The Irish Bridget: Irish Immigrant Women in Domestic Service in America, 1840-1930
by Margaret Lynch-Brennan

Syracuse University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8156-3201-6.
Reviewed by Susan M. Andrus
Posted on 07/31/2009

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

Margaret Lynch-Brennan, a woman of Irish descent, researched Irish immigrant women who worked as domestics in the northeast United States. Using letters written by the women servants, she compared images of life in Ireland during the famine with life for these women after they gained employment in their US employers' homes.

In addition to photographs of these women in their youth, the text illustrates their stories. Many came to work at the ages of 12-14 and often stayed with the same family for years. Their history comes alive as Lynch-Brennan shows them through their own words gleaned from their many letters to each other and to family in Ireland. But even though they had to live in attics or cellars, work long hours, and entertain their guests in the kitchen, these Irish women maintained a strongly optimistic attitude and even became defiant if their employers asked too much of them.

Many experienced religious discrimination as their employers did not appreciate employing Catholics who wanted to take time off to go to church. But the Irish Bridgets maintained their staunch independence by attending church, going to dances to see their friends and relatives, and writing the letters that inspired this book.

Margaret Lynch-Brennan recently retired from the New York State Education Department where she worked on issues related to civil rights, education reform, and professional development for teachers. She holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Albany (SUNY) and has taught in SUNY Oneonta's Cooperstown Graduate Program.

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