Servants of the Poor

  • Teachers and Mobility in Ireland and Irish America

  • by Janet Nolan

  • 222 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 , 21 halftones

  • Paperback | 9780268036607 | October 2004

  • Hardcover | 9780268036591 | October 2004

  • eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268160265 | October 2004


In the late nineteenth century, an era in which social mobility was measured almost exclusively by the success of men, Irish American women were leading their ethnic group into the lower middle class occupations of civil service, teaching, and health care. Unlike their immigrant mothers who became servants of the rich, Irish American daughters became servants of the poor by teaching in public school classrooms. The remarkable success of Irish American women was tied to their educational achievements. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the daughters of Irish America attended four-year academic programs in high schools, followed by two to three years of normal school training. By the first decade of the twentieth century, Irish American women were the largest single ethnic group among public elementary school teachers in cities such as Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Janet Nolan argues that the roots of this female-driven mobility can be traced to immigrant women's education in Ireland. Armed with the literacy and numeracy learned in Irish schools, Irish immigrant women in America sent their daughters, more than their sons, to school in preparation for professional careers. As a result, Nolan contends, Irish American women entered white-collar work at least a generation before their brothers. Servants of the Pooris a pioneering work which looks at the teaching profession at the turn of the century from the perspective of the women who taught in Irish and American classrooms.

Drawing on previously unpublished archival and manuscript sources, including memoirs and letters, Servants of the Poor will be of considerable value to those interested in Irish, Irish American, educational, and women's history.