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Ourselves Alone

Ourselves Alone: Women's Emigration from Ireland, 1885-1920

Copyright Date: 1989
Edition: 1
Pages: 148
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  • Book Info
    Ourselves Alone
    Book Description:

    In early April of 1888, sixteen-year-old Mary Ann Donovan stood alone on the quays of Queenstown in county Cork waiting to board a ship for Boston in far-off America. She was but one of almost 700,000 young, usually unmarried women, traveling alone, who left their homes in Ireland during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in a move unprecedented in the annals of European emigration. Using a wide variety of sources -- many of which appear here for the first time -- including personal reminiscences, interviews, oral histories, letter, and autobiographies as well as data from Irish and American census and emigration repots, Janet Nolan makes a sustained analysis of this migration of a generation of young women that puts a new light on Irish social and economic history. By the late nineteenth century changes in Irish life combined to make many young women unneeded in their households and communities; rather than accept a marginal existence, they elected to seek a better life in a new world, often with the encouragement and help of a female relative who had already emigrated. Mary Ann Donovan's journey was representative of thousands of journeys made by Irish women who could truly claim that they had seized control over their lives, by themselves, alone. This book tells their story.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4760-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Going Alone
    (pp. 1-8)

    In early April 1888, sixteen-year-old Mary Ann Donovan stood alone on the quays of Queenstown in County Cork waiting to board a ship bound for Boston in far-off America. Her parents had died a few months before, making Mary Ann and her brother John the only members of the family remaining in Ireland. Older sister Ellen had already gone to America. Her letters home were bright spots in the Donovan household in Skibbereen and were eagerly read when the “man with the letters from Bandon” made his weekly trip to the town. After their parents' deaths, Ellen sent the passage...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Changing Face of Ireland, 1830-1880
    (pp. 9-25)

    The story of late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century female emigration from Ireland begins in the half century before 1880. In the course ofthose fifty years, the country was in a state of flux, as overpopulation and periodic famine forced people to alter their way of life. Between 1830 and 1880, depopulation replaced overpopulation, and land consolidation and market agriculture replaced land subdivision and subsistence tillage, first in the north and the east, then in the south, and, finally, in the west. Despite these changes, in 1880 Ireland still depended on population decline to maintain an economy based on agriculture rather than...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Women and Social Change, 1830-1880
    (pp. 26-42)

    As new demographic and economic patterns transformed Ireland after 1830, women grew ever more superfluous in Irish life. This lower female status represents a radical break with the past. Although rural society had always been patriarchal, the patterns of early and universal marriage and of widespread female employment in the halfcentury before 1830 had assured women an integrated adult role as wives and cobreadwinners within the family economy. After 1830, however, as fewer and fewer marriages took place and as sources of cash income for women disappeared, the position of the increasing numbers of unmarried women deteriorated despite overall economic...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Women and Emigration, 1880-1920
    (pp. 43-54)

    As women’s awareness of the gap between the realities of their lives and the opportunities available to them in the outside world grew in the course of the nineteenth century, more and more chose emigration over celibate dependency on family farms. By 1885, and continuing into the twentieth century, unmarried women dominated emigration out of Ireland. As one woman who emigrated in the 1880s explained,“[I] used to live on a farm . . . in Ireland and it was hard work there. . . . There were five in our family and they all worked on the farm My sister...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Impact of Women’s Emigration, 1880-1920
    (pp. 55-72)

    The emigration of almost 700,000 women between 1885 and 1920, although the result of a half century of change, retarded further innovation at home. Rural society, freed from the potentially disruptive influence of a large number of surplus women, clung to patterns of life that were no longer socially or economically beneficial. In fact, the cash remittances sent home by sisters and daughters already abroad perpetuated in rural Ireland the obsolete patterns of life that had prompted mass female emigration in the first place. As a result, female emigration continued and continuing depopulation inhibited economic growth. As economic stagnation replaced...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Irish Women in America, 1880-1920
    (pp. 73-90)

    The mass migration of women described here may first appear to be a passive retreat of superfluous females from inhospitable circumstances. Closer inspection of their emigration, however, reveals that these women actively chose to abandon diminished lives at home and to embrace adventure abroad while seeking jobs, husbands, and an independent adult status. Unlike those who remained “old girls” on their parents’ or siblings’ farms, the thousands of young, unmarried women who left the country between 1885 and 1920 rejected dependency and chose emigration instead.

    The persistence of such a uniform emigrant generation after 1885 can be attributed to Ireland’s...

  11. Conclusion: “Ourselves Alone”
    (pp. 91-96)

    The mass exodus ofwomen from Ireland between 1885 and 1920 cannot be explained by the accepted interpretations ofEuropean female emigration in those years. Since Irish women emigrated independently of husbands or fathers, their emigration was not a passive carrying oftraditional family culture across the Atlantic in the wake of male relatives. Furthermore, unlike their counterparts in other national groups, the women who left Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the successors to a generation of sustained female emigration. Well before the 1880s, the precedent for the migration of unmarried women, traveling alone to foreign cities, had...

  12. Appendix
    (pp. 97-99)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 100-117)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 118-129)
  15. Index
    (pp. 130-133)