived in the United States with his family in 1852 at the age of 13 and went on to attend medical school and then establish a private practice in Norwich; to Patrick Ward, a resident of New Haven who arrived at the age of 28 in 1848 and worked his way up from working as a laborer and teamster to being elected councilman of the city’s heavily Irish Third Ward in 1863, alderman in 1864, 1868, and 1869, and finally appointment as a city public works inspector in

1870. A more exceptional example is the story of James Farrell, who was born in New Haven to Irish immigrant parents in 1863. After moving to Pittsburgh to find work as a laborer in a wire mill, he eventually worked his way up through the industry and was named president of the U.S. Steel Company in 1911. The wealth Farrell accumulated allowed him to construct an expansive summer residence in Norwalk, Connecticut, known as Rock Ledge, between 1911 and 1913 (See Inventory Index).

The daughters of Irish immigrants also found success in a variety of areas. In 1809, Mary Dixon Kies, daughter of a Scots- Irish weaver who worked at the Ponemah Mill in Norwich (See Inventory Index), became the first American woman to be granted a United States patent. This was for a “new improvement in weaving straw with silk or thread,” a development that allowed Kies to produce inexpensive straw hats.113 As increasingly significant numbers of women found work in Connecticut’s factories during the early-20th century concern for their well being likewise became more prevalent.

The Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation establishing the office of woman deputy factory inspector for health and safety in 1907, and first-generation Irish-American Julia Corcoran from Norwich was selected for the new position.114 Another notable woman of Irish heritage was Catherine Flanagan Leary, an avid suffragist (See Inventory Index). Born in Hartford, she served as secretary of the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association, actively campaigned throughout the country in an effort to organize support for the ratification of the 19th Amendment during the 1910s, and was arrested while picketing the White House in 1917.

When Connecticut finally approved the 19th Amendment in 1919, Catherine was chosen by her fellow suffragists to carry the official copy of the State’s approval to Washington the following year.115

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