Erin’s Daughters in America review

Erin’s Daughters in America review

 

Erin’s Daughters in America Review

Diner, Hasia. Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant women in the Nineteenth Century. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.

Erin’s Daughters in America explores the ignored or forgotten history of female Irish immigrants in nineteenth century America. Hasia Diner’s work in Erin’s Daughters establishes the foundation of the field of Irish-American women, which before Diner, had little scholarship or historiography. Hasia Diner’s work illustrates the social restrictions of women in Ireland, their purpose of emigrating to the United States, Irish women in the labor force, their social issues in America, and the scholarship on Irish-American women. Diner’s thesis involves how the values of female Irish immigrants both persisted and changed over time through their experiences as female immigrants in the United States. The scholarship of Diner’s work has contributed to many other historians who have since begun exploring the discipline of female Irish immigrants, thus opening up a vital part not only to the history of the Irish diaspora, but also to the scholarship and field of Irish immigrant women.

In the first section of the book, Diner explores the social restrictions and gendered discrimination in the nineteenth century Ireland following the devastation of the Great Famine. This section of the book is particularly important because it highlights the reasons why Irish immigrant women migrated to the new world. Since the Great Famine caused so much devastation to Ireland, Irish society shifted back to a strict social and traditional structure that left women restricted to rights, marriage, and job opportunity. Marriage in Ireland at this time was considered a great honor, and only those of the wealthy were qualified for marriage. Marriage for women in Ireland represented that subjugation of women and the superiority of the patriarchy. Diner’s argument that the daughters of these subjugated Irish-women that came to America due to their lack of opportunities in Ireland that contribute to the distinction among female Irish immigrants and male Irish immigrants.

The next section of the book considers the overall uniqueness of migration patterns of Irish-American women. Diner asserts the idea that Irish women had the highest American migration numbers than any other immigrant group, estimating that women made up 52.9 percent of the Irish immigrant population. Diner relates this to the effects of the Great Famine and the change in social structure. Another unique aspect of the migration patterns of Irish-American women was the transfer of family members or money across the Atlantic. When the women migrated to America and began working, they slowly supported their families back home by either sending them money or transferring them over one by one. This differs from other immigrant groups in that it was the women who supported and sponsored their families rather than their male-counterparts. Diner’s assertion that female Irish migration patterns differed vastly from other immigrant groups adds complexities to the fields of Irish migration patterns.

Another important theme in Erin’s Daughters is that in America, Irish women experienced a large availability of job opportunities due to their unmarried statuses. Their single status allowed them to participate in jobs that required lengthy hours and commitment that would not be as possible with women who were married or had families. Women could be accepted into the work field whether they were skilled and educated or not. Hasia Diner makes a point to prove the importance of jobs and income to Irish-American women. Diner asserts that often times, finding job opportunities or obtaining money became a higher priority to these immigrant women than finding a husband or family. The typical jobs for Irish-American women in the nineteenth century were as domestic servants, needle workers, and school teachers. However, it is the role as the domestic servant that became the most popular occupation for Irish women. Most of the domestic servants at this time were female Irish immigrants because to other female immigrant groups, domestic jobs were considered the worst option. This is an important concept to understand because it explains the traditional values that Irish American women take from their roles in Irish society and how they apply them in American society. While Irish women immigrants did leave Ireland on the basis of their roles in society, they accepted the jobs as domestic servants as they were familiar with the routine of taking care of the household. Often times, Irish immigrant women faced discrimination for not only their Irish ancestry but for their relationship status and their willingness to accept servant positions. Diner’s assertion of the willing acceptance of a hard, consuming job places Irish immigrant women apart from any other female immigrant group.

Erin’s Daughters brings forward the missing history of the Irish diaspora through Hasia Diner’s detailed scholarship on the lives of Irish immigrant women in the nineteenth century. Her argument of the persistence and transition of traditional Irish values into Irish-American culture provide a basis for the historiographic field of not only Irish immigration but female immigration as well. Diner’s work has been used as a reference point by many other historians in this discipline to further add to the history of Irish women in America. While Diner supplies an extremely vital and beneficial part of history to the field, further research and scholarship is necessary to fully bring Irish-American women into the history of the Irish diaspora. Looking further at how Irish women impacted the creation of Irish-American culture, the similarities and differences between Irish women and other female immigrant groups, and the gendered discrimination of Irish women compared to Irish men needs further evidence and support in order to recognize and shift the perspective, reputation, and history of the Irish Diaspora.