“No Irish need apply” a myth? No, it’s true.

nina_may_1_1863

Brooklyn Eagle, May 1, 1863. From Patrick Young’s blog post (link below).

At Easily Distracted, Timothy Burke reports the remarkable story of Rebecca Fried, a high school student at Sidwell Friends, who has disproved Professor Richard Jensen’s contention that “No Irish Need Apply” was a feverish figment of the Irish-American imagination:

Fried’s essay is a refutation of a 2002 article by the historian Richard Jensen that claimed that “No Irish Need Apply” signs were rare to nonexistent in 19th Century America, that Irish-American collective memory of such signs (and the employment discrimination they documented) was largely an invented tradition tied to more recent ideological and intersubjective needs, and that the Know-Nothings were not really nativists who advocated employment (and other) discrimination against Irish (or other) immigrants. existence of signs and ads saying “No Irish need apply,” taken as a given in many history classes, was challenged.

Fried published her findings in “No Irish Need Deny: Evidence for the Historicity
of NINA Restrictions in Advertisements and Signs”, Journal of Social History, 10:1093, 2015.

Patrick Young, who reproduces excerpts from Fried’s article and some of the many supporting ads, also includes some of the back-and-forth between Jensen and a respectful but unintimidated Fried:

Yes there were NINA newspaper ads—I was the one who found the first one—but I argued they were very rare. If a man read every job want-ad in his newspaper every week for 40 years, he would have a 50-50 chance of coming across one NINA ad in his lifetime. That’s what I called very rare—& the student called very common. Richard Jensen

. . .

I also have to respectfully disagree with your numerical calculation. I explain why at page 25 of the article, which is a brief response to your points. Briefly, if the man in your example read the Sun newspaper, he would have read at least 15 male-directed NINA ads in a single year, plus any female-directed ones, plus any from other sources. Thanks again for this. I respect you and your work.
Rebecca Fried

Burke has a nuanced post that discusses the implications for historians, but on an individual (and non-historian) level, I’ll be using this in English 372 this fall not only to illustrate the issue of anti-Irish prejudice, which we discuss in a broader context of racism and xenophobia, but also to highlight the importance of questioning theories and returning to the evidence even when, or especially when, an idea is taken as given.

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