Bad Bridget: Criminal and Deviant Irishwomen in North America, 1838-1918

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: Sch of English, History and Politics

Abstract

The current vogue expressions of loathing for immigrant neighbours no more than repeat commonly-held historical views of native Protestants about living beside what they perceived to be poor, feckless, dirty, drunken, criminal, immoral and, worse still, Catholic, Irish immigrants. Stories of social and psychological hostility and isolation litter the historical record. Small wonder the Irish fell on hard times, misfortune and what were viewed as deviant paths. 'Bad Bridget' is an exciting study of deviant Irish-born women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in three North American cities, New York, Boston and Toronto, key destinations on the Irish emigrant landscape. The proposed project focuses for the first time on Irish migrants who failed to conform to expectations of chastity, morality and good motherhood, namely women who engaged in sex outside marriage, neglectful mothers and criminals.
Between 1838 and 1918, more than 5.65 million emigrants departed Ireland for North America. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, females outnumbered males among the passenger figures. These Irish women were predominantly unmarried, between the ages of eighteen and thirty, and from rural backgrounds. Their experiences would be as diverse as their personalities and aspirations. While some migrants saw the inside of middle-class homes as servants, others saw the inside of brothels as prostitutes. While some stood in line to purchase food for their husbands and children, others stood in courtrooms as defendants. While some Irishwomen voluntarily entered religious convents, others were forced to enter prison cells. A focus on Irish migrant women who engaged in sex outside marriage, neglectful mothers, and criminals will thus provide a fresh perspective on the familiar narrative of Irish female migration to North America. This analysis will highlight the multifaceted experiences of the 'American dream'.
Single-authored research by the investigators on female sexuality and criminality in Ireland has highlighted the rich insights that can be gained from a detailed study of such topics. Through an analysis of the intimate lives of migrant women, much can be revealed about courtships, marriage and extra-marital relationships (theme 1). The proposed project will also shed much light on the fascinating nature of immigrant networks and survival strategies. A study of 'bad' motherhood (theme 2) uncovers attitudes towards illegitimacy, expectations of parental roles and responsibilities, and indicates the state, church, private and familial support (or lack thereof) available to pregnant women or mothers. An exploration of criminality (theme 3) will highlight the economic vulnerability of some migrants, the strengths of criminal networks in particular regions, especially among migrant groups, and attitudes towards non-native suspects who engaged in illegal activity. An analysis of crime and police sources will also reveal whether Irish migrant women were more likely to be suspected of criminality, more likely to be brought to court, or more likely to be sentenced to terms of imprisonment than their American-born or non-Irish counterparts.
Studies of unmarried Irish women in the US have frequently focused on the domestic servant, the child-minder or the religious sister. Other studies of Irish migrants have concentrated on marriage, reproduction and fertility rates. An examination of the three intertwined strands of the sexually active woman, the deviant mother, and the criminal will offer an alternative account of the Irish female migrant experience than has hitherto been attempted. While employment and other opportunities in North America attracted the Irish throughout the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the characteristics and cultures of the three specifically selected cities also facilitate a fruitful comparative approach

Planned Impact

The project will provide a fresh perspective on the Irish immigrant experience, in particular that of women who contravened societal norms and engaged in criminal activity. It is anticipated that the main non-academic beneficiaries will be history consumers such as local historians and genealogists as well as media professionals and by extension the general public. The 3 public lectures will be advertised widely through libraries/archives, local history societies, relevant mailing lists, and our dedicated website and Twitter feed. The first lecture at the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster American Folk Park (Omagh) will be source-based. It will appeal directly to local historians and genealogists and highlight ways that individuals can be traced from one side of the Atlantic to the other. A travel exhibition will be developed in advance of the lectures. Three free-standing banners on deviant sexuality (theme 1), 'bad' mothers (theme 2) and criminality (theme 3) will combine textual information and illustrations such as drawings, mugshots and images of documents and registers, to bring tales of individual women to public attention. Our Twitter account and dedicated project website will similarly draw attention to interesting and engaging vignettes and stories from the project. As well as a general audience at home, the findings will generate interest within the Irish- American and Canadian diaspora.
The second public lecture, on the topic of misbehaving adolescent girls in North America at PRONI (Belfast), will have a broad appeal. In recent years, the Ryan Report on child abuse and McAleese Report on Magadelen Asylums have generated popular and media interest in the fate of girls and women who defied expectations. This public lecture will thus contribute a new facet to the narrative. The Tower Museum (Derry/Londonderry) will host the third public lecture on the topic of migration from Ulster.
The proposed documentary will encompass various themes from the project, including alcoholism, prostitution and child neglect. Working with a production company, a documentary treatment based on the project will be developed and pitched to broadcasters. Given contemporary concerns with immigration and the behaviour or immigrants, as well as the long tradition of emigration from the island of Ireland, the experiences of 'Bad Bridgets' have the potential to generate considerable interest from the viewing public. The emotive topic of migration has touched many families directly and the project offers a new and exciting perspective.
Engagement with contemporary statutory and voluntary agencies will take the form of a Witness-type workshop. This will involve representatives from statutory agencies including the PSNI, Probation Service, National Health Service, as well as voluntary agencies such as the Temperance League and Salvation Army. We will offer a historical account while practitioners will highlight contemporary developments and persistent concerns on issues relating to female offending, reform and alcohol abuse. The workshop will allow for historical and contemporary perspectives to be discussed together, determining change and continuity over time. Both historians and contemporary practitioners will be able to learn from the experiences of others and how attitudes and strategies have changed.
Since the project will be of public interest, we will use the press offices of both UU and QUB to target local historians, genealogists and the interested general public, and to maintain a general pitch to newspapers, radio, and television. The frequent references in the media to misbehaving Irish immigrants and to historical attitudes towards Irish women offer sustained opportunities to engage with contemporary discussions and debates relating to immigration and female offending. This will allow for a wider historical dimension to be brought to modern dialogues and to provide new perspectives.

Publications

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Title Bad Bridget Exhibition 
Description A series of pop-up exhibition stands were created, showcasing the research from the project. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The exhibition was launched in April 2018 at he European Economic and Social History Conference with a women's history reception attended by over 200 delegates. It had an additional launch at a conference in June for the general public and has also been on display in UCD and at a public event in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in 2019. The exhibition has generated considerable interest about the project and has provided a very visual back drop to public talks and events. 
 
Description Keynote lecture, 'Women on the Move' International Women's Day Conference, Queens University Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Keynote lecture given at a conference to celebrate International Women's Day 2017. A variety of questions followed the lecture and discussions continued in the evening. Contacted by a number of interested people after the event with research ideas and further information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description AHTV event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact PI was selected to attend the AHTV event. This involved meeting with media professionals and generated interest in the project and further possible media possibilities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Bad Bridget: Past and Present, Public Record Office Northern Ireland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public event held at PRONI. Participants included members of the Bad Bridget Team and historians as well as New York Public Defender, Boston Immigration Lawyer, Probation Manager working with women in Northern Ireland. The audience questionnaire revealed interest in the project and changes in attitudes towards women and migration both in past and present.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Blog piece 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog piece written by PI and CI for Northern Slant, this was focused on suffrage in Ulster, but made reference to the Bad Bridget Project and led to increased engagement with the twitter feed and project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.northernslant.com/suffrage-activity-ulster-historical-overview/
 
Description Conference Paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conference paper given by PI at Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, Hofstra University, New York. This is the largest women's history conference in the world and led to valuable networking opportunities and increased interest in the project, in questions and further discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference Paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact PI and PDRA both presented papers on the project at the WOmen's History Association of Ireland in Galway, April 2018. The papers prompted much discussion and debate and led to increased interest in the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference Paper CAIS 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Paper given by CI at Canadian Association of Irish Studies. Increased interest from academics on the subject, good networking opportunities and links to Toronto archives established. Follow up contact from academics about the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference Paper CAIS 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Paper given by PI at Canadian Association of Irish Studies. Increased interest from academics on the subject, good networking opportunities and links to Toronto archives established. Follow up contact from academics about the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference Paper CAIS 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Paper given by PDRA at Canadian Association of Irish Studies. Increased interest from academics on the subject, good networking opportunities and links to Toronto archives established. Follow up contact from academics about the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference Paper given at 'Women on the move' International Women's Day conference, Queen's University Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conference paper given by CI at Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, Hofstra University, New York. This is the largest women's history conference in the world and led to valuable networking opportunities and increased interest in the project, in questions and further discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference paper given at 'Women on the move' International Women's Day conference, Queen's University Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A research seminar paper was given by Leanne McCormick and Leanne Calvert (PDRA) at Ulster University. Twenty-five people attended, discussion and questions followed the event, with a number of useful avenues and suggestions on developing the research and on how the research was opening up new areas of interest for the audience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Filming for a TV broadcast (Belfast) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Elaine Farrell was interviewed and provided primary research for a programme on Grace Marks for Racht a programme on the Irish TV channel TG4. This will be shown later in 2017. It is hoped that it will generate further interest in the project and also that another programme based on the project will be commissioned.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description International Women's Day Video 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact CI, spoke about the project for a video on International Women's Day, produced by Queen's University Belfast and released on their website and social media channels. This generated considerable social media interest about the project and further media requests.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Interview for magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact PI and CI gave an interview to District Magazine about the Bad Bridget project. This was linked to a public event at EPIC museum in Dublin and generated public interest in the event and project. We gained more Twitter followers and people registered for the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://issuu.com/district.magazine/docs/february_19_guide_issuu/8?ff
 
Description Interview for radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact PI was interviewed on Radio Foyle about the Bad Bridget Project and our findings. This interested had been generated by newspaper articles on the project and further interest about the project was generated.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Media interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Radio Ulster interview about Bad Bridget Project and forthcoming involvement in HerStory Salon - public event in Portrush Co L'Derry. The broadcast encouraged members of the public to attend the public event which led to questions and discussion afterwards
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description New Generation thinkers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact CI was shortlisted and participated in the New Generation Thinkers Scheme. This generated further interest about the project from media professionals
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Newspaper Article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact PI and CI co-wrote an article on the project for the Irish Times. This generated considerable interest on social media and several requests from further media outlets for information on the project have been received.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/abroad/bad-bridgets-the-criminal-and-deviant-irish-women-c...
 
Description Paper delivered by Dr Elaine Farrell at the British Crime Historians Symposium in Edinburgh 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Paper presented at symposium, generated questions and discussion and offered a number of useful suggestions about research findings and further avenues of research to explore
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Public Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact HerStory Salon - public event focused on women's history. Talk given on Bad Bridget Project by Leanne McCormick and discussion followed, renewed engagement with the project website and twitter feed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Public Event EPIC Museum Dublin 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact PI and CI took part in an 'in conversation' event at EPIC Museum in Dublin. They discussed the project and took questions from the audience. Considerable engagement on social media, Twitter followers increased and contacted by a number of individuals and media companies for further information on the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Public Lecture (National Library Ireland, Dublin) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public lecture was held at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, around 45 members of the general public, academics, post-graduate students attended. The lecture focused on the ongoing project and detailed current findings. There followed questions and discussion and a number of people got in touch by email afterwards to share information and express interest in the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Public Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact PI gave a paper on the project at Trinity College Dublin. This was open to the public and led to questions and discussion afterwards with a number of people sharing their experiences and interest in the project and its findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Radio Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact PI gave a radio interview to U105 on the project, January 2019. This was also related to a project public event. Following the interview more members of the public registered for the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Research Seminar paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Leanne McCormick (PI) and Leanne Calvert (RA) presented a joint paper at a research seminar at Ulster University. This was attended by 25 members of staff and postgraduate students. It was very useful in bringing to the attention of colleagues the project and it prompted very interesting questions and discussion many of which can be incorporated into the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description School Visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 30 pupils attended a talk about the project and work as an historian. This involved discussion afterwards about the project and the Head of History reported interest in the subject following this.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk to school pupils/prospective university students 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Leanne MCCormick gave a talk about the Bad Bridget project to school pupils who had applied to study history at Ulster University. There was considerable interest from pupils and parents about the project and many shared experiences and stories about emigration. The organisers of the event reported that there was very positive feedback given of the talk and interest in the subject area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Television programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact CI appeared as an expert on BBC Who Do You Think You are Programme, July 2018. This generated social media interest about the CI's work and the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Television programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact CI participated in a programme 'History Now' for Northern Visions TV channel. Discussing women, crime and the Bad Bridget Project.
Considerable interest on social media and increased twitter followers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Television programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact PI and CI were both contributors for television programme on the experiences of Irish women at home and abroad for TG4. This was broadcast in 2018 and increased interest from the media company about the project as well as making the public aware of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Television programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact CI interviewed and appeared on BBC1 Who Do You Think you Are programme. This increased awareness of the CI and her role and by extension the project. Interest in the Twitter feed and website increased.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017