Broom and Bridget

The Irish Servant and the New England Household
  • Jack Morgan
Part of the New Directions in Irish and Irish American Literature book series (NDIIAL)


“The people who worked for the family,” Jay Leyda wrote in the 1950s, “should they do no more than slide along the backdrop of this drama, carrying their dish and pitchfork?” (256). Though there has been increased attention to those people since Leyda’s seminal article, the general neglect of Irish domestics in our picture of nineteenth-century New England-New York households, particularly literary ones, has pretty much continued. Irish servants almost never appear in the literature itself, even marginally, though by 1850, 80 percent of the domestics in New York, for example, were Irish and a quarter of all Irish immigrants were employed as household help of some kind (Kennedy 102). When Asenath Nicholson traveled in Ireland in 1844–1845, she stayed with the families of Irish young women whom she had employed as domestics in New York (Kelleher 75). Numerous other New England writers and intellectuals grew up with the idioms and inflections of Hyberno-English in their immediate household environment or, like Mark Twain, lived in proximity to the dialect, and to some extent the culture, in later life. Sarah Orne Jewett and her sister, and Twain’s three daughters, grew up with an exposure to Irish people and their ways much more intimate and first-hand than anything Irish in the experience of the typical Irish American of today.


Immigrant Woman Domestic Work Irish Woman Irish Immigrant Domestic Employment 
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© Jack Morgan 2011

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  • Jack Morgan

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